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Gamification moves beyond badges

Gamificaton allows brands to tap into consumers’ competitive instincts to increase engagement and drive purchases. Consequently, marketers are increasingly focusing on making rewards relevant, varied, and alluring enough to keep individuals coming back to play.

Exhibit A in the changing role of gamification is Foursquare, which launched a redesigned version of its mobile app at the beginning of June that de-emphasized earning badges, and put more focus on deals and recommendations.

Wanda Meloni, founder and president of M2 Research, believes that Foursquare made these changes because the rewards it was offering failed to encourage long-term growth for the brand.

“Once you become a mayor, the game is over, so what’s the deeper engagement you’ll have with the user or employee?” Meloni asks. “You have to be able to create these networks and have the value, so that people keep coming back and it doesn’t stop at a certain time.”

Brian Burke, an analyst for Gartner, agrees that Foursquare’s main challenges come down to how it incentivized user behaviors.

“Unfortunately, most marketers have continued to engage customers with simple discounts and offers—the kind of thing that has been around for many decades. Forward-thinking organizations are engaging the market with more meaningful, intrinsic rewards,” Burke says. “Organizations using more sophisticated game mechanics and more meaningful rewards will continue to drive higher levels of engagement with their audience.”

He points to multichannel gamification, particularly coming from television programs, as an area of rapid growth with more advanced thinking on the behaviors they are encouraging and rewards they offer.

For example, entertainment network MuchMusic, working with gamification solutions provider Badgeville, recently launched the platform Much Closer, first testing it out as part of the lead up to the MuchMusic Video Awards, broadcast on June 17. The marketing team weaves a range of actions into multipart “missions” that connect across channels.

When MuchMusic announced the band LMFAO as its award show hosts, users could take a series of actions related to the band, such as watching a video or commenting on the news through social media, in order to win a limited-edition LMFAO badge. But in addition to the badges, 10 of those winners were selected to receive a signed LMFAO CD, along with a handwritten note from the band.

“All of the actions and all of the missions really stem from a group of core actions that users do on our sites already, so what we’re doing is threading those together,” says Mark Swierszcz, director of digital for MuchMusic, MTV, and E! at Bell Media.

Within the first three weeks, the program had signed up 15,000 users, with Bell Media approaching a 40% daily return rate from those members. The platform also works on its mobile site, though it is more narrow and linear than the full Web version of Much Closer. Leveraging consumers’ growing use of multiple screens, Much Closer also includes side missions that must be completed during the live broadcast of the shows, rather than through DVR or online.

In coming months Badgeville will be working with MuchMusic to roll out Much Closer for shows like Degrassi: The Next Generation, Teen Wolf, and Pretty Little Liars, and will include side missions that must be completed during the live broadcast of the shows. MuchMusic’s on-air hosts, who post live tweets and handle other social media activities during live broadcasts, have suggested ideas for missions that would appeal to the viewers with whom they are interacting.

“We want to know who those dedicated, hardcore fans are who are going to watch Degrassi four times a week,” Swierszcz explains. “Our Holy Grail in this industry is making sure that people watch a live broadcast.” Warner Bros. used gamification techniques to achieve a similar purpose. The studio recently partnered with vendor Bunchball to increase consumption of promotional content for its film, television, music, and interactive content. They developed WB Insider Rewards Program where members could earn rewards like DVDs, digital downloads, and WB merchandise by taking part in activities such as posting reviews, viewing trailers, and purchasing movie tickets.

“Badges are good for onboarding people, getting them into the program initially, but you have to give them more meaningful rewards if you want to keep them engaged,” says Steve Patrizi, Bunchball’s CRO.

Insider Rewards is an entire customized program, but gamification is also an attractive option as a short-term marketing tool that can be added to an existing branding effort. In those cases basic tools will often suffice.

“We have a lot of customers who said that they use standard platforms and don’t need it to be customized—they just want it to work and work quickly,” says Patrizi. “We know that out-of-the-box won’t require years of development and lots of resources to take it offline.”

Another major area of gamification growth has been in the healthcare industry. While video games are frequently criticized as a cause of obesity and inactivity, some health marketers are finding that games can have the opposite effect, as well. A survey of more than 1,000 adults by UnitedHealth Group found that 54% believe that physically active video games would encourage them to be more active, while 60% of respondents with children in the household said children should be encouraged to play physically active games.

The company has taken these findings to heart, seeking to encourage healthy behaviors in current and prospective members, as well as employees who work for their enterprise clients.

One program that has been a success for UnitedHealth has been Baby Blocks, targeted to mothers-to-be in the insurer’s Medicaid population. The participants track their pregnancy on an app either online or through their smartphone, checking off “challenges” like taking vitamins or making prenatal visits to a doctor. With each challenge, the individual earns tangible rewards, such as diapers or baby formula.

“They are taking care of themselves so that when they do have a baby, the mother is in better shape, the baby’s in better shape, and they are rewarded along the way with things that they can use,” says Robert Plourde, VP of innovation and R&D at UnitedHealth Group. “We’re tackling big problems, but we’re doing it in small ways.”

While Baby Blocks targets one specific demographic, Plourde is developing other gamification programs for additional segments like seniors, college students, and deployed military officers and their families.

The company’s OptumHealth partnered with Fitbit, a company that sells pedometers and activity monitors and built the OptumizeMe mobile app. It allows consumers to set goals and track their behavior and connects that data to mobile, online, or telephone-based coaching services.

“We’re trying to take a multiplatform approach here,” Plourde says. “We don’t want them to feel limited to any specific one.”

UnitedHealthcare is now expanding this out to employer members to facilitate workplace wellness programs. Not only does this effort help defray healthcare costs for the insurer’s existing consumer base, but it serves as an outreach and marketing tool to connect with potential new members who enjoy increasing freedom in selecting which insurer to join.

“We want people to understand who UnitedHealthcare is, we want people to understand who our Optum brands are,” Plourde says. “As the market starts to change with reform and starts to become more direct-to-consumer where they are actively involved in choice, we want them to understand who we are and that’s one of the side effects of this.”

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