Game Mechanics Applied to Marketing And Brands

Here’s my latest MediaPost column and dispatch, from Supernova…

Game Mechanics Applied to Marketing And Brands

June 23rd, 2006 by Max Kalehoff

I deliver this dispatch from Kevin Werbach’s Supernova 2006 conference, the gathering of “business, government, and technology thought leaders to understand how decentralization and pervasive connectivity are changing the world.”

During a panel discussion on games and their broader application to business, Ami Jo Kim, creative director at ShuffleBrain, offered some very interesting insights from the gaming world that marketers should consider when trying to create great customer experiences and loyalty around their products and services.

Kim underscored that games trigger the most primal response patterns, and, depending on schedules of reinforcement, will produce varied results — a phenomenon that holds true for rats, pigeons and humans. Successful games also shape our behavior by engaging us in “flow,” which is achieved through an optimum balance of challenge and skill. As humans, we need appropriate levels of challenge as our skills increase. The ability to match these two components is what makes good teachers good and great games work. It’s not necessarily graphics or sound, but certainly the underlying flow.

In context of these behavioral drivers, Kim then posited “game mechanics” as a framework to create services that are more fun, compelling and addictive.

1. Collecting

The most successful games involve the collection of items, such as artifacts or tools, among others. The human drive to show off collections is what drives addiction and convincing experiences.

2. Points

Points are the second critical component because people will continue a certain behavior to gain more points. Points could include page views, eBay ratings, YouTube ratings or reviews, among others. Points can demonstrate a game’s value, create a social experience, define achievement levels and punctuate the experience. Points make it hard to stop playing.

3. Feedback

The next key aspect is feedback on how you’re doing, whether auditory, visual, or other. Feedback draws attention, accelerates mastery, increases enjoyment and induces flow.

4. Exchanges

Next are explicit or implicit exchanges, or interactions, such as trading or gifting. Successful interactions feel like a conversation and also induce flow and foster a compelling experience.

5. Customization

Finally, customization increases investment and creates barriers to leaving. The greater the investment, the harder it is to exit.

To be sure, these game mechanics do not apply to every marketing situation. But what’s interesting is that addressing them in a marketing context forces a more holistic and comprehensive understanding of the customer experience. In addition to fostering overall customer-centricity, these mechanics can be incorporated into to a range of customer touch points, from the product itself, to promotion and sale, to product adoption and usage, to customer training and service, to up-sell and renewal. Without a doubt, we can see at least some of these principles underlying products and services in virtually every industry, such as financial services, media, retail, transportation, nutrition and healthcare, among others.

Considering game mechanics in context of my own personal brand experiences, social-media services are among the most obvious and prolific. In terms of collection, my Flickr photo-sharing Web site is clearly a highly valued compilation of images and experiences, which I strive to expand continuously. In terms of points, I pay close attention to the number of views and subscribers across my personal portfolio of video sites, like Revver. As for feedback, you can be sure I also pay very close attention to comments left on my personal blog as well as on my OnlineSpin columns right here, from readers like you.

As for exchanges, I’m flattered (or sometimes humbled) and have much deeper experiences when my own media content is linked to or referenced by others. Considering customization, I would have an extremely difficult time if I ever tried to leave Bloglines, my current RSS/news reader. For good or bad, Bloglines has become my trusted and personalized window into nearly 200 content feeds for which I grant my precious attention. Switching would entail a major exportation project, as well as a difficult period adjusting to a new interface.

Finally, reflecting on my own behavior, there’s no question the mechanics in these aforementioned social-media services prompt various levels of engagement based on their nature and frequency of reinforcement, and flow. The providers of these services have won: They’re fun and compelling, and I’m addicted.

How do game mechanics apply to the key brands and products in your life? Should game mechanics play a greater role in marketing?

Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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