What Is Gamification, How it Works & How It Can Help Your Business

We’ve all played games before, but what does gamification have to do with business? Believe it or not, gaming and gamification are two different concepts.

If you want to increase engagement with people who buy your courses, gamification can generate competition and interest while helping your customers learn concepts faster and easier than with other course materials.

What Is Gamification?

Gamification is the application of marketing or educational content to an interface that introduces game mechanics. It’s not the same as gaming because it isn’t a separate type of content. Instead, it’s a way to repurpose content that exploits the motivations inherent to games.

Think about the last time you played cards with a family member. Even though it was a friendly game, you still felt compelled to do your best, and if you won, you felt a surge of victory. You felt like you accomplished something.

That’s the feeling that gamification attempts to instill in users in a business or educational setting.

While gamification can help people learn, it’s actually more valuable in terms of engagement. People associate the activity with your brand, which makes them feel included. It can also help you create a deeper relationship with your customers. You become more indispensable to them, and they develop a deep sense of loyalty that can result in a higher customer lifetime value and more revenue.

In marketing, you’ll find examples of gamification all over the place. M&M, for instance, launched the Eye Spy Pretzel game back in 2013.

The concept was simple. Users simply had to look at images filled with M&M candy and spot the one lone pretzel.

It’s sort of like a “Where’s Waldo” book without Waldo or a hidden-object game with only one hidden object.

What was the point? To engage the brand’s audience. The campaign generated 25,000 Facebook likes, 10,000 Facebook comments, and 6,000 total shares.

While you might not be able to achieve that level of engagement, you can still use gamification to get your clients more involved with your online courses and to add variety to your social media channels.

Other major brands, such as Nike, have used gamification to similar results. NikeFuel, for instance, pitted athletes against one another as they strove to earn more activity points than other participants.

There are numerous ways in which you can incorporate gamification into your marketing and business strategy. But let’s dive into some of the finer points of gamification so you can employ it to great success.

What Are Game Mechanics? 

Game mechanics are educational or competition-inspiring actions within a gamification strategy. They often prompt a particular response or employ a teaching method to help users understand the goal.

For instance, in NikeFuel gamification campaign, the most obvious game mechanic was competition. Users could check their stats against their competitors’ and use their positions on the leaderboard to motivate them.

Other game mechanics include the following:

  • Goals: Participants work toward a particular objective, such as finding the pretzel hidden among hundreds of M&Ms.
  • Status: Users can “level up” through various modules in the gamification strategy to gain status amongst their peers.
  • Community: Teams work together to achieve specific goals or to bring about a desired outcome.
  • Education: As participants move through the game or level up, they’re given tips and tricks to help them navigate the process. You can also use quizzes to help people learn in a gamification ploy.
  • Rewards: Badges, points, and other rewards fuel motivation and help participants feel like they are accomplishing something.

In other words, game mechanics either inspire or reward action. They’re turning points in the campaign that help encourage participants to continue interacting with the game.

If you’ve ever played a video game, you’re familiar with dozens of game mechanics. For instance, if you kill bad guys in a first-person shooter game, you’re rewarded with more points, better weaponry, and other assets. It works the same way in gamification.

How Does Gamification Work? 

If you don’t think that gamification can work, think about the millions of people who have downloaded apps like Candy Crush and Minecraft to their smartphones and tablets. While these games are purely recreational, they generate plenty of revenue for their creators.

People are hard-wired for competition. If you give them a problem to solve or a quiz to test their knowledge, they’ll ultimately rise to the task.

While you don’t want to encourage people to spend endless hours playing Candy Crush, you can create a mini phenomenon for your customers. Establish a gamification campaign that encourages them to compete, level up, and test their knowledge.

As much as people love competition, they love rewards even more. It’s how our society works, if you think about it.

At work, you get a promotion and a raise if you outperform your colleagues and impress the boss. In relationships, you’re rewarded with trust, loyalty, and affection if you take the time to nurture it.

The same is true of e-learning and marketing. If you can engage your customers with gamification, you owe it to yourself to try it out.

