Games are the future of digital marketing.

Initially dismissed by many as a passing fad, gamification nonetheless developed into a $1.65 billion industry by 2015, and that number is predicted to grow to $11.1 billion by 2020.

As gamification expert Gabe Zichermann explains, this inexorable rise has been driven by “75% psychology and 25% technology”. Games have been an integral part of human culture since the beginning of recorded history, and that’s because they fill deep-seated psychological needs in the human mind.

Their arrival to modern marketing is merely a new implementation of an age-old idea, supercharged by 21st century digital tools.

 

The Power of Digital Gamification

If games were compelling to human beings before, digital technology has taken the concept to a whole new level. For proof of this, look no further than the modern video game industry, which has evolved into a $137.9 billion market globally. More importantly, video games are not just profitable, they have also become a mainstream cultural phenomenon. According to Nielsen’s 2018 U.S. Games 360 report, 66% of the U.S. population are gamers, and that number continues to trend upwards year after year.

What makes digital games so compelling? Quite simply, such games are specifically designed to induce a flow state – that is, a mental state of complete immersion and involvement in the activity one is performing. Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi, the father of flow theory, identifies six factors as fundamental to the flow state:

  1. Intense focus on the present moment
  2. Merging of action and awareness
  3. Loss of self-consciousness
  4. A strong sense of personal agency
  5. A distorted sense of time
  6. Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding

Well-designed games create experiences that satisfy all of these criteria, giving rise to a deep sense of fulfillment and enjoyment in the player. That’s why people keep coming back to their favorite games time and again, and why they often describe them as “addictive”.

By leveraging game mechanics in their marketing, brands can engineer customer experiences that are just as meaningful and pleasurable, thus greatly increasing engagement, sales and brand loyalty.

Here are three ways for your company to gamify your digital marketing:

 

Improve Signup Rates

The easiest way to get started with gamification is to implement an interactive wheel of fortune widget in your email signup process.

There are many user-friendly third-party options out there, and most of them don’t require any knowledge of coding. Listagram is one popular example:

 

 

The concept is simple. Instead of being presented with a boring, standard lead generation form, your website visitors will be given a chance to spin the wheel for a mystery prize – in exchange for their email address.

This simple change creates a significant boost in signup rates. According to GrowthRocks, the wheel of fortune averages 6-8% signup rates, compared to 1-2% on traditional lead gen forms. Listagram’s own data suggests that the signup rate is closer to 11%, or 1.5 million signups out of 14 million impressions.

There are a number of reasons why this widget is so effective:

  1. It’s visually interesting and stands out from the typical email popup form.
  2. It’s interactive and thus gives visitors a sense of agency.
  3. Everyone loves rewards, especially when they’re “exclusive” to them. In this case, that exclusivity is the result of a random spin that ensures that each visitor gets a different prize.

The wheel of fortune shows that gamification does not have to be complicated to achieve great results.

 

Boost Email Marketing Engagement

As our inboxes have gotten more crowded with promotional emails, it’s become a lot harder for companies to keep subscribers engaged. One way marketers have attempted to get around this problem is to offer occasional discounts and special offers in their emails to keep customers checking in.

But even this approach has serious problems:

  1. As this tactic becomes more common, the bump in engagement rates has gotten lower
  2. It tends to attract price shoppers instead of value-oriented customers
  3. It can devalue your product if used too often

Gamifying your special offers can solve all three of these problems. They are highly engaging, and will attract a lot of attention from your mailing list. That engagement will come from a broad array of customers, not just price shoppers. And because customers have to play the game before “earning” their discount, your product won’t be devalued in their mind.

Restaurant chain Zizzi has used this approach to great effect. The company was sending emails to two million people every week, but only 12% were opening them, and 1% were redeeming vouchers. The company decided to gamify their emails in an attempt to increase engagement.

One example was their “roll a dice” online board game, which gave customers a chance to win a range of free prizes, including a holiday to Sardinia. The most common prize, however, was restaurant vouchers, which came with a direct prompt to book a table at a nearby Zizzi location.

 


Source: https://econsultancy.imgix.net/content/uploads/2018/08/10182147/9_Zizzi_voucher.jpg

 

Another example was their digital “scratchcard” game held during the 2015 Rugby World Cup, which included prizes like a pro rugby training session and a trip to New York. The game was a huge success, seeing almost half a million plays by 84,000 players, leading to over 8,500 Facebook likes and 37,500 extra diners heading to Zizzi restaurants.

 


Source: https://assets.econsultancy.com/images/resized/0007/0748/zizzi_screengrab2-blog-flyer.jpg

 

Build Your Brand Community

Gamification does not just have to be about increasing sales or conversions. It can also be used as a tool to foster a highly-engaged community around your brand.

In the video game world, the most popular and financially successful games are those with a significant online multiplayer component, where players all over the world can cooperate or compete with each other to achieve challenging goals. This community interaction develops such a strong sense of camaraderie and ownership in players that many exclusively play their one favorite multiplayer game for thousands of hours over time.

One brand that understands the power of a gamified community is Nike. The company’s Nike+ membership program is a masterclass in brand community building. By signing up, members get special access to the latest gear, and Nike experts who can help them with their purchase decisions or training needs. They also get invitations to special Nike events where they can meet and train with other members of the community.

 


Source: https://blog.smile.io/hs-fs/hubfs/blog.smile.io/2017/Nike+%20Case%20Study/Nike-Case-Study-Ask-An-Expert.png

 

On top of that strong foundation, the Nike+ program reinforces daily member engagement with a suite of well-designed gamified apps targeted at specific fitness lifestyles. For example, their Run Club app allows members to track their daily miles, and rewards them with badges for reaching their personal goals. For serious runners, the app also has a leaderboard that ranks members by the number of miles they’ve run. This creates a sense of competition that motivates members to keep up their running habit and regularly compare their progress to that of other members.

 


Source: https://appsamurai.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/success-story-nike-run-club-4-min-575×1024.png

 

While these gamified apps don’t generate any direct revenue for Nike, they create a powerful brand experience that reinforces the sense of being part of the global Nike community. That translates into a strong sense of brand loyalty that practically guarantees repeat sales over time.

 

From Stories to Games

Traditionally, marketers have thought of their craft as one of storytelling: design a compelling narrative around your brand, and the customers will come. While that is still very true today, modern customers are not satisfied with simply being passive recipients of that story; they want to play an active role in how the narrative develops.

So it’s time to recognize games as an equally important pillar of the complete brand experience. By giving customers fun, compelling ways of interacting with your brand, you’ll be able to put them at the center of your brand’s evolving story – right where they belong.