How brands are using gamification to boost engagement

Mobile gaming is now big business with players of Candy Crush Saga spending $1.3bn on in-app purchases alone last year and the total estimated value of the mobile games market now at $25 billion. And brands including restaurant chain Zizzi and Marks & Spencer are honing in on gamification in a bid to boost customer engagement levels.

Gamification at M&S

When it unveiled its new Sparks loyalty card, M&S’s online director David Wamsley surprised some when he said the scheme – which works by rewarding shoppers with Sparks points that can be exchanged for benefits such as promotions or events – had been inspired by the rise of gamification.

“We’ve tried to tap into the gamification trend as, for example, none of the Sparks points have monetary value,” he said at the launch. “It allows M&S customers to see what’s around the corner – so what they will be able to eventually afford via their sparks total – and make gradual micro progressions.”

In a follow-up interview with Marketing Week, Wamsley said that popular mobile games such as Candy Crush and Temple Run and their in-app purchases – which are linked to progression – had inspired M&S.

“With loyalty schemes it usually just involves handing your card over and getting points but it doesn’t trigger much beyond that. The gamification element means people are more actively engaged and primed for surprises,” he explains.

“It is all about those 60 seconds of distraction. If you think about the behaviour of smartphones, you are on the tube or between meetings and flick on your phone to see what people are doing on Facebook or to play Candy Crush. We want to tap into that process and make sure people are checking their Sparks points or their next unlock. That’s where Sparks can really succeed, each Sparks reward or point gain should feel like getting a boost in a mobile game.”

Boosting in-store theatre

Italian restaurant chain Zizzi, meanwhile, is using gamification around the Rugby World Cup with an online scratch card game that can be accessed via smartphones.

With prizes such as trips to New York and a training session with English rugby star Jonny May up for grabs, each unique play earns a player a single entry into the prize draw. However, Zizzi customers can earn additional entries within the app every time they donate to Stand Up To Cancer or visit one of its restaurants.

Zizi’s marketing director Jo Fawcett says the gamification campaign has led to a tripling in click through rates for the email newsletters it sends to its 1.5 million subscribers.

She told Marketing Week: “It’s created a real viral buzz, I see gamification as a pillar of our future strategy.

“Before we’d have done an email or social media competition and sent over vouchers for a restaurant but those sorts of campaigns don’t create continued engagement.

“Gaming, however, has created a real buzz and upped visits to our restaurants. If people play the scratchcard during a meal, we can give them free garlic bread or a drink so it creates that extra theatre around dining.”

Introducing competiveness

David Eldridge, CEO of gamification agency 3radical, which created the game for Zizzi, believes more and more brands will start to use gaming to boost loyalty.

3radical has also worked with computer manufacturer Dell around the Fifa World Cup, creating an app where consumers could bet virtual points on predicting the scores of football matches. If a user correctly guesses a score, they enter into prize draws, but the app also incentivises users to share Dell content on social media.

“We touched 20% of the Singapore population in the space of six weeks through the Dell game,” claims Eldridge. “The mechanics you use, such as leaderboards and status badges, can encourage repeated engagement but brand advocacy too.”

Sparks taps into the gamification trend

And Wamsley of M&S said he’d like to eventually see consumers competing with one another in order to reach milestones and better one another’s total on Sparks.

“Introducing a social element and leaders board system where people can let their friends know when they’ve reached a milestone on Facebook is an interesting idea for me,” he added.

“We’re not strictly looking to make a video game but to take the micro-transactions and progression, the unlocks and easter eggs, and use those features to make M&S consumers more engaged. As retailers, the shift around loyalty, developing richer data and CRM is enabling us to do more interesting things, so I’m sure the shift to gamification will become more widespread.”

Zizzi’s Fawcett admitted that gamification isn’t for everyone: “My 18 year old daughter will love this but my 75 year old mother-in-law won’t so you have to make sure you target the right people.”

She is, however, convinced games can give brands something email marketing and social media campaigns cannot.

“Candy Crush knows how to get people to come back and unlock the next level so you must learn from that. Email marketing and social marketing have become incredibly one dimensional. Neither look at reengagement, just open rates. Re-engagement is what mobile gaming is great at doing,” she concludes.

“The Nintendo Wii proved that the silver surfers can get into games and we are considering ingredients-based quizzes in future to reward and engage older diners. Gamification can appeal to all ages if executed properly.”