How to Get Gamified: An Interview with James Davidson

Apr 04, 2014


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Article ImageThe applications of gamification are growing. Many companies are finding new and interesting ways to apply this trend in their industries, but others struggle with understanding how to get started. EContent interviewed James Davidson, digital marketing leader and social business strategist for 7Summits about how companies can get started applying gamification techniques.


Q: Can you start by defining gamification for our readers who may be unfamiliar with the concept?

A: Gamification is the application of game-like elements to non-game environments. It was one of the top business trends of 2013 and is continuing to gain momentum in 2014. With a focus on incentivizing customer, employee or partner behavior, many gamification models feature tactics popularized in gaming, such as virtual badges, leaderboards and points systems, to keep participants engaged. These tactics comprise a larger opportunity for driving change and transformation in organizations.

Q: Can you give us an example of how a company might use gamification to motivate customers?

A: There are many different ways to use gamification as a motivational tool -- I will break down a few different examples and potential approaches.

#1. 7Summits builds online communities (similar to social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook) for our clients. These communities revolutionize the way work gets done. Companies can connect with employees, partners and customers on one platform, collaborate across different departments to enhance productivity, and remove corporate silos to harness innovation. One of the key challenges we face when launching a successful online community is getting users to fill out their profile. Gamification can help this process by adding a visual profile meter that shows the percentage complete (similar to LinkedIn). When a user logs into the community, we can show them that their profile is only 20% complete. Adding more information like title, location, interests and skills can increase profile completeness beyond 20% to, let's say, 50%. The user feels a sense of accomplishment because their percentage has gone up, and the business is happy because they are acquiring more data about their users in a fun and engaging way.

#2. Another common scenario we can probably all relate to is using an online portal or website to complete a task, whether that's online banking, managing your health, or even continuing education. Most of these portals have a lot of functionality and content that users never realize exists. A great application of gamification in one of these portal scenarios is to create a "mission" to guide a user through the actions you want them to take.

For example, let's consider online banking. The financial institution may want users to sign up for additional online services to reduce administration costs, and the customer might want to streamline their banking experience by visiting the branch less and doing more online. The bank could create a mission on their customer online banking portal focused on guiding users to sign up for more of their online services (for example,  online bill pay, e-statements, automatic credit card payment, opening a savings account, and so on). 

When a user logs into the banking portal, they are presented with a mission called "Easy Sign-Up for Online Services." They are then presented with a visual guide of tasks they can complete to sign up for online banking services. After the user completes a task in the mission, they are presented with a virtual reward or badge for completing the task. The customer feels a sense of satisfaction, as they've made their life easier, and the bank reduces their administration and printing costs for paper statements, which could total millions in savings.

These are just some illustrative examples. We are seeing some really powerful applications of gamification within organizations around new employee onboarding. For example, guiding a new hire through their first 90 days, incentivizing and driving business development teams with elements like sales leaderboards, and rewarding employees for sharing their knowledge or documents and answering questions.

Q: When is gamification an appropriate tool to use?

A: Gamification is a great tool to use when you are trying to simply enhance and measure the effectiveness of a digital platform (that is, a website, portal, CRM or social community) or a process (for example, sales enablement, marketing campaign, employee on-boarding or knowledge capture). We sometimes hear these common criticisms of gamification:

  • Can create an artificial sense of achievement
  • Not fun or engaging
  • Can encourage unintended and unwanted behaviors
  • Lacks impact and value

Digital Marketing Leader and Social Business Strategist

These reactions generally occur when a company has added a gamification component to an existing technology or process as an afterthought. This is a critical mistake. A lack of alignment between strategy and gamification is often to blame for poor engagement and lackluster results. Before you add gamification to a process, we recommend conducting an exercise like the one outlined below:

  • WHY:Review Business Objectives and Goals (for example, "Decrease time for onboarding a new customer or employee")
  • WHO:Identify Participants and Value Statements (for example, "As a customer or employee , I want to understand my support options in the portal")
  • WHAT:Identify Define and Prioritize Gamification Uses (for example, "Create a guide for new customers / employees to understand their benefits and support options more efficiently")
  • HOW:Identify Plan for your implementation (for example, "Implement a mission for new customers / employees to expose the various support and self-service tasks they can accomplish themselves within a portal")

Q: Do you find that certain industries find more use for gamification?

A: We are actually seeing great examples and use across many industries spanning hi-tech, manufacturing, healthcare, and higher education. Our partner, Bunchball, has a gamification product called Nitro. What's really exciting about Nitro is that gamification does not need to be siloed to one digital platform like a website or an online community. With Nitro, you can track and reward a user for their contributions and actions across multiple digital platforms, including external social networks like Facebook, company websites and portals. For example, an employee could answer a question on your Facebook fan page for a customer, complete training on your employee portal and help another employee complete a task on a project - and all of these actions can be rewarded, tracked, and measured under a single profile.

Q: If a company is just starting to consider using gamification, what advice does it need to know first?

A: Here are some pointers to get your started:

  • Align your gamification implementation with your strategy
  • Ensure gamification statistics are mapped and included within your measurement plan and analytics to guide activation and adoption efforts
  • Continually monitor and modify your gamification configuration based on audience behavior, number and types of activity and content - don't just "set it and forget it"
  • Be sure to consider frequency of action - if an activity can happen frequently or repeatedly, it's important not to reward this behavior too heavily to avoid rapid accumulation of points
  • Set rate limits and/or daily challenge limits for all rewards - having a cap on earning is a must to control earning potential