How To Use Gamification In Growth Hacking?

February 23, 2017


Gamification has been creating a lot of buzz in a business world that is increasingly driven by technology. It has proven itself in engaging people and driving motivation levels to bring about a change in their behavior, help them develop new skills and solve complex problems. While some experts believe that the best of gamification is yet to come, others are not so sure about it and believe that the trend has already peaked. However, one thing that almost everyone is unanimous on is the fact that if gamification was a person, it would easily be described as one who is in the business of driving innovation. The ups and downs in its popularity is just a phase that every trend has to go through, and that once this phase is over, gamification will emerge as the key transformation channel for business operations. Having said that, it would be right to add that gamification as a concept has much more to offer than just higher employee engagement levels and improved corporate learning programs. And one of those things that it can really help with is growth hacking.

‘But how’s that possible’, you ask? Let’s dig in.

What is gamification?

Let’s begin by defining gamification. It is all about applying game-design elements and principles in non-game contexts. Sounds simple enough? Well, it is (although, if you still feel like a better one, here’s Gartner Research’s definition of gamification). But where most people get confused is the word ‘games’.

When we say gamification is about applying game elements to non-game contexts like learning, or marketing, it does not mean that an actual game has to be created to engage users each time. All it means is that the ‘elements’ of game play, like progress markers for achievements and rewards (points/badges/leaderboards), game narrative, challenge, player control, feedback system, peer collaboration etc. have to be employed for an environment to be considered ‘gamified’. This environment can be anything from a classroom to the sales floor, and it’s not necessary to include each of these elements every time. What’s more important is that this gamified environment must account for the intricate reasoning system that an individual employs to act.

This state where the individual is compelled to act due to the positive reinforcement provided by the environment is called the ‘flow state’ – where a person is completely engrossed in energized focus and fun – and that is the core of gamification. Jason Silva, host of NGCs show, Brain Games, describes this as ‘hacking into the flow state’ in one of the videos on his YouTube channel.

In spite of all the attention it’s getting, there are many who believe that gamification is just a passing trend, like designer and Hamburg University researcher, Sebastian Deterding. So, obviously we have to ask ourselves, do we need gamification? And how can we use it effectively?

Why do we need gamification?

Most of the criticism of gamification emanates from the fact that organizations have already witnessed the benefits gamification brings. However, in their haste to implement it, most have faltered and the results have often been sub-par. As a result, the opportunity to criticize gamification simply landed in front of the naysayers on a silver platter.

Setting the criticism aside for a moment, the benefits of well-designed gamified solutions surpasses all expectations. For example, in 2011, Volkswagen invited consumers from China, one of its biggest markets, to participate in a crowd-sourced design project for their new concept car. Participants could share their ideas with others on social media and the design with the highest votes was to be implemented by Volkswagen. Such was the success of this activity that after 10 weeks, more than 50,000 designs were submitted, and 33 million people had visited their website. Three of those designs were chosen for development by the company and it was announced that the project will continue indefinitely.

Another such example is of Magnum Ice Creams when the brand launched a new product, Magnum Temptations. The campaign took hint from the all-time classic arcade video game, Super Mario and created a ‘game’ for consumers where they had to hunt for the chocolate bonbons everywhere on the internet. Magnum collaborated with some of the biggest names on the internet like Samsung, Dove and even YouTube, and created a game that engaged users everywhere they go. Scores, leaderboards, social sharing and call-outs to friends resulted in more than 750,000 unique visitors on the Magnum Ice Creams’ website in just 5 days.

Not only did Volkswagen and Magnum Ice Cream get the attention of relevant target audience, but also demonstrated the power of a well-designed gamified system that was able to motivate people into following the desired behavior. It also demonstrated that when done right, gamification can deliver a powerful set of tools to any business to develop engaging challenges for their customers. In short – it encouraged the users to participate, pulling them in rather than pushing content at them.

How can gamification be applied to growth hacking & marketing?

Humans are innately competitive creatures contending for business, sporting or academic glory. Businesses are competitive too, vying for the attention, acquisition, engagement and retention of their target audience. Gamification brings out the synergy between these two highly competitive entities and gives them both a reason to celebrate. Brands get the opportunity to deliver an experience to the customers, and customers find a connect with the brand that encourages them to explore further and do business with the brand. And here’s the catch – that little synergy between business and customers is where the growth hacking can happen.

Take Dropbox, the perfect example of gamifying growth hacking in a startup. The customers wanted a hassle-free online storage solution, but every company offering such solutions was marred by clumsy and congested user interface, unwanted ads, and unfavorable terms and conditions of use. Dropbox understood this situation and used it to its advantage. Visitors on dropbox website were greeted with sign-up options, the signup and package upgrade processes were simple, there were no ads, the user interface was easy to use with multiple platform support, and most of all, users could get additional storage space for referring Dropbox to friends. In a nutshell, Dropbox hacked into the biggest growth channel – its users – by giving them every reason to talk about the services to their friends and bring in more users to the website. It gamified user acquisition and retention by offering a tangible reward – storage space – that the users really wanted. And in 2014, just four years into its inception, the company received a valuation of $10 billion.

Another example of growth hacking user attention, engagement, retention, and referral can be seen in the Starbucks’ My Starbucks Reward program. The program allowed users to accumulate points at every purchase that could be exchanged for rewards like a cup of coffee, birthday gifts or customized offers for the customer. The impact of this campaign was such that in 2012, My Rewards had 4.5 million users and sales jumped to more than $3 billion from the program alone.

In conclusion

The examples above are just the tip of the iceberg that gamification of growth hacking and marketing is. Applying gamification to business objectives is not something out of the ordinary, it was just bound to happen sooner or later. However, how it is applied in real life situations by organizations is what will define its future. Businesses must define and evaluate the expected end results for business and users before embarking on implementation of gamification to growth hack brand marketing.


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