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Strategy

Level Up Your Customer Loyalty with Gamification

Don't mistake gamification of loyalty programs as a trend - it's here to stay and evolve, and you must evolve with it or you'll be left behind

Michael Brenner
August 06 2018

Want to keep your customers around, boost their loyalty, and engage them with fun and convenient content? Of course you do. And not just at the start of the customer journey, but in the middle and end stages of the marketing funnel. These golden customers are the ones who become your brand advocates, the buyers who fuel your word-of-mouth marketing and are able to attract other loyal customers better than any marketing campaign. As research consultant Mark Johnson explains, “Customer loyalty is no longer just about points, discounts, miles, and rewards; it is about the way processes, technologies, ideas, and interactions engage individuals with the brand.”

But you need more than a standard rewards program to encourage deeper loyalty. Let’s face it. Customer loyalty programs are a dime a dozen. The typical American household is a part of 14 different rewards programs. That’s where gamification comes into play. It offers a rewarding experience, a sense of fulfillment, and the thrill of the game. It speaks to the way the human brain is wired – with a natural desire to grow, learn, and compete through interactive play. If you want to stand out and compete for your buyers’ attention, you need to level up with gamification.

Don’t mistake this marketing tool as a trend. Customers are going to continue to gravitate towards better, more meaningful experiences, so start being smart about your gamification strategy now rather than later.

The Building Blocks of Gamification

Gamification refers to a broad area. You create the experience of a game in a non-game environment. Users participate so they win something, competing against themselves or others. It plays on people’s natural competitive game-playing instincts, so you can motivate action and influence buyer choices. But, effective gamification in marketing is about more than just creating an app your customers can play or coming up with a monthly contest. There are different types of game design elements. These different elements are going to drive different results. So, you want to consider what game design makes sense for what you are trying to achieve with gamification.

An experimental study published in Computers in Human Behavior linked varying game design elements with different motivational outcomes:

  • Redeemable points, reputation points, or experience points, provide feedback, which acts as an immediate and continuous reward
  • Badges are visual representations that confirm players’ achievements. They are like visual status symbols. They can influence behavior, leading players to choose certain challenges so they can earn the associated badges.
  • Leaderboards reveal success relative to other players. They can inspire more competition, but they can also have an adverse effect on your users who are ranked low against other players.
  • Performance graphs motivate long-term play because they show a user’s performance over time. If you want your customers to keep playing new levels or new games, this is a great game design element because it motivates them to keep playing and to improve.
  • Meaningful stories offer a narrative context that adds meaning to the experience. This is where gamification can get more interesting, attracting players who would be bored with a simple game design. It’s a way to enrich your game content, to keep users engaged for longer, and to encourage social sharing.
  • Avatars are usually a part of creating a narrative context. They allow the players to become a part of a community, which can trigger more interest.
  • Teammates can take your gamification efforts to a new level. This is where you get cooperation and competition – the bread and butter of motivation.

Types of Gamification

There are so many types of gamification being used in content marketing today, a lot goes unnoticed. For example, badges for online forum participation and LinkedIn’s performance graphs, which are used to motivate users to finish filing out their profile. But there are also more interactive ways to use gamification that will help to hook your customers into the positive fulfillment cycle:

Progress tracking. To keep people involved in your brand, help them keep track of their own progress. This works for fitness and health brands and any membership based sites – for example Jillian Michael’s Progress Tracking app or Mint’s financial goal tracking.

For service-based businesses, try developing online video tutorials, online courses, or webinars to create an educational content progress tracking gamification experience. Users can sign up to complete a course and then you can set up a system for tracking their progress until the final goal is reached. This is a great way to encourage your leads and customers to consume more content. Downloading eBooks, watching your company’s educational videos, and attending either webinars or in-person events can all lead to a higher score, badges, or tracked progress. As a result, these typical lead nurturing activities become a source of not just value, but also fulfillment for your customers.

Reward levels. Starbucks has mastered this art. Instead of just a basic rewards program, customers can earn stars to win rewards and to reach different levels. Once a customer hits 5 stars, they become a Green Level member, at 30, Starbucks customers are Gold. Each level earns better rewards like free refills and, for Gold Level members, free drinks, which creates a sense of accomplishment.

Gamification meets experiential marketing. This works well for bigger brands who are already known either globally or locally. It helps to foster positive feelings around the brand and builds trust – even for those who don’t actually play – when the game is shared on social media.

The Coke Zero 007 Vending Machine campaign is a great example. Customers were asked to go on a Bond 007-themed adventure in order to win tickets to Skyfall, the movie. The viral video of the campaign is what helped to boost customer interest.

Interactive content with a prize. You can transform your website content itself into a game. For example, create a scavenger hunt where readers have to find certain content or answers within your blog posts. Interactive videos, challenges presented at the end of your podcasts – anything to get your audience more involved.

With this type of gamification, you’ll motivate more action with a carrot. The winner gets a free one-year subscription, a discount, or something else your target buyers would value. You can keep your loyal customers up-to-date with when a contest happens and who wins through your email subscriber list. This will also give customers more of a reason to open your emails.

Keep Giving Your Customers What They Really Want

When you boil it down, gamification creates something everyone wants – satisfaction. Whether they win a prize or gain a sense of meaning, putting game design elements in your marketing creates a positive mental feedback loop for your customers.

When you give them what they really want, beyond great products and a stellar customer experience – but a sense of fulfillment – they’re going to keep coming back for more.

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Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is a globally-recognized keynote speaker, author of The Content Formula and the CEO of Marketing Insider Group. He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael shares his passion on leadership and marketing strategies that deliver customer value and business impact. He is recognized by the Huffington Post as a Top Business Keynote Speaker and a top CMO influencer by Forbes.

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