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Insight/ Emerging Media

'Gamification' Is Serious Business For Marketers


by Anoop Sahgal
Partner Marketing
Adobe Systems

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For centuries, games have been an integral part of society. From ancient board games inscribed on Egyptian tombs to today’s advanced interactive video match-ups, game play has been an expression of human nature, just like work, learning, and relationships. Whether seeking a badge, ribbon, or place on a leader board, people derive fulfillment from playing games and competing among peers.

For marketers, “gamification” is about integrating game mechanics into marketing activities to make them more fun to drive engagement and participation by cultivating desired behaviors through incentives and rewards. The power of games, if they are based on the right incentives, can create breakthrough engagement with any audience. As marketers are becoming increasingly aware, game play is now evolving into a gamification movement--a significant trend that is altering the way businesses interact with customers.

Find The Low-Hanging Fruit
The possible applications of game dynamics are nearly infinite. From a frequent-flyer program that entices travelers to book consistently on a specific airline, to a call-center training program that rewards agents possessing the most in-depth product expertise, many believe that gamification will have a significant impact on everything from the Web to education, health, social good, and work.

Leading companies are leveraging gamification to transform their businesses, and this is only the beginning. With so many possibilities, where does an organization begin? The first step is to determine where engagement matters most.

For instance, Adobe is applying the gamification concept to the beta software trials of one of its most popular software application suites.  Adobe is piloting a game concept that allows customers to earn points and obtain recognition through achievement levels and awards. The pilot’s aim is to promote learning and increased knowledge of the software and facilitate the learning experience through a gamification concept. The more customers learn about the new features of our product suite, the more rewards they can obtain. Plus, they can easily share their game-winning “status” through social networks.

Bunchball, a leader in the gamification movement, has implemented Nitro, “the participation engine” for customers from Victoria’s Secret to USA Networks’ Club Psych, and a game for the comedy blockbuster movie Despicable Me. “Gamification is a way to bring more value and increase engagement—it gets users personally invested,” said Rajat Paharia, CEO and founder of Bunchball. “For success metrics, we emphasize tracking revenue either directly in the form of engagement with advertising and other revenue streams to indirect revenue such as user growth and monetizable activity. Everything else is just fluff metrics.”

Getting Started
Here are five things to keep in mind when getting started with gamification:

>> It’s a tactic, not a strategy: Don’t start throwing the terms “gamification strategy” around in your executive review meetings. Use gamification tactics to meet measurable business goals, whether this involves increasing engagement with customers or employees, driving training adoption, or rewarding employees for regulation compliance. Determine what you want to achieve, and then measure it.

“Gamification is far more than simply putting a branded game on your Web site. Track your progress toward achieving business goals in real-time. Don’t create a game for a game’s sake. If gamification is not providing measurable ROI, then you shouldn’t be doing it,” said Ryan Elkins, CEO and co-founder of IActionable.

Next: Drilling down on your objectives.


>> Drill down on your objectives: Make the game an actionable step in the marketing conversion funnel. For example, track punch card usage, clicks on content such as videos versus graphics, or test sales force productivity through a game model. Use the information to modify behaviors, game designs, content, and product offerings. But blindly adding game mechanics to your site might not give you the results you’re looking for. To truly engage users and create long-term loyalty, the gamification solution you deploy needs to make sense for your business.

“Gamification is about better engagement with your audience and facilitating a more interactive experience with your company’s products and services,” said Ivo Lukas, CEO and founder of 24Notion.

A basic rule of thumb is that consumers should be rewarded with virtual items (e.g., points) for specific behavior (e.g., purchase), and those virtual items should offer access to exclusive privileges and rewards, such as levels or prizes.

As with any game, this interaction can be viewed as a simple set of rules and conditions that define the underlying marketing objectives of a program, such as:

  • increase in the frequency of purchase
  • boost the value per purchase
  • encourage usage of a new sales channel
  • drive new product/service adoption
  • perform consumer segmentation
  • conduct new customer acquisition
  • obtain feedback
  • upsell/cross-sell

>> Apply gamification across channels: Integrate the game into social, mobile, online, and offline campaigns to amplify results and boost participation. Channels are your arena—make them as large and integrated as possible. Game play and its outcomes must be available wherever, however, and whenever people have the time and interest.

Consider the mobile channel, which was perceived initially as a revolutionary interaction channel for gamified marketing promotions. Consumers could easily participate in on-pack marketing promotions by simply texting a printed code to get back their points or rewards. For example, consumers would buy a can of Coca-Cola and register their on-pack code via SMS to enter a sweepstakes or win an instant prize. The convenience of SMS versus physically mailing the code was so high that the use of mobile immediately resulted in a dramatic increase in redemption rates.

When considering the role of mobile in gamification, one should consider four inherent characteristics of the medium:

  1. The personal, intimate nature of a mobile device translates into higher potential impact.
  2. It’s time-sensitive.
  3. Instant, easy interaction makes direct response much easier.
  4. Interactions can be tracked, leading to much greater accuracy in measurement.

>> Evangelize: Talk about the game program and promote it online and on social networks. Make sure every customer touch point is involved and informed. Games can quickly go viral, but users need to be made aware of the game and its incentives whenever and however they interact with your organization.

Psych is a popular program on the USA Network, but, these days, creating value for TV advertisers often means connecting to the Web and social media in creative ways. Enter Club Psych, the online brand platform for the show, and among the first major media platforms to get gamified. The brainchild of NBC/Universal executive Jesse Redniss, Club Psych implemented gamified incentives to raise page views by more than 130% and return visits by 40%. The resulting rise in engagement has generated substantial revenue for the company, bringing registered user counts from 400,000 to nearly 3 million since the launch of the gamified version. The media conglomerate has since embraced the strategy across properties, bringing gamification to ratings leaders like Top Chef and the The Real Housewives.

>> Test and make real-time decisions: Test, gather metrics, and use the findings to make real-time decisions. Apply multivariate testing. Test different versions of game’s creative content—different graphics and videos, for instance—against one another to determine which experiences promote the liveliest, most active play. Test activity on networks such as Facebook to make gamification efforts more effective and determine the ultimate effects on the bottom line. It is important to measure social activity, since game play is inherently community-oriented.  

The important thing is to make sure all gamification tactics align with your overall marketing and business goals. Don’t take your eye off the prize. Advance into the new, yet ancient world of gamification using the most effective, cross-channel measurement and optimization strategies. Gamification is more than just trendy—it can make solid business sense and deliver impressive returns.

About Anoop Sahgal

Anoop Sahgal leads global marketing programs for Adobe's key agency and system integrator alliances. Sahgal has global experience in leadership roles that span marketing, product management, and business development in high technology, and has spent time time working in both the SI and agency worlds. Follow Sahgal on Twitter: @anoop_sahgal.