Marketing Games: Cracking the Rewards Shell
Nov 15, 2012
Two minutes into a presentation about Gameification in Marketing, the speaker used earning extra airline peanuts as an example of gaming rewards.
“My God,” I thought, “he literally said customers are working for peanuts.”
And many customers are beginning to figure this out. All the increasingly common game-based “rewards” – flashy badges, new website colors, and (of course) increased advertising emails – aren’t rewards at all. At least, not for the consumer – they’re benchmarks of brand loyalty for your company, keeping score of how much time, money, and marketing data your customers have given you.
And this makes sense. After all, if it wasn’t profitable for companies to run gaming-inspired reward programs, they wouldn’t do it. And an extra bag of peanuts is better than nothing.
But that doesn’t make it a good trade – if customers are going to play your game, they want a chance to win something big. When surveyed, over half of customers work to earn reward points because they want concrete benefits like discounts, add-ons, and free upgrades. It’s the difference between earning extra peanuts and stacking up the points for a free flight or first-class seating upgrade. Airlines like Southwest understand this very well, which is why “earn flights fast” is in the headline of their rewards site.
Even so, “Giving More Stuff Away for Free” isn’t a strategy. How can you bend Gameification to your marketing advantage without swelling your giveaways?
The answer is going back to why people play games in the first place. The knee-jerk answer is “Duh, winning,” but it goes deeper. Games are fundamentally about playing WITH other people. Not everyone wins. But everyone COMPETES.
And the nature of competition is COMPARISON. For example, say you’re launching a new product site and you’ve added a scavenger hunt gaming element: if visitors find different hidden clues throughout the site, they can earn points. The greater their tally, the better their chances of winning the featured product in a raffle.
Here you’ve got a basic marketing game. To take it to the next level, show players how they compare: add a leaderboard that tells every visitor where they stand in the scavenger hunt. Show them how much better (or worse) their chances of winning are, compared to the other players. Give them bonuses if they share their progress on Twitter. Entice them to make it to the upper echelon, the winner’s circle.
And how will they do that? By poring over every pixel of your content to find the hidden words, thereby increasing their familiarity with your product. And you accomplished this deeper engagement without giving away more free stuff. And when the giveaways happen, as in the Southwest example, customers build more points by bragging about their winnings on social media, which leads to more points for them and more customers for you.
Because in the end, adding a game-related edge to your marketing is not about letting everyone win – it’s about letting them know that there’s a game worth playing, and they don’t want to be left behind.