By Matt Pigott - August 31st, 2015

It's more than a fad—gamification's success is based in behavioral psychology and math, and it can build heightened connection's with your brand in a competitive landscape.

We love to collect things: points that add up to prizes, pieces that complete a puzzle, milestones that encourage us to keep coming back. It’s pure behavioral psychology. But replacing some angry birds with the Michelin Man isn’t what gamification is about. It’s about the application of game theory and the psychological motivations within games to gain a definitive edge in your marketing.

Gamification is far more than a fad. Information technology research and advisory company Gartner suggested in a report released last year that, by 2016, gamification will be a widespread tool for marketers, with over 70 percent of Global 2000 companies using it as an engagement strategy in their campaigns.

With two generations familiar with console and online gaming, we shouldn’t be surprised if over the next five-to-ten years, gamified experiences become a standard expectation.

Take an example from Heineken, where the marketing team transformed the Instagram platform into their own interactive, immersive game for tennis fans keen to win tickets to the men’s final of the US Open. Starting by taking a series of photographs of a crowd in one of the stands, the marketing team then used those photos to create a single panoramic shot. This was turned on its side so that it would fit horizontally within the screens of mobile phones. The challenge for participants was to follow clues and find different people in the crowd. Each clue led to a person, revealing a further clue that led to another person, and so on, until whoever was holding the golden tickets was located. By sending the code reveal to Heineken, players won their tickets to the match.

Referred to in the press as a real-life Where’s Waldo, this clever use of the Instagram Platform was intriguing, fun and rewarding. What’s more, it garnered Heineken plenty of publicity. It was also the largest photograph ever to be compiled on Instagram, a bonus news story that would help the company’s promotion go viral.

Running with the catchphrase: Oh no! I’ve lost pretzel guy! Can you help me spot him? M&M’s own sugary take on Where’s Waldo, posted on Facebook and Twitter, enjoyed huge engagement, helping boost awareness of a new range of pretzel M&Ms. This cost-effective piece of marketing set people hunting for the elusive pretzel in the midst of hundreds of original M&Ms. Self-congratulatory posts beneath the image, from those who found it, demonstrate how well a very simple gamified marketing campaign can