It's All Fun and Games

How businesses are taking "gamification" to the next level.

If you’re a marketer, you’ve surely heard the term “gamification,” and maybe wondered how it might impact your business. Gamification taps into a universal human desire to play…and win. For a customer, it makes doing business fun.

In a way, gamification has been a part of businesses far longer than we’ve been hearing this cool new marketing term. Most of us understand frequent shopper, or loyalty programs. From carrying punch cards in our wallets to playing games to win a prize, we have been part of gamification programs.

But a new form of gamified marketing is taking it beyond the traditional “pay for play” approach.

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According to Forbes, on average, American households are enrolled in 29 loyalty programs, yet they are active in only 12. Jerry Epstein, chief executive officer of Engaged Nation, warns, “This 42 percent participation rate will continue to decline if retailers persist in presenting predictable, one-dimensional models that only reward customers with points and discounts for their purchases.”

Businesses must modernize their approach to gamification.

The science of motivation has advanced significantly in the past two decades, but many loyalty programs haven’t kept up with those advances. OfferCraft’s vice president of marketing and public relations, Dan Grech, sees that changing and notes, “Recent advancements in technology are making it possible to have loyalty programs where members can get incentives that are far more customized to their tastes. My company is taking that one step further by incorporating artificial intelligence into those programs. This allows a company’s rewards to change and evolve depending on the preferences and behaviors of every customer. This makes those rewards far more appealing and their loyalty programs far more effective.”

When the customer wins, the company does too.

Built on the theme of a classic board game, McDonald’s Monopoly promotion is probably the most widely recognized example of gamification. Customers collect game pieces during restaurant visits to win various rewards.

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“The genius in this program is that it supports the business goals of driving repeat visitation and additional purchases in a fun and engaging manner,” says Epstein. He adds, “Another good example of gamification is the Walgreens Steps and Balance Rewards program, which they designed to reinforce their market position around healthy living. It recognizes and rewards members who increase their physical activities, acknowledging their desire to improve their health.”

“These are good examples of the new “win-win model” that rewards both the customer and retailer,” adds Epstein. “The key is to develop a program which resonates with your particular audience.”

How to get started

“You don’t need to jump into the deep end of the pool to start; testing a program or product is a great way to see what works,” says Epstein. “First, create a well-thought-out campaign that makes consumer participation fun and relevant while providing a tangible return.”

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This can be done in the traditional way with, for example, the inexpensive punch card. You can also take your game to the next level by structuring it in such a way that customers can win a reward or discount before they make the purchase. This approach can often make the pain point of paying more fun. In turn, that experience will reflect positively on the company, product or brand and will add additional perceived value.

“Your game could also include a chance to win something of much greater value, such as a gift card or shopping spree; adding this additional level of reward increases the enjoyment factor of the overall experience,” adds Epstein. Execution of these types of programs varies widely, from electronic games supplied by a “gamification company” to the old school way of picking a winning prize or discount out of a hat.

If you’re going the route of partnering with a gamification company, Grech advises, “Find a good partner. If you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s easy to mess this up. You can’t just throw a game into a marketing or internal communications piece and hope for the best.”

As with any marketing program, the direction you choose must be able to live in your marketing environment, be sustainable and scalable.

Julia Carcamo is president and chief brand strategist at J Carcamo & Associates, specializing in brand and marketing strategy. She is also the co-founder of espNOLA, a Hispanic marketing and engagement agency. Learn more at and


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