How to Use Gamification to Change Consumer Behavior


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If you’ve read anything about gamification recently, you’ve probably come across this definition:

Gamification is the application of game elements and mechanics in non-game based contexts.

It’s in every single article I’ve seen on gamification, and it sucks. Sure, on the most basic level that is technically what gamification is. But if you just throw points and badges onto any old “non-game based context” you’re going to be disappointed.

The truth is to change consumer behavior you need to do more than just offer points and badges. You need to understand your customer and align your gamification efforts with your business goals.

Step One: Understand Your Customer

First things first, your marketing campaign isn’t for you. It’s for your consumers.

And in order to change consumer behavior you have to consider how and why they currently interact with your brand:

• Where do they interact with your brand online?
• Why do they engage?
• What are they looking for?

Then create solutions that either:
A) Fit into how they already interact and offer additional value or
B) Make it easy and rewarding to interact with your brand in a new way

Example: Game A

Imagine you work for a grocery store. Your consumers regularly use your company’s app for recipe ideas. You decide to include a new game on your app that uses gamification to motivate customers to pack a lunch instead of eating out. You give consumers points every time they pack a bagged lunch, and shareable badges for meeting their weekly goals.

The game launches and despite your best efforts, no one uses it.

Here’s what went wrong:

1) You didn’t offer them additional value for participating in the campaign.
Why do they care about earning points that have no value in the real world?

2) The campaign doesn’t actually change their behavior.
Nothing about collecting points and earning badges makes consumers want to pack lunch instead of eating out.

Example: Game B

Now imagine instead of earning points, consumers had to keep a cute digital character alive by ‘feeding it’. If they don’t pack a lunch, their character gets sick from ‘unhealthy food’ and eventually dies.

Kind of like a Tamagotchi.

The app sends push notifications to remind consumers to feed their character. And if the character stays healthy for five days, it levels up and they are entered into a grand prize draw. Sound like more fun?

Here’s why it works:

1) The campaign appeals to both an external motivation (the grand prize draw) and an internal motivation (keeping the character healthy). Humans are more swayed by the thought of losing something they already own, than gaining something. So the potential to lose the character is a better motivator than gaining a badge.

2) The campaign makes it easy for consumers to change their behavior by:
A) Prompting them to pack their lunch
B) Doing it in a way that makes them want to take action

Sending a reminder like “Hey don’t forget to pack your lunch” is easy to ignore. There’s no motivation to respond.
But “hey your character is getting hungry and will get sick if you don’t feed it soon” is a bit harder to disregard. It appeals to consumers’ instinct towards loss aversion, making them more likely to respond.

Step Two: Know What Your Business Goals Are

The next step is making sure your campaign achieves your marketing goals.

There’s a reason your goals are Step Two.

If you think about your brand first and the consumer second, it’s easy to forget that you have to motivate people to take actions. You can’t just give them points and expect that to change their behavior. The same way you have to motivate the consumer to pack their lunch, you have to motivate them to complete your business goals.

Let’s look at the Packed Lunches campaign again. Say the business reason behind running it is to sell more groceries and promote your new lunch bag line. Your business goals are probably:

A) Get consumers to try new recipes and buy more groceries
B) Increase awareness of your new lunch bags
C) Get consumers to buy a lunch bag

To achieve those goals you have to include them as rewardable actions within the game. That’s why considering what consumers want is so important. If consumers don’t want the reward, they aren’t going to complete the actions.

Just imagine you’re playing Game A. You get a prompt to try a new recipe to earn more points. Do you click it? Probably not. There is no urgency behind it. And it doesn’t offer you, the consumer, any real value.

You’re more likely to click a prompt from Game B that says, “Your character isn’t feeling well. Give them a boost by trying a new recipe!”

Why? You see an immediate value (you don’t want your character to get sick) and there is an urgency to clicking (if you don’t the character will die soon). Plus it feels less like a ploy, and more like a helpful tip because it offers value to you, the consumer.

The Bottom Line
You have to offer your consumers real value to see real results. Points and badges aren’t an effective motivator unless you first consider why consumers would want to collect them.

Ask yourself:
• What do my consumers want/need
• How my campaign can offer a solution?

Then add in steps that help you achieve your business goals. And reward consumers for completing those steps.

Remember, when your consumer wins, so do you. So put them first, and reap the rewards.

John Findlay
John is a founding partner of the digital engagement agency, Launchfire (est. 1999). In his too-many years in the business he's developed gamified digital engagement strategies & promotions for a mighty impressive list of leading marketers.


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