Gamification: Marketing Miracle or Lazy Trend?

You’ve just spent months building a new, expensive, beautiful website. Or maybe you have crafted the next innovative geo-location app on the market. You worked with focus groups to tweak the content and the structure based on their feedback. You took the time to make sure content-heavy pages rank well in search results. Maybe you’ve added a Twitter account or a Facebook page to your communications mix to increase that content’s reach. You have even put together a generous ad spend to make sure your audience knows that you are there ready for their arrival. But there is always that fear, that risk – what is no one comes by or if they do, what if they never come back? The challenge is really, how do we make our digital experience one that is so engaging that it stays on people’s minds and draws them back to see us, often?

Too often the answer is gamification.

Marketing executives are asking for it. Agencies are working it into every pitch. And it is still shiny and new enough to be deemed as the greatest thing to happen to digital since we all added Facebook ‘Like’ buttons to everything, everywhere, sometimes even twice. But, isn’t there and shouldn’t there be more to the motivation behind web development and our online lives than constantly playing games with our friends?

When you look at some of the stats available, it might look like gamification is a sure bet. After all, over four million people are playing games on Facebook. Millions of people are getting fit together using Fitbit’s innovative technology and social challenges. Foursquare is showing no signs of slowing down. And don’t forget the often imitated, never duplicated golden child of gamification: allkpop.com. The site experienced a 100% increase in content sharing after implementing gaming features such as points and a leaderboard.

How do we make our digital experience so engaging that it stays on people’s minds and draws them back to see us, often?

But, before you are blinded by the numbers, ask yourself: Are you trying to replace a genuine product, service or content with some flashy points and badges or do the gaming elements really help to enhance what you have already built? Am I asking my users to take action on a particular item when the only benefit they receive is a virtual badge? Are users expected to use my product often only to accumulate more points? If it seems like you are trying to make up for an inadequate feature set, a poor user experience or stifle online traffic insecurities, then think again.

Not everything in digital needs to be a competition to be played with friends on Facebook. And trying to force behavior is always a losing battle. We often (read: every day) use a digital product because it is enjoyable or beneficial to our lives (see: Facebook), or even helpful for others. Sometimes it makes us money, bolsters our education or even just expands upon our personal point of view.

But that is all part of the beauty in the digital world. That is the creative part; the problem to be solved. Creating new and innovative products and services that address any number of motivations and don’t just feed our competitive urges.

Trends in digital should always be taken with a grain of salt. Social media gurus and digital divas (be very wary of anyone who calls themselves either) would have you believe that every new shiny new digital tactic is “going to change the world as we know it,” but that is just not the case. There are no quick fixes and no sure bets, just smart, creative people with the power to bring innovative digital solutions to life – game or no game.

(Stats and numbers were taken from seomoz.org)

the author

Andrea Hirsch

Andrea Hirsch is an innovation strategist with Idea Couture. Specializing in social media and digital strategy projects, Andrea is continuously striving to understand human interaction both online and in the ‘real’ world. She is based in Toronto, Canada.