Hitmetrix - User behavior analytics & recording

Convincing distracted users to stick around

Not long ago, media companies and publishers were in the business of creating and delivering content, imparting news and analysis, and delivering value by offering something consumers and B2B customers couldn’t get elsewhere. The idea was if you delivered content of unique value and marketed it with reasonable effectiveness, you would draw an audience. Keep it up and you’d retain that audience. Building a loyal and lasting base of registered users wasn’t something that happened overnight, but for several years, the calculus was straightforward enough.

Well, it’s no longer straightforward. Today, the first order of online business for any direct marketing, media, or publishing company is to chase eyeballs. And eyeballs, it turns out, are an increasingly moving target.

Consider the fact that your site or brand is vying for the increasingly fragmented attention of more than a billion Internet users who have access to, according to Netcraft, nearly 600 million websites—with nearly a million new sites launched every day. More than 800 million people now spend roughly four hours a day sharing, posting, tweeting, and commenting on Facebook and other social networks. More than 30 billion apps have been installed on mobile devices, where people are spending 94 minutes a day—even more than they’re spending on the Web.

Talk about distraction. And in this environment, you’re still responsible for scaling revenue and growing registrations by increasing unique visitors, driving up average pages per visit and time spent on site, and boosting conversion rates. Today more than ever the art and science of direct marketing boil down to knowing what to do to get those numbers up.

Look beyond acquisition

Drawing users to your site is a crucial first step, and you’ve got plenty of tools for that—SEO, SEM, social networks, blogs, email, PR, and advertising. But the majority of success metrics are driven not by luring one-time visitors, but by retaining them. Retention costs less than acquisition (six times less, in fact), and Forbes reports that 52% of CMOs say retention is now their top priority.

But the toolbox isn’t nearly as deep for retention. There is your content, of course, and emails, social sharing, and contests. Many of these are all well-known and, to a large extent, have reached the point of commoditization. In other words, they do little to distinguish your destination from others, and for this reason, they do little to engage users and keep them engaged.

The play’s the thing

But as Facebook and app developers have discovered, the experience of game play has created user experiences that capture well more than just eyeballs. Angry Birds, Farmville, and other smartphone and Facebook games have defined a new category that, for a staggering 500 million people, consumes an hour out of every day. That’s engagement.

The good news for media and publishing companies—and for direct marketers in any industry—is that the same dynamics that drive people to play games or engage with entertainment can be used in a contextually relevant way to create a compelling user experience and drive business value on your site. It’s called gamification—applying game mechanics to non-game situations—and it has taken hold as one of the most exciting ways to drive user engagement online.

Gamification works because gamified sites leverage the innate drive every person has for goal-setting, competition, real time feedback, recognition, community, achievement, and rewards. A gamified online experience not only draws users in, but it keeps them engaged by motivating them to complete missions, achieve new levels, and strive for meaningful rewards.

Get personal, stay social, and make it rewarding

Facebook and smartphone games rely on three fundamental game mechanics to drive massive levels of sustained engagement and retention:

  • Personal. Today’s Internet user feels entitled to a personalized, relevant experience. Generic, one-size-fits-all gamification will not succeed. Missions, challenges, and goals need to be relevant and personal.
  • Social. As the statistics mentioned earlier bear out, the Internet is growing inherently social, and users who share interests or other commonality expect to be able to group together. Gamification programs need to give them the opportunity to join others to accomplish goals.
  • Rewarding. Badges are effective for on-boarding, but their novelty wears off fast. Before long, users expect more meaningful rewards. Providing them with opportunities to redeem points for virtual, experiential, or real rewards is a must—and is crucial to establishing loyalty.

After deploying game mechanics to improve user retention online, media companies such as Comcast/NBCU, ABC, CBS, Scripps, MTV, and Warner Brothers have seen impressive results:

  • 40% increase in unique users
  • 100% increase in page views
  • 85%  increase in time on-site
  • 42%  increase in ad revenue

When it comes to determining where your resources should go—acquisition or retention—you might consider which of these delivers the greatest long-term value. Then budget accordingly.

Chris Sullivan is regional VP of sales for Bunchball.

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