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If Gamification Can Make College Fun, Imagine What It Can Do for Your Marketing

by Matt Snodgrass  |  
May 20, 2013

Gamification. If you hear the word and immediately think of points, badges, and leaderboards, don’t worry---you’re not alone. The almighty Wikipedia defines gamification as "the use of game design techniques and game mechanics in non-game context to solve problems and engage audiences.”
The idea is to take something fun and apply it to a situation in order to influence a particular behavior. But how is gamification applicable for real life? Does it really have application in the “professional” world? The answer, dear readers, is a resounding YES.

Allow me to expand on that.

Alan Gerding, associate professor of Psychology at Cuyahoga Community College, is using gamification in his classroom to drive class participation, encourage cohesiveness in randomly assigned groups, and increase overall grades.

He divided his Psych 101 classes into three teams and issues them quests that they must complete to advance. Each team is not only striving for good individual scores on their assignments but also to pull their own weight and help support their team.

The first quest determines which mascot their team gets to select. With three teams and four potential mascots, the quest may not have been much of a competition but, interestingly, two teams were chasing the same mascot. That proved critical to the dynamics of the groups as study groups were formed that may not have been to ensure the highest grades possible to guarantee their first choice of mascot.

The Force Is Strong With This One

After assignments were tallied up and mascots selected, the next quest was to hunt for a weapon for their mascots. (Remember, these are college students who have grown up on Star Wars, The Walking Dead, and video games. It’s critical to tailor your gamification efforts to not only elicit the desired behavior but to connect with your audience. This approach would not have worked as well to, say, get retirement home residents to comply with medication guidelines.)

The winner of Quest #2 gets to select their weapon of choice to give to their mascot. A bonus is that the weapon will be customized to match your specific team color. Also, anyone who receives a 100% on the assignment earns a mustache for their mascot. Because, what’s scarier/classier than a shark wielding a crossbow? A shark with a mustache wielding a crossbow!

Finally, other activities allow the mascots to earn headbands, wristbands, and arm adornments, serving no purpose other than to look cool and act as a source of pride for a job well done.

And in This Corner…

At this point, the teams enter the arena. The goal is to knock the other mascots out and claim victory. This is achieved by a combination of attacks that are decided based on (surprise!) grades from specific assignments. Based on how the teams rank up they can choose to attack or defend.

The arena looks like something out of a popular video game, to give it more context.

Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken

After the first round of combat, the bear has taken some licks (as evidenced by the arrow in his arm and a black eye) and the shark and badger are still OK.

With four weeks left in the semester, who knows how things will pan out? But so far, Alan has seen a marked improvement in class attendance and participation as well as an increased effort put forth from students to ensure that their grades are high enough that their team succeeds.

He has not changed his lesson plans, his rubric, his syllabus, or his assignments. He simply has challenged them by giving them something to care about and his students have responded.

Four Tips About Gamification

As you can see, gamification can also work in marketing. Just keep these four things in mind.

  1. Identify the behavior(s) you want to modify. Don’t simply use gamification tools to make something more fun; make it more fun with a goal in mind.

  2. Know your audience. Every audience has different needs and will respond to certain triggers in different ways. Use a trigger that appeals to your customers and makes sense.

  3. Set realistic goals. Goals should be attainable, but they shouldn’t be no-brainers. Folks have to do some work to feel a sense of accomplishment.

  4. Recognize and reward. One of the most powerful features of gamification is the social aspect. Ensure that people are rewarded for doing what you want them to do and encourage social sharing of good news. People love to see their names in lights!

So, how can you challenge your customers? How can you give them something that they care deeply enough about to impact a particular behavior? The answer is different for every company, for every customer base, and for every behavior---but gamification can be done in a fun and engaging way. It’s all about finding the right levers to pull!

Got a question or comment on gamification? Post below!

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Matt Snodgrass is marketing manager for MarketingProfs University, which provides affordable yet comprehensive online training in the interrelated disciplines that make up the marketing mix. Reach Matt via

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  • by Albert Maruggi Mon May 20, 2013 via blog

    every person learns and is motivated differently, albeit you can put these learning preferences into major categories. The students in community colleges may take to this style of learning. Further yet, perhaps is not a question of the type of students at a certain type of college but the fact that this was the only class. Would this be as effective if an entire school used this tactic. Racing from one animated world to another throughout the day might be overwhelming.

    I am amazed and confused when I would watch kids describe in detail the characters of Pokemon, yet that same level of interest could not be transferred to say math or learning another language. I think there is some merit in gameification, but in it end, it's a distraction to getting people to be curious about something in their life. Curious enough to embrace it without the crutch of being entertained.

  • by Matt Mon May 20, 2013 via blog

    Good point, Albert. It's definitely not for everyone and this exercise certainly wouldn't fit all audiences. That's why it's of paramount importance to ensure that you know your players and you know your goals (and theirs). If you hit the right audience with the right techniques, you'll certainly see results.

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