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Gamification is the Ultimate Personalization

Intouch Team

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Gamification has arguably been one of the top marketing buzzwords over the last few months. It seems every time I mention the term, there is some argument over what it actually means. Some think it is all about creating a branded game. Others think it is about attracting gamers to their brand. And still others think it is about in-game advertising. It just goes to show there is a lot of confusion around the term.

Recently, I’ve been fortunate enough to see game-based marketing, game mechanics and "the game layer" described by the likes of Seth Preibatsch, Gabe Zichermann and other gamification thought leaders. And, immediately, I have recognized two things. First, gamification is still a very nebulous term… even for the experts. Some of them describe it as incorporating "fun" or "play" into relationship marketing. Others believe it delivers "real rewards" or allows customers to "level up." Both views are correct and are a large part of the discussion around gamification. However, they do not get to the heart of how game mechanics affect people, their brand loyalty and lifetime value of a customer.

Second, I recognize the huge potential impact that gamification could have on health care. I define gamification as utilizing game mechanics to tap into people’s natural instincts and providing authentic challenges that lead to truly valuable results. Not a good marketing definition, right? But it makes much more sense when you apply this idea to health and wellness. A great example is Fitbit.

Gamification in Action

The Fitbit is quite simply a health and wellness device that does some amazing things. This technology tracks your activity throughout the day using motion sensors, much like the kind you would find in the Nintendo Wii controller. It tracks your steps like a pedometer, the calories you burn as a result of those steps and your daily mileage. It can also be used to track the duration of physical activities and sleep. The personal data is then fed to a website via the device’s wireless connection to a base station that can be connected to any computer. All anyone has to do is wear the small device every day and his or her activity is logged.

At this point, you are probably asking how this relates to gamification. The exciting part of the Fitbit has nothing to do with the small piece of plastic and circuits they are selling. It has to do with the personal data they are collecting. To activate a Fitbit, the user logs into the fitbit.com website and creates a profile. Using Facebook’s Open Graph API, the Fitbit profile can be linked to your Facebook profile and search for your friends who are also using Fitbit. Once friends are identified, they become your friends within the Fitbit network.

And here’s where gamification starts. Now I am compelled to be more active, because I want to be on top of the leaderboard of all my friends. I want to take more steps, burn more calories, lose more weight, eat better, have a better heart rate, etc. You get the point. My reward is better health, and Fitbit has tapped into my natural, competitive instinct of wanting to be in better health than anyone else I know.

So, what’s the end result of this type of gamification? Just by playing along and using the device, I have a wealth of health information I never would have tracked before. Not only do I know how active I am, I know my sleep patterns, eating habits, blood pressure, and my heart rate. And, it is all in a place where I can easily export that information for my doctor. The doctor can actually practice preventive medicine in my case because of all of this data at his or her fingertips. And all I’ve been trying to do is be more active than my friends and family.

Marketing Play

As marketers, we are tasked with making sure our products become irreplaceable. We want our brands to become part of peoples’ lives. Gamification is, quite simply, another way of providing value to customers beyond our products and connecting with them on a personal level. It is about gathering personal information on the user’s terms and giving them real value from participating with the brand. It’s about getting to know and supporting our customers.

For many products, implementing game mechanics will be simple. For others, it will be difficult. But for all products, it requires a change in mindset from traditional marketing. This is definitely a different approach. Marketers will have to define "challenge points," or times when their customers are open to change and ready to make a commitment to changing their lifestyle. In pharma, this happens at the point of diagnosis, when people are forced to take a different approach to their life and treat their disease.

We will also need to understand how to tap into peoples’ competitive nature. How do your customers compare themselves to others? We will have to take a different approach to collecting personal data and provide value in return. The days of getting a customer’s data from one registration form are over. We can connect people across their social graph and make them feel good about their "position" within that community or try to change their position or "level up."

Changing the Definition of Gamification

If we were looking for a good marketing definition of gamification, I would say it is really about:

  • Collecting personal data at necessary "challenge points," or times when people are open to change and ready for help in making lifestyle changes
  • Allowing people to tap into their competitive nature as they compare data across the database, national averages and their social graph (friends and family)
  • Making them feel good about their "position" (high score)
  • Helping them try harder to change their "position" (level up)
  • Providing them with truly valuable rewards

Today gamification seems to fit best as a retention effort, with the business objective of increasing the lifetime value of a customer. But as this idea of "the game layer" matures, I’m sure creative marketers will expand on this definition, further changing how brands communicate with their customers.

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