The blunder of gamification: Gimmicks don’t improve communications

Quick question: Buzz in as soon as you know the answer.

Gamification is…

a.   The integration of game dynamics into a website, service, community, campaign, or application to drive participation and engagement.

b.   The art and science of using game mechanics in traditional business settings to increase efficiency, customer loyalty, and engagement.

c.   Far too often equivalent to putting lipstick on a pig.

d.   All of the above.

And the correct answer is: D. Ding ding ding!

Engagement is a good thing, of course. The preference to be not bored is pretty universal. But with time constraints and information overload, getting and maintaining people’s already short attention spans is harder than ever. So, marketers and content specialists are turning to gamification as the latest Holy Grail.

Too bad they don’t know what they’re doing.

Gamification without solid core ideas to communicate, and a clear, concise method of doing so, is doomed to fail. It’s about as effective as taking a PowerPoint deck and just changing every fifth slide to read “REMEMBER TO HAVE FUN!” Attention getting? Maybe. More effective communication? No. Just lipstick on a pig.

The premise with gamification is this: Through the principles of game design and the tactics used to get and maintain attention in games, B2B marketing communications can be more engaging and thus more impactful. Such tactics include:

  • Challenges
  • Points
  • Leveling/status
  • Competition
  • Storyline

But way too often B2B marketers focus on presentation gimmicks rather than on improving the core communication itself. There’s nothing inherently wrong with using game mechanics when they make sense, but if your dealer sales training is just plain boring, simply sticking in color-coded achievement badges and turning it into a quiz isn’t going to help.

The real first step is to ask the tough questions about the content itself:

  • Have you explained honestly to your target audience why they should care? What’s in it for them?
  • Is it simply written? Have you used informal language? What about coming up with metaphors and analogies to explain the more complex concepts? When you read it aloud, does it sound like something an actual human might say? No offense to lawyers but if it reads like a legal document, it will never be effective—even if people get to sling animated birds after each chapter.
  • Have you made the content as specific to each user as possible? Forcing people to wade through a bunch of information that doesn’t apply to them just to get to the important stuff isn’t helping anyone.
  • Have you tried brand and topic appropriate humor as a device to maintain attention?
  • Have you made the training as short as possible while still covering your objectives? Speaking of which, are your objectives realistic? Can they be condensed?

Gamification can do some wonderful things for B2B marketing communications. Adding social elements can motivate people to act, since they know their peers are watching. And well-executed bells and whistles can at least tell your audience you cared enough to try to get their attention, which might convince them to hear you out. 

But without the right core communications in place, your players will be stuck renting on Baltic Avenue instead of buying property along Park Place.

So how do we avoid these perils? Simple. Pair all subject matter experts with a bona fide great writer. Structure objectives and create content that can stand on its own legs. Only then should you layer in the bells and whistles to enhance, entertain, and grab attention. That way your audience will have a chance to actually connect and learn.

Oh, and if you made it this far, congratulations! You just won the coveted Article Reading Badge! It’s purple, if you care…which, let’s face it, you probably don’t.

Amanda Lannert is CEO of The Jellyvision Lab. She likes cheese, dangerous sports, the color blue, and owns a cat named Dog. And if you tell her you know that last fact, she’ll also send you the coveted Irrelevance Badge (it’s blue, if you care…)

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