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Gamification—What, Why and How?

Gamification is changing the way brands are engaging with customers. It is a popular and relevant marketing strategy to use in today's marketplace. For cutting-edge companies, gamification is one of the most effective ways to engage customers.

Though not a new marketing technique, it is currently the hottest buzzword in the marketing world. Over the past year, gamification has quickly become one of the most talked about online trends in marketing. Google Trends shows just how rapidly it has grown, with online searches for gamification increasing dramatically since January 2011.


For those who are not familiar with this form of engagement, gamification takes the mechanics of games, particularly what makes them fun and appealing, and applies these mechanics to non-game applications to encourage users to engage in specific behaviors. It is a twist that takes a standard activity or promotion and turns it into a fun and engaging game, allowing individuals to interact more closely with a brand and drive sales.

The gamification technique has proven successful at getting people to perform behaviors that normally are considered boring, static or routine. Because of the level of fun that the games bring to these activities, the participants become more engaged in the activity and the marketers receive greater results. Gamification can increase call-to-action response rates for marketers trying to get consumers to take specific actions, such as reading an article, watching a video, participating in an online forum, commenting on a Web site, taking a survey, visiting a Web site repeatedly, opting-in to communications or giving out personal information. The use of a simple gamification technique in these calls-to-action can take the results from average to exceptional.


These statistics show the reason that gamification has jumped as a top Googled search term for marketers:

  • According to Gartner Inc., by 2015, more than 50 percent of organizations that manage innovation processes will gamify those processes. By 2014, a gamified service for consumer goods marketing and customer retention will become as important as Facebook, eBay or Amazon. Also, more than 70 percent of Global 2000 organizations will have at least one gamified application.
  • The Los Angeles Times points out that corporations spent $100 million on gamification in 2010, and the number is expected to rise to $2.8 billion by 2016.
  • Games are the second most frequent Internet activity for Americans after social networks—more popular than e-mail—with Americans spending an estimated 906 million hours per month on social networks, 407 million hours on games, and 329 million hours on e-mail, according to Nielsen.
  • The videogame industry is one of the fastest growing of all mediums and is expected to be an $80 billion industry by 2014. And it is not just men and kids—nowadays more than 50 percent of gamers are female and 30 percent of the gamer population is older than 45. There are 40 million active social gamers in the United States (they play at least one hour per week) and more than 200 million gamers on Facebook.
Gamer Demographics

To be successful, a gamified strategy must not only tap into the demographics, desires and motivators of its audience, but the participant's game personality type as well.

There are four types of game personalities, as defined by the Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology. The four types are the Achiever, the Socializer, the Explorer and the Killer. Achievers are players who seek points, ranking, status and other types of measurements throughout a game. Socializers, the largest group at 80 percent of player types, play games mostly for the enjoyment they get by interacting with other players. Explorers like to take their time discovering and learning, and like to receive social credit for it, and Killers thrive on competition—they like to win and let everyone know it!

Game Dynamics

Once you understand your demographics and the player personalities, it is important to understand game dynamics and how they drive engagement. Michael Wu, Ph.D., principal scientific analyst for Lithium, explains that we must understand how humans behave, in order to understand game dynamics. He illustrates this concept through B.J. Fogg's behavior model, which states there are three required factors that underlie any human behavior: motivation, ability and trigger.

When designing a gamified application, players must be given motivation to do a specific behavior (such as an emotional connection or beating a friend in a competition). They must also have the ability to complete the behavior (time, skill, knowledge, money) and a trigger (call-to-action). It is not about having one or the other, but about making sure that all three of those factors come together at the same time. If they do not, then the player will lose interest, leave the game and probably never come back.

Gamification in Action

So let's get down to the question we are all thinking: Does gamification actually work? One example of a successful gamification application is a recent solution BI Worldwide created for Schwan's Home Service. Schwan's wanted to increase awareness, trial and purchases of their Chef Jet line of Asian cuisine. BI Worldwide applied gamification techniques and created a promotional site themed toward the Chinese New Year with a "Test Your Cooking Skills" challenge game. The game provided a fun and interactive experience with product information for the new dishes. As a result, sales increased by more than 6 percent in just over a month, Schwan's saw a sales conversion rate of almost 50 percent, and participants came back more than seven times per person to engage with the game. In short, it was a tremendous success.

Another great gamification success story is that of DevHub, an online Web site builder and Web host. To increase user interaction on their site, DevHub applied gamification techniques by giving rewards to participants who completed certain tasks on the site. They also added more features to their Web sites, including competitions for prizes. The results were impressive. The percentage of users who finished building their sites increased from 10 percent to 80 percent, actions per session rose from two to 18, and average revenue per user increased fourfold.

As businesses contemplate bringing gamification into their future strategies, they should keep in mind that it is not just about slapping some badges and a leaderboard onto a Web site. Gamification is a scientific approach that lets you target your demographic, engage them based on their desires and motivate them in order to drive the specific behavior that you are seeking. Used correctly, gamification can have extremely positive results.


As Interactive Marketing Strategist for BI Worldwide, Carmen Nesenson is responsible for conceptualizing and designing interactive marketing campaigns and social engagement strategies. She has recently relocated to Minnesota from Los Angeles after spending time with The Walt Disney Corporation, where she focused on online promotions and social engagement for the Disney Interactive Media Group. For more information, visit

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