Gamification for Marketers: a Beginner’s Guide

Photo Credit: chooyutshing on Flickr

If you ever played video games I am sure you know the feeling.

Totally disconnected from reality and fully immersed in a fantasy world, you were determined to complete the current level before your friends did, enjoy the rewards, and unlock new challenges.

Good games are addictive. The narrative, characters, challenges, and rewards are bundled into a complete entertainment package that generates a passion bordering obsession.

Now imagine your brand delivering the same kind of experience. Imagine your customers being passionate about your product, spreading the word among friends and family, and anxiously awaiting its newest release.

In theory that’s possible, thanks to gamification.

Is Gamification Just a Fad?

Experts warn of an “engagement” crisis: from employees who are disengaged at work, to consumers who are constantly tempted to switch brands, and distributors that make no effort to push your brand to their customer base.

The interest in  gamification has grown exponentially in the last 2 years, as the Google Trends chart below illustrates.
Gamification Chart

I have to admit I am not an early adopter when it comes to new technologies that quickly become marketing “must haves”.

Gamification however is different. Designed and implemented properly, adding gamification to your marketing arsenal could prove to be a very wise decision.

What is Gamification

Generally speaking gamification means providing a game-like experience in a non-game environment.

Gamification, as it relates to Marketing, is using game techniques to influence participants’ behavior in order to achieve a specific Marketing objective.

Gamification and Marketing seem like a perfect fit. One of our major goals as marketers is to influence consumer behavior through a variety of methods, some more effective than others.

With gamification, the proven engagement and motivation techniques employed by game designers are being transferred to the business world.

The Building Blocks of Gamification

Gamified applications can vary in complexity from very simple (a basic reward point system) to highly complex. It all depends on how many components you want to add to the mix.

Let’s take a brief look at some of the most popular elements of an engaging gamified application:


Any gamification project starts with clear goals (also known as targets or tasks) that participants must complete. Without clear goals there is no motivation to participate.

Goals should be difficult enough to motivate,  but not impossible to achieve. Impossible targets make people reluctant to even try, so the level of participation will suffer.

In order to drive engagement it’s common practice to have intermediary goals that vary in difficulty from easy to moderate, and the ultimate goal, the big prize, accessible to only a few.

In the example below, CAA offers a combination of daily prizes, as well as a Grand Prize awarded at the end of the game.

THE GAME OF LIFE - CAA Life-side Assistance Edition


Just like in the real business world, competition can be a great motivator in a gamified application. A competitive environment usually generates better results, as it eliminates complacency and brings the best in everyone.

The decision to add competition to the gamified experience depends on your marketing objectives and participants’ profile. Some people love to compete, others find it intimidating. You really have to asses your specific goals and audience in order to make a determination.

Competition is illustrated through leaderboards or any other kind of ranking system.

This is the ranking system used by Air Canada in their “Earn Your Wings’ gamified application.

Air Canada Gamification Initiative


Some suggest that status is a stronger motivator than money. People have a natural desire to elevate their status as a way to differentiate from their peers.

Businesses have made use of status generating tools for quite some time. Airlines and credit card companies specialize in offering products and multi-tier reward programs meant to elevate their customers’ status.

Aeroplan, the popular rewards program offered by Air Canada announced the introduction of a multi-tier component (Distinction), that provides exclusive benefits to those who achieve the status.Distinction - Aeroplan

The most common reflection of status in a gamified application is the use of badges and other status symbols.


Some people have a constant need for achievement. They feel strongly motivated to complete moderately to difficult task in order to accomplish a goal or a task.

Badgeville Achievements

Each achievement must be compensated in order to be motivating. There are multiple ways to compensate for an achievement, the most effective being to publicly recognize it (status, prestige).


Rewards are probably the most common building block of a gamification project.

As a new parent I discovered how effective rewards are in changing our children’s behavior. Every new important milestone we want our children to achieve has been accomplished through the promise of a reward.

Rewards have been an integral part of loyalty programs. Common consumer rewards include virtual products, points, and virtual currency.

In a B2B environment, point and virtual currency are not as effective. Think of what your business customers value. You will discover that rewards such as extended warranty, free shipping, extended credit terms are very effective here.

The next post in the Gamification series I will address the “must haves” of delivering a successful gamified experience.

The Key Ingredients of True Brand Loyalty

Photo Credit: Sal Falko on Flickr



Loyalty programs, reward points, gamification of business, social media engagement, word of mouth marketing. These are all tools meant to tackle one of the biggest challenge many companies face: customer loyalty.

In a discount-obsessed society brand loyalty seems hard to achieve. Faced with a multitude of choices and bombarded with cleverly designed advertising messages, consumers are constantly tempted to switch brands.

It comes as no surprise that 51% of CMOs list customer retention as a major challenge. What’s surprising is the rapid adoption of the latest trends and technologies listed above before covering the basics of generating brand loyalty.

This article is an invitation to business owners and marketing professionals to take a step back and reflect at what achieving genuine brand loyalty really requires.

Brand Loyalty To Do List

Offer an Excellent Product

Every successful business is based on a good product. There is no point in even thinking of customer retention when your product doesn’t deliver as expected.

Customers have certain expectations regardless of the product price tag.

Let’s look at the meat industry as an example. Everybody expects to pay more for organic meat than the regular one. However buying regular meat should still taste good and not make people sick.

How do you learn what the customer expectations are? Competition provides an excellent benchmark. It’s good practice to compare your product against your category leader. These are the expectations your will probably have to match, if not exceed.

Stay Relevant

This complements the point above about offering a great product. Many companies build their reputation on a great product, but fail to update their offering to keep up with the category dynamics.

Blackberry’s open letter to customers in which it asks the customers to believe in the brand does too little, too late, to fix the damage. The reality is the brand has lost its cache with the consumers, by failing to stay relevant. Regardless of the causes, open  letters and other corporate PR messages will not bring Blackberry customers back.

Staying relevant require two things: knowing the customer and anticipating the latest trends in the category. The first requires research, the second long-term vision.

Provide Support When Things Go Wrong

Greek playwright Euripides said “Real friendship is shown in times of trouble; prosperity is full of friends.”

There is no better opportunity to build brand loyalty than being there when it matters most. Smart companies turn complaining customers into brand advocates by quickly making things right for them.

Mistakes happen- it’s how the company deals with them that build reputations.

South Korean car manufacturer Hyundai is tied with Ford in the 2013 Customer Loyalty Engagement Index issued by Brand Keys. An impressive comeback, given the initial bad reputation the brand had in North America.

The two initiatives Hyundai launched to support its customers during bad economic times might have had something to do with this achievement.

During the recent US government shutdown Hyundai announced a payment deferral initiative for government employees who were temporarily out of the job. The shutdown lasted for only 16 days, so this goodwill gesture will likely have minimal financial impact for the brand.

In 2008, during the global financial crises, Hyundai was the first automaker to launch the Job-Loss-Protection program. In essence, Hyundai promised a free, no hassle return of a vehicle financed by the company in case the owner could not afford the payments.

Rumor has it that it took Hyundai only 6 weeks to move the program from a great idea to the communication phase. The announcement was made during the Super Bowl game, on an 2.5 million dollar ad slot.

It’s really simple. Achieving brand loyalty mirrors building a solid personal relationship: a first good impression, a promise delivered every single time and strong support during good and bad times.