The Basics Behind How Gamification Increases Site Conversions and Builds Your Brand

In the last few years, a new marketing buzzword started appearing all over the web: gamification. A lot of voices on the web touted it as the next big thing in marketing. It might well be the new direction for marketing, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy thing to do, and do effectively. Gamification is the action of implementing aspects of what makes gaming attractive for people—like rewards, achievements, and progression—into a product, service, or brand experience.

What’s the point of gamification? Ultimately it works as a method for increasing your site conversion rate and indirectly building your brand. A few weeks ago, I wrote about my personal experience with how gamification of a popular sale got me to spend more money; if you’re looking for a little more consumer-based perspective on gamification, it’s worth a read. For more information on how businesses successfully use gamification and how they fail, read on.

When Gamification Fails

Gamification can do absolutely nothing for you. It won’t help in building your brand or increasing site conversion rates if you do it improperly. There is an absolutely wonderful article on iMediaConnection written by Adam Kleinberg that really gets to the reasons why some brands have outright failed with gamification, and Adam isn’t afraid to be honest in his critiques of those failures.

Adam focuses on important gamification mistakes that brands often are guilty of: being pointless, confusing badges and value, creating a game no one wants to play, obscure gameplay, and looking for magic bullets.

It’s worth checking out Adam’s article if you need more detailed information about these mistakes, but I’ll try to touch on a few of the great examples he uses. The first, which I almost had the same reaction as Adam did, is: Google’s implementation of Badges for their news page. Adam writes, “Now, Google will do you the awesome favor of telling you what you are interested in reading about based on what you read about!” Badges are worthless unless they add value to what the user does or accomplishes.

Another fine example is Zappos’ VIP program. This program starts off great by adding value to membership; free shipping rewards are something every engaged Zappos customer would want! But then it “gives out badges, points, and levels. For what? Who knows? The company doesn’t tell you.” This is another example of poorly implemented gamification that is literally a waste of time, resources, and money.

What are they doing wrong?

How does gamification accomplish these benefits for you that you’ve undoubtedly heard about? Simply applying gamification principles to a site or product doesn’t mean it’s going to do anything for you. You need to make sure your ideas for gamification follow certain principles.

Probably the most important viewpoint from which to approach gamification is, as Erica Swallow writes on Entrepreneur, gamification needs to “focus on engaged users.” You aren’t going to get people that just show up to your website or service to participate in the gamified aspects of your site. The interest and brand impression is made through other more traditional marketing: blogs, social media, advertising, etc…  Gamification brings engaged users closer and allows them to interact in a much more loyal method.

You’re not going to magically build your brand and increase conversions by adopting gamification. It has to be done right and has to take the right population into account when it’s designed. Keep in mind those two examples of gamification failure I mentioned above (Google and Zappos) as you read on.

One Excellent Example of Gamification Success: Nike+

To demonstrate this point, let’s look at Nike. Nike has built their brand extremely well over quite a few years, as CEM contributor Ben knows very well. They’ve been around since long before the internet became an important part of marketing, or even existed at all. But, back to the point, Nike discovered an excellent way to utilize gamification to not only increase site conversions, but to actually build upon and enhance their brand.

What is Nike+? Nike+ is a platform that utilizes technology to motivate people to exercise. How? Well, with smartphones and Nike’s Fuelband, people that enjoy physical activity (engaged customers) can track, analyze, and share information about their fitness activities in real time without any delays—just instant gratification and recognition. More importantly, they can see where they stand in leaderboards and compete with friends, family, and even strangers.

Nike, of course, wants you to be using Nike products during whatever activity you are doing, but they don’t push it or force it. They provide something of value to people who are—or could be—paying customers. Fit people are already engaged in the idea of staying fit, which Nike helps people do with its products and with Nike+. Because it’s gamified, interesting, and useful, Nike+ can transcend competition and attract anyone who fits their broad customer base to the Nike brand’s sphere of influence.

 What does that mean for Nike

Some people might use Nike+ and never buy a Nike product. But a lot of people, after using and enjoying what Nike+ has to offer, are going to have their purchases skewed towards Nike. It’s almost inevitable; some people will simply start buying Nike out of appreciation for what Nike+ has helped them accomplish! Brand exposure works over the long-term, especially for people who aren’t already fans of Nike, but enjoy using Nike+. This is going to increase conversions while simultaneously exposing more people to the brand of Nike.

What gamification can do for you

Unfortunately, not every business—especially small business—has the benefit of 60+ years of marketing and branding like Nike does, therefore many businesses won’t be able to jump right into an engaged audience. But as has been mentioned many times on the CEM blog, the internet has made much of marketing completely scalable, including the price.

There are countless ways to pick and choose aspects of gamification for your business that aid in building your brand and increasing your site conversion. Surely, gamification can even work on the brick-and-mortar level.

There are membership programs, achievements, progression systems, and all sorts of creative ways to encourage digital and physical customers to get more involved in your business. It’s a relatively low-risk project to attempt as long as you start small and focus on getting your already-engaged customers even more engaged.

How do you see gamification helping your business? Do you use gamification already? How has it helped you?

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Patrick currently lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, where he is studying for a Master's Degree in Intercultural Relations. Upon graduation from Penn State in 2008, he spent two years overseas in Kyrgyzstan with the U.S. Peace Corps. While writing is currently his chosen way to put food on the table, he loves fitness and exercise, which he believes makes up for his avid computer gaming habit.

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