Of course, you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on a detailed app. Go back to the M&Ms example, The company simply created graphics with a hidden picture inside them. The graphic probably took fewer than 30 minutes to create, but the company was rewarded with massive engagement.

Can Gamification Really Motivate People? 

Gamification does provide motivation, but only when it’s executed properly. For gamification to work, you need three critical elements:

  • Context: The gamification element of your marketing strategy or online course should relate to your industry or even to a very specific topic.
  • Value: Participants need to feel as though they’re getting value from the activity, whether it’s status, rewards, or knowledge.
  • Success: If you make a gamification strategy too complex, nobody will be able to complete the challenge. Instead of creating engagement, you’ll engender frustration. Ultimately, the game’s goals or objectives must be achievable.

Go back to the Candy Crush example. Many players quit after they reach a certain level because, after 100 tries, they can’t pass it. They get frustrated, delete the app, and move on to something else.

Similarly, if M&M made the pretzel so tiny and insignificant that nobody could find it, their target audience would have stopped bothering to search.

If you’re creating a gamification strategy for your online course, make sure that the material is commensurate with your target customers’ knowledge and skill level. Otherwise, you’ll turn them off.

The same goes for marketing. Don’t present your audience with a challenge they can’t overcome or beat.

Additionally, remember that gamification is not like gaming. The objective isn’t merely to provide entertainment, though gamification can be fun. It’s more about engagement and teaching.

How Can Gamification Help Small Businesses? 

Think of gamification as another tool in your marketing and teaching arsenal. It can help small businesses by turning existing content into something that’s interactive, rewarding, and motivational.

For instance, lots of small business owners want their target customers to share their content with friends, family members, and colleagues. However, you can’t force people to share your content.

You can motivate them to share your content, though.

Let’s say that you create online courses about fitness. You could create a gamification system wherein people who publish their latest fitness achievements on social media, using your brand name as a hashtag, earn points toward badges. The more they achieve their goals and share their messages, the more badges they accrue.

In this way, you’re turning sharing and goal-setting into a game. You’re not creating a new game to serve your customers; instead, you’re using your existing goals and content with a gamification twist.

Similarly, you could award people stars or badges each time they participate in one of your online courses. Think of it as a certification — it proves that your customers have taken your course and absorbed the information you provided.

Gamification doesn’t have to be complex or expensive. All it takes is some imagination.

Isn’t Gamification Just About Adding Points And Badges To The Experience? 

Points and badges are part of gamification — at least in some cases — but you need a strategy if you want gamification to work. In other words, as with any other marketing campaign, you need a clear, actionable goal from the outset.

For instance, do you want to use gamification to attract more customers for your online courses? You’ll need to set up a system that spreads brand awareness, encourages repeat purchases, or encourages customers to share your content with family and friends.

Alternatively, maybe your goal is to give your online courses more authority. Starting a certification program can accomplish that. It gives your courses an air of credibility that you can use to attract more customers.

We could give out points and badges to anyone who asked for them. But what would be the point? Participants have to feel as though they’ve earned those badges and points; otherwise, they can’t derive any satisfaction from it.

Games Vs Gamification 

A game is a single entity that exists for a specific purpose, such as to entertain. Monopoly is a well-known example. People play by the rules, and at the end of the game, someone emerges as the winner.

Gamification is completely different. It involves adding game mechanics to your existing materials and assets.

Facebook giveaways offer a classic example. Maybe you give away a free course every month by selecting a random name from among your followers.

You could make this activity even more interesting by attaching a game mechanic. For instance, to participate in the giveaway, your followers must post a selfie and tag your business in the description. In that case, you only choose a winner from followers who have followed the rules.

You could do the same thing with a blog post or a SlideShare presentation. Instead of just hitting “Publish” and moving on to your next marketing campaign, add a test or quiz to the bottom of the post (or include a link to one at another site). Require users to answer questions about what they read in the post. Of the people who score 100% on the test, you’ll randomly draw a winner who will receive some sort of reward or prize.

