Starting Simple with Gamification


ADOTAS – The term “gamification” can be one of the most misunderstood marketing and engagement strategies employed today. Many marketers think gamification literally means creating a game to engage with customers or employees. And,  yes, it can mean that.

However, at its base, gamification is simply the use of game design techniques and mechanics to engage with an audience. At its simplest, it starts with three simple psychological factors: pride, competition and community.

These three factors can be employed in myriad of marketing programs — banner ads, event marketing, viral videos, social engagement and loyalty programs. Begin by understanding the three psychological factors and how they fit with your audience.


Pride has a negative connotation, thanks to being one of the “seven deadly sins,” but it serves great function as well.

David DeStano, a Northeastern University scientist who has published studies on the subject of pride, has said, “We found that pride is quite undeserving of its negative reputation. Pride actually constitutes a functional social emotion with important implications for leadership and the building of social capital.” As DeStano’s study stated, “Pride can play an integral role in enhancing team functioning by fostering confidence and admiration.”

As marketers, we can tap into pride by challenging the target to better himself or prove herself. Give someone a challenge that helps him grow through practice or a simple quiz asking her how much she knows.

For instance, a grocery store chain could provide information on four cuts of meat, then challenge consumers to match the right meat with the right dish. An automotive company could challenge people to identify a car by the sound of its engine. A foodie and a grease-monkey aren’t going to be able to turn down these challenges — and both activities provide valuable engagement with a brand.

Questions to Ask:

What skills or knowledge sets does your target audience have that they take pride in?
What would a member of that audience want to prove to himself?
What skill or knowledge-set would someone feel self-fulfillment by improving?


Humans are innately competitive. There are two tried and true ways to look at competition scientifically: Survival of the fittest, and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Survival of the fittest can be explained scientifically as “intraspecific competition” — defined as when members of the same species vie for the same resource in an ecosystem. Evolutionarily, this helped our ancestors gain food, water and shelter. While we don’t fight for bread in the U.S., we still have the evolutionary tendency to battle for finite resources.

Psychologically, this plays out in Maslow’s third level of his hierarchy of needs: esteem, which includes self-esteem, confidence, achievement and respect by others. Victories in competition fuel fulfillment of all these psychological needs.

Questions to ask:

What data can you present to allow people to compare themselves to each other?
How can you create a finite set of resources over which people can compete?
If not competing against another person, can you create a scenario where your audience is competing against a system?


A yearning for sense of community is ingrained in us. When we see something amazing or experience something new, we wish to share these experiences with others. The same is true when participating in activities.

Johns Hopkins University behavioral neuroscientist Ed Fortune has found that brains comes wired for cooperation. “What we learned is that when it comes to the brain and cooperation, the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts,” said Fortune upon publishing his finding in the November 4, 2011, issue of Science. “We found that the brain of each individual participant prefers the combined activity over his or her own part.”

The numbers speak for themselves — the more than 100 million people on Facebook in the U.S. speaks directly to our desire for community. If you don’t believe people are naturally predisposed to participate in community activities, simply watch this TED talk by Charlie Todd about “The shared experience of absurdity.”

Questions to ask:

How can you naturally bring people together to participate in a common goal activity?
Are there existing offline communities you can extend and/or enable online?
If you can’t make the activity shared, can you make the experience shared?

At the end of the day, complex mechanisms aren’t necessary to apply gamification to marketing efforts. Tapping into a little psychology and physiology can go a long way into gaming your results.



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