Beyond The Buzzword: Gamification

Let’s be honest: All of us can be kids at heart. When it comes to content marketing, gamification offers the play time all of us desire.

But gamification is more than just a substitute for recess. It’s ideal for increasing important metrics and creating brand affinity in spades.

The Simple Definition

“Gamification” can be a mouthful to say, but it’s not nearly so complicated to define. Simply put, gamification is the art of making a game out of your content marketing. Apps, interactive tools and even quizzes can fit the gamification bill.

Though not a new concept to the Internet at large, gamification has become a go-to tool for many content marketers. It’s hardly surprising why: Gamification can yield a slew of coveted marketing benefits.

Engagement is the most obvious of these results. Though engagement is a buzzword in its own right, it translates into very specific metrics. Time on site/app, bounce rate and social sharing all fall under the engagement umbrella, and each of these benchmarks can be improved with gamification.

For example, GrubHub offers a classic video game experience while customers wait for their food. Rather than let users exit after purchase, GrubHub Fastfood Runner utilizes gamification to increase the time each customer spends in the app.

Common Mistakes

Before you start designing gamified features, there are a few roadblocks to overcome. First and foremost, consider your budget. In order to pull off a game that users actually want to play, the game must be well planned and well designed.

Unfortunately, this achievement doesn’t come cheap. A clean, functional app will cost $10,000 minimum (though intricate designs can run upwards of six figures). For a full rundown of app design budgets, check out SavvyApp CEO Ken Yarmosh’s detailed advice.

As always, you must also consider your audience. Do users tend to visit your site on the go? If so, consider a game that takes no longer than 30 seconds. If your audience is more charitable with their time, you may be able to increase that. Just be forewarned: Very few games should last longer than a couple of minutes.

Finally, gamification can go south quickly if you don’t optimize for different platforms. While this may increase your budget significantly, keep in mind that mobile now outpaces desktop traffic. If you aren’t optimized for mobile, desktop and tablet, you might as well not attempt gamification at all.

gamification art of making a game out of content marketing

How to Get Started

If you’re convinced that gamification is right for your brand, it’s time incorporate it into your overall content marketing strategy. But what type of gamification should you pursue? Luckily, there are ample opportunities for gamification that work at every stage of the funnel.

  1. There’s an app for that

As we mentioned above, app design can claim a chunk of your marketing budget. Yet don’t discount apps just because of an upfront cost. After all, apps are one of the most evergreen forms of gamification.

Whether paid or free, an app can result in long-term returns for your brand. For example, addictive games or useful features keep users engaged with your brand during many everyday moments where they need your product or want to kill some time.

Apps are also great for ongoing data collection. When do users open your app, and can you glean any buyer insights based on that information? Do users jump out of the app at a common point? If so, you might have a glitch or needless feature on your hands.

Before you assume apps are only for tech companies, consider that some would argue you need an app as part of your product portfolio. Chances are, if you’re selling something, an app is worth investing in.

  1. Personalization

Gamification doesn’t have to take the form of intricate apps or video games. In fact, most gamified features are little more than interactive building blocks.

Let’s take Blue Nile’s Build Your Own Ring as an example. The online engagement ring retailer encourages users to build their own ring using a straightforward pathway. Users are taken through diamond selection, ring setting and of course, purchase.

This type of personal gamification is a win-win situation for users and Blue Nile. On the one hand, users avoid the overwhelming task of filtering through thousands of rings. It’s especially useful for those who may be new to the world of clarity, cut, color and carat.

Blue Nile receives its own gems, as well. First, the brand gains invaluable insight into user preferences and taste. Not only does this help Blue Nile marketers improve its site and strategy, but it also helps operations and business teams make future product decisions.

Also, gamification allows Blue Nile to build a relationship with its audience. The Build Your Own Ring feature is a registered trademark, giving Blue Nile immediate street cred in the engagement ring arena. What’s more, the gamified feature conveys trust and expertise in a way that simple articles or photos never could.

  1. Interactive Sweepstakes

When it comes to brand sweepstakes, there is such a thing as free lunch. Audiences love an opportunity to win prizes, especially if entry is easy. Gamification can take sweepstakes to the next level, offering a fun factor that most sweepstakes lack.

Take VSP, for example. While eyecare may seem like a relatively humdrum category, VSP has gamified its content marketing. In fact, the brand hosts a gamified sweepstakes every single month. Users simply play a 20-second game to receive an entry into the contest.

VSP also recycles many of its game features each month, which is a smart idea for any content marketer who wants to host an interactive sweepstakes. While VSP’s games may vary from Whack-a-Mole to Memory, it uses the same icons, framework and microsite.

  1. Product Announcement

Obviously, you want any new product to make a memorable entrance. Gamification is a fantastic way to announce a new product or feature in a way that wows.

EA Sports released NFL Madden 15 in just such a way. Its NFL Giferator allows users to pick a football team and GIF (pulled straight from the video game, of course), followed by an opportunity to personalize and share the GIF. Engagement, high pages per visit and social sharing? Yes, please.



So… we got a little too “in to” finding the right gamified content examples from the #MaddenGiferator site.

You, too, can create a game that allows users to have fun with your new product. Not only that, but users can have fun with the game long after your product has been released. Just make sure you tweak it accordingly.

One more thing: Please don’t forget a call to action (or seven). After all, the whole exercise is pointless if no one remembers your new product.

  1. Post-Purchase Engagement

Any marketer worth their salt knows a long-term brand strategy isn’t all about first-time purchase. A brand needs repeat purchasers and brand advocates to succeed.

This means engaging users even after their purchase is over. Enter gamification yet again. Gamified features in this scenario are unlocked only after a customer has completed an order.

Domino’s is one of the pioneers in this category. Since 2008, the pizza delivery brand has utilized GPS technology to let users know exactly where their pizza is in the delivery process. This registered trademark process keep users engaged and on the site even after their credit card has been approved.

If you have a long delivery cycle, this feature obviously won’t work for you. However, you can offer other post-purchase gamification. It can be complex (i.e., GrubHub’s Fastfood Runner) or simple, such as automated social sharing.

Now that you have an idea of the wide world of gamification, it should be clear that you really can engage users at every stage of the funnel. Let’s see how that breaks down:

  • Awareness: This top-of-the-funnel stage focuses on attracting new users. Gamification is ideal for this, namely in the form of apps or sweepstakes.
  • Engagement/Evaluation: In the middle of the funnel, users get to know your brand. Product announcement games are perfect for this stage.
  • Commitment: The very last stage of the funnel entails commitment and purchase. Intuitive, well-designed gamification will smoothly transition users into buyers. Consider personalized product-focused games, such as Blue Nile’s Build Your Own Ring.
  • Loyalty: Finally, gamification engages users beyond the funnel with brand loyalty features that unlock after purchase.

Though you must plan and budget for effective gamification, it’s well worth your time for most brands. Plus, who said content marketing can’t all be fun and games?