No, gamification is not about creating Monopoly for your industry. Instead, it involves adding game mechanics to content types that lend themselves to competition, rewards, and motivation. Most importantly of all, every gamification strategy must deliver value to the customer.

The Promise Of Gamification 

While many brands have already used gamification to great success, there are still many unknown variables. Few studies exist to show concrete data about gamification’s ROI and engagement levels. You can’t necessarily make a sweeping statement based off one campaign’s success.

However, since games have existed for hundreds of thousands of years, it stands to reason that gamification can improve small business’s prospects in terms of marketing and e-learning. As long as you create motivation and value, provide rewards for participants, and make the experience enjoyable, your engagement rates should improve.

In the future, social media platforms might incorporate gamification into their functionality as a default. As this practice becomes more and more widespread, expect more people to take advantage of it — even your competitors.

If you start using gamification now, you might find yourself well ahead of the curve. When you shock your core audience with an unexpected and delightful surprise, such as a game in which they can participate, you set yourself apart from the crowd.

Gamification promises to bring more customers to the table, to help retain customers, and to increase learning retention rates. After all, when people have fun, they hardly remember that they’re learning. This knowledge can become particularly beneficial to small business owners who create online courses.

You don’t need fancy technology or advanced design skills, though those assets could come in handy. All you need is a basic knowledge of gamification and its potential applications if you want to use this strategy for your online business. As time passes, you’re likely to see new applications for gamification enter the market, so you might as well jump on the bandwagon early.

Applications 

We now have a better understanding of what gamification is, but how can you use it to market your business and to improve your online courses? There are several potential avenues.

Gamification can exist in many forms, so you have nearly endless options for application. However, remember that the game must be relevant to your audience, provide a reward, and include some way to motivate participants. Otherwise, it won’t garner much traction.

Let’s look at a few specific ways in which gamification might change how your small business operates and attracts customers.

Marketing 

We’ve already covered this aspect of gamification in detail. You can use a gamification strategy to make your small business more visible to current and prospective customers. Since people enjoy competition, they’re more likely to share content when there’s a competition component.

Publish your gamification strategies on your website, social media, and blog. You can also incorporate them into your online courses.

Most importantly, promote that content as heavily as possible. Make sure people see the opportunity to compete so you have as many participants as possible.

You could even partner with people in similar niches to reach larger audiences. We mentioned an online course creator who concentrates on fitness earlier. He or she could partner with a nutritionist or a professional athlete and collaborate on a gamification strategy.

Anything you can do to amplify your reach will make gamification more successful from a marketing standpoint.

You could even use it to inspire more people to sign up for your mailing list. Let prospects know that you’ll announce new contests and other games for subscribers only.

Inspiration 

If you teach online courses, you’re likely motivated at least in part by the opportunity to inspire people. You want to share your knowledge and encourage others to grow.

Gamification is the perfect vehicle for realizing this goal. You can challenge your followers and customers to compete against one another or to meet an objective. They will feel better about themselves — and more inspired to work hard — once they participate.

It’s also a great way to become a thought leader. If you conceive of a new use for gamification in your industry, others will likely copy your efforts. Don’t be offended! It’s evidence that you’re leading the pack, setting trends, and getting noticed.

Health 

Insurance companies, health care providers, and app creators have already begun to gamify health care. The theory is that people will reach their fitness and nutrition goals faster if they’re competing against a clock, earning victory badges, and beating their friends in steps walked, miles run, or healthy calories consumed.

Just look at the success of the Fitbit. People upload their statistics all the time and compete with their friends and family members as they work toward weight-loss and fitness goals.

If you teach online courses in a health-related industry, you might discover that gamification comes in handy. It provides extra motivation for your customers to follow your advice, absorb the information you impart, and become more involved in the course itself.

Work 

Many employee engagement apps use gamification to engage their employees and contract workers. For instance, hubEngage uses points, badges, leaderboards, quizzes, and other game mechanics to keep employees engaged while they’re on the job.

Each employee gets his or her own personal dashboard, which shows that employee’s progress through various gamification modules. The app leaderboard shows how each employee compares to the others, so competition can become fierce.

If you work with a team, you can implement gamification internally as well as externally. Instead of taking your employees on a group retreat or repeating trust-fall exercises, let them interact through gamification. If you can incorporate an employee-training element into the mix, you’ll kill two birds with the proverbial stone.

You can either use a third-party app like hubEngage or create your own gamification strategy. Either way, you can encourage employee participation by offering small, tangible rewards for reaching certain milestones. Gift cards, small gifts, and even a bonus on the employee’s check can provide powerful motivation to keep participating.

Education 

Since you create online courses, education can become your main focus for gamification. Adding teaching elements to the gameplay can help your customers learn faster, retain more information, and garner more satisfaction from the process.

For instance, you could create your own leaderboard for every course. Customers could take quizzes after completing certain milestones in the course material, and you can award badges or points for high scores. This element of education also helps you build community and establish rapport with your customers.

If you want to get even more advanced, you could turn an entire course module into a game. For instance, customers work through the different levels, “unlocking” new information as they go. This might take more time and money, but it can be a great way to set your course apart from others.

Politics 

You might argue that politics is already a game in and of itself, but gamification can also breed civic mindedness. If you reward people for performing their civic duties, they might express more willingness to get involved.

For instance, during election seasons, you could use gamification to encourage people to vote. This is already in play in some jurisdictions, albeit in a minor way. After they visit the polls, residents get stickers that shout to the world that they’ve voted.

Among politically-aware citizens, those stickers have become badges of honor.

Technology Design 

Think of gamification as the perfect pairing between design and technology.

The design involves the game’s aesthetics, sensibilities, and navigation, while technology powers those designs to create engagement and track metrics.

Authentication 

You’ve probably already seen that gamification has been used for authentication. Have you ever solved a math problem to prove that you weren’t a robot? That’s a prime example.

Instead of using a boring form of authentication, gamification makes the process less tedious, which ultimately reduces resentment among consumers.

History 

The earliest example of gamification dates all the way back to the 19th century. A company called Sperry & Hutchinson sold S&H Green Stamps — early versions of trading cards — to supermarkets and other retailers. The store owners would then use the stamps to reward their customers.

Over time, gamification has become far more sophisticated, though you might notice that people — particularly children — still collect trading cards. It’s a simple form of gamification that inspires competition, provides a reward, and requires a little effort.

In the 1970s, researchers began to focus on the idea of gamification and the ways in which it might make learning more fun and provide a fresh marketing strategy for businesses. The Holiday Inn was the first company to create a loyalty program in the hospitality industry. Customers could earn points toward discounts on future stays, which encouraged brand loyalty and continued patronage.

Other companies in the travel and hospitality industries soon followed suit, from airlines to restaurants.

Then came video games, which turned more people into gamers than any previous generation. People discovered a love of games — those that weren’t played with cards and game boards, but with joysticks and controllers. That trend continues today and extends to desktop and mobile gaming, both of which have roots in gamification.

The word gamification didn’t exist before 2003, however, and it’s still in its infancy when you consider the progress that lies ahead. Companies have not even begun to tap this marketing strategy’s power, so those who get in the game early can certainly reap more rewards than those who drag their heels.

Conclusion 

Gamification isn’t going away. In fact, it’s steadily on the rise. If you haven’t used some element of game mechanics in your marketing or teaching efforts, now’s the time to dip your toes in these waters.

Think of gamification as another layer of your marketing or teaching platform. It’s not a separate entity that you have to create from whole cloth. It’s another way to use the material you’ve already created.

And it’s a great way to reach potential customers who might not otherwise have found your digital products.

After you create your online courses, add gamification elements — both inside the courses and as part of your marketing campaign. Get your customers to compete with one another. Reward them with value and awards. Help them meet their goals.

You might think that gamification is nothing other than sitting around on the couch, playing Candy Crush. There’s nothing further from the truth.

In reality, gamification has nothing to do with gaming at all. It just borrows game mechanics that can work in other environments.

Have you tried gamification for your online courses? What strategies worked the best? Do you have any tips to add?

 

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