Keeping Score

Updated: March 08, 2011

  • IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group) launched "Win It in a Minute," an online game for their Priority Club Rewards members, who compete against one another in the travel-themed trivia contest and earn points for their participation.
  • MGM Resorts launched an iPhone slot game called Cleopatra as part of their new M life Players Club benefits. While no betting is involved, MGM is counting on the gaming experience to keep members engaged with the brand (and with the fun of gaming itself)—even when they're nowhere near an MGM casino.
  • Even the usually staid insurance industry has entered the gaming craze. State Farm launched a Facebook application called Car Town. More than 7.2 million active users earn points while they collect and customize virtual cars, build their dream garages, and encourage their friends to participate. Points can be redeemed for insurance discounts.

So, "gamification" (the process of engaging customers through contest-based content) has gone mainstream—no surprise when you think about it. After all, Raph Koster, author of A Theory of Fun for Game Design, notes that game mechanics are "rule-based systems/simulations that facilitate and encourage a user to explore and learn...." Isn't that what loyalty marketing's rule-based discipline has been doing for the last 30 years?

Thinking about a few parallels, you'll see why the marriage of gaming and loyalty is so natural:

  1. Games appeal to our natural curiosity. Puzzles and riddles have long been used to tease us to reflect more deeply about a challenge or problem, so fun game elements are natural means to encourage customers to explore and learn about your product or service. Why not apply those principles to how customers learn about what we offer? For example, Club Bing features a variety of games to encourage use of Microsoft's Bing search engine.
  2. Games blend short-term and long-term reward. Game manufacturers have made a science out of blending instant gratification (such as badges for interim game accomplishments) and unexpected rewards (such as earning a key to an interesting and rewarding side quest) with progress to achieve larger challenges (such as steadily advancing—tier by tier, level by level—to the prestigious pinnacle of game status.)
  3. Games allow us to keep score and to amass bragging rights. Whether we're posting our high scores for all our friends to see, or boasting about the benefits that we Platinum members enjoy in a loyalty program, we all revel in those small moments of triumph. This often intangible perk is part of what keeps us engaged—even when an experience fails to meet our expectations.

The game-changer in the adoption of gaming tactics to loyalty programs results from the critical mass of scale. The popularity of entertaining iPhone apps and captivating Facebook games enables marketers to deploy game-based promotions on a scale that registers right on the bottom line. Tens of millions of customers from all demographic segments are playing digital games. So, why not adapt some of loyalty marketing's blend of art and science to engage customers in a fun and entertaining manner?

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