By Zara Wishloff
Gamification is a new buzz word in the marketing world. It refers to adding the aesthetics and functionality of games into things that are not really games at all.
You’ll see it everywhere if you know where to look. Like when you are encouraged to collect stickers, or badges, or “streaks” in order to win a prize. Or when you “roll up the rim” for a reward. Or when you have to sign up a friend in order to earn a discount, or do something for seven days in a row in order to get a status bump.
Fast-food chains lean heavily on this strategy. So do social media platforms, and magazine distribution companies. Gamification is seen as a great way to engage people, build loyalty, and increase attention on something that might otherwise be overlooked or forgotten.
I was thinking about why we enjoy games and challenges so much. You can talk about our inherent need to compete, or to prove our skill at something. But I think the bottom line is that they are simply fun. They give us a little dopamine rush when we succeed at something, or complete a set, or move on to the next level.
Bringing fun into work is never a bad thing. Games can lead to performance improvements and better team dynamics, all of which can drive tremendous results. I’ve used games and contests throughout my career. And while they take some thought to pull off, the results usually exceed the efforts.
Before I get into some promotional examples, I wanted to explore the power games can have in the background of business life.
Chess is a great example. I credit my grandfather for teaching me this game when I was very young. I took it with me into adulthood and into business management. Chess teaches you offensive and defensive strategies that can be transposed to many other aspects in life. In every business I’ve been in, there is strategic planning.
Many business leaders would benefit from the principle of forward-thinking that chess rewards. In business, as in chess, the strongest competitor is the one who can see further into the future. Having a chess background allows you to plan three or four moves ahead — a tremendous advantage that helps you anticipate your competitors’ moves and prepare reactions to any move they make.
It also teaches you that sometimes it is OK – or even advantageous – to sacrifice something in the short term that pays dividends in the long run.
Above all, chess gets your mind working, keeps you on plan, and allows you to adapt quickly to market changes.
Poker is another interesting and fun way to build your skills without taking an online course. Some will tell you poker is about calculating odds and percentages. But, more than that, poker helps you ‘read’ people. That’s another skill that transposes into the business world. You can do well in poker just by observing your opponents and questioning their motivations for the things they do. This is a key advantage when negotiating.
Poker also teaches you to ‘play the hand you were dealt.’ Business and markets can change, and they are not always fair. Just like in poker, you need to look at the resources you have, and employ them appropriately.
Outside of using games to sharpen your mental agility, how can you bring gamification into your business? There are many examples.
I once hosted a poker rally, in which customers were encouraged to visit five different branches, each with a unique activity like a garage sale, car show, or charity car wash. They received a playing card at each branch. The best five-card hand turned in at the end won a trip. That particular promotion got people to visit branches they would never have been to. It was much more effective than offering a grand prize for filling out an entry form at an open house.
Internally, I’ve run contests for staff to participate in. There are times when we need a little extra push to promote a line or segment. Games and contests can help engage staff to achieve the desired results. But you really have to set it up properly. An ill-thought-out promotion can backfire quickly. This is where chess thinking comes in handy. You have to think through all the possible outcomes, both positive and negative, that your promotion will create.
Let me walk you through a scenario:
Your company invested in a new widget and you want to engage your four counter people to promote it. You can say “the person who sells the most widgets in four months will win a $100 gift card. Sounds generous and simple. What could go wrong? After a month the results are in: Counterperson 1 sold 75 widgets; Counterperson 2 sold 40 widgets; Counterperson 3 sold 10 widgets; and Counterperson 4 sold 5 widgets.
Counterperson 1 may really have knocked himself out to push the program – but he could also have lucked into a big order. Or maybe he processes the online orders and that gave him an unfair advantage. There are many ways that he could have found himself far ahead of the others due to no extra effort on his part.
The problem really lies in the next three months. Counterperson 3 and 4 have already realized they have no chance in winning the contest. In fact, they may start to sabotage it to save face. They start coming up with reasons why people might not want the widget or point out that why they prefer a different widget. Now instead of having four motivated salespeople pushing the widget you need to move, you’re down to two.
I have watched this play out in many versions throughout my career – a gamified promotion that should have engaged people and created some fun at work turns into a demotivational exercise and a waste of resources.
Here is my work around to the above scenario that has proven successful through the years. Instead of just awarding your prize to the most units sold, it is much better to award “chances to win.” In other words, the more you sell the better your odds of winning become. After the first month, Counterperson 1 would have 75 entries (approximately 56% chance of winning) and Counterperson 3 would have 10 entries (just under 8% chance of winning). But no matter who sells the most, everyone still has a chance to win. And, more importantly, remains motivated to increase their chances by selling more widgets in the remaining months.
There are many variations you can add to this. You can add bonus entries for selling the most in a month, or bonuses for other products you want sold. I have even run a variation in which instead of chances to win a prize, you earned poker chips. At the end of the contest, staff played each other in a show down. The more you sold, the better position you were in at the start of the game, however even a short stack of chips could take the prize home.
I would say this, though, the simpler you keep the promotion, the more success you will likely have.
Games can work in the background to keep you sharp. They can be created to drive results. And they can add fun to the workplace, engaging staff and clients alike.
Do you use games in your business? I’d love to hear about it. Drop me a line.
Zara Wishloff is vice president of sales and marketing for Automotive Parts Distributors (APD) with four warehouses in Alberta and Saskatchewan. You can reach him at email@example.com.