rogers5-shadesTCorner is a serialized blog post from our newest Labs member, Taylor Cornelius.  TCorn comes from a design background and these are his adventures on the development side of the fence.

Why, in 2016, are we as marketers still largely presuming that “work”-related experiences have to be separate from fun ones? Doesn’t a spoon full of sugar (fun) make the medicine (work) taste better? In this week’s Tcorner I would like to discuss Gamification design and how, as marketers, we should relish any chance to create better, more engaging experiences for our users and clients.

I’d first like to de-stigmatize the word Gamification, although I can imagine an executive shaking his head right now in distain. Gamification is the process of taking game thinking and mechanics to solve problems and engage audiences. This is the definition by one of Gamification’s top thought leaders, Gabe Zichermann. Gamification is not taking something and turning it into a game. It is taking what makes games fun and enjoyable and applying that to a design in order to create a more engaging experience.

Culturally, we like to draw divisions between actions we perceive as fun and actions we perceive as not fun. Everyone can agree that going to the movies is a fun experience but going to school? Eh, not so much. Why? If a game like Farmville can succeed by design and generate millions of downloads, why can’t going school be fun?

I recently attended a discussion where the organizers were trying to get their workers to be more physically active. Ideas such as walking twenty flights of stairs, 5k runs, and cross fit workouts were thrown out. I thought to myself, “people don’t like doing laundry and now we are trying to get them to run a 5k?” The organizers of the discussion were so focussed on the activities and not how to actually get people engaged to perform them. They weren’t thinking about the rewards. Meaningful rewards, like the spoonful of sugar are how we get people to do things in our favor. I used to be paid an allowance for doing chores every weekend and you can bet every Saturday morning I was up and at ’em.

Rewards are a major part of Gamification because, as in games, they are what cause a user to take an action, sometimes against their own self-interest. Digital rewards have become the evolved method of creating engagement. Digital currencies, badges, status levels and loyalty programs are all forms of rewards but arbitrarily handing out these rewards when they do not make sense is where they often fail. Users will naturally gravitate toward experiences that are most rewarding. Do we really need to dissect why kids prefer playing video games over reading books?

As digital marketing becomes more and more competitive we must seek new avenues to stand out. We must seek new avenues to create engaging experiences for our users. We have to erase those lines between work and fun.

Let’s look at some examples of successful Gamification designs.


Swarm takes going out and experiencing local businesses to a new level. By checking in to locations you visit you earn coins to which you can redeem for tangible goods once you’ve accumulated a certain amount. Swarm offers various challenges and status levels for frequently using the app and checking in. It’s great that you can become a fictional mayor of a location if you visit it more than anyone else. This gives you bragging rights over your friends and promotes friendly competition all in the favor of the businesses. In my opinion what makes Swarm successful beyond it’s fantastic interface is that it requires hardly and extra work on the user.

Starbucks Rewards

Starbucks Rewards, like Swarm, rewards users for frequenting Starbucks. At it’s core it is a loyalty program but with a great app filled with fun animations it goes beyond that. Users earn points by purchasing products from Starbucks. Once a certain point level has been reached a user is given some kind of external reward such as a coupon, free drink, etc. Starbucks Rewards also utilizes status levels in their loyalty program. Users can reach different tiers and therefore stand out amongst their peers. Like Swarm, Starbucks Rewards does not require much additional action on the user and completely benefits Starbucks.

Nike +Fuelband

Nike+ Fuelband is different from Swarm and Starbucks Rewards because a user has to be taking actions that they might not have previously needed or wanted to do. Where it succeeds is that users can set their own goals and the metrics for those goals are tracked out of sight. The Fuelband gives users real-time feedback for how they are performing so that they can keep track of their goals. Nike also offers friendly competition between their friends who also have bands.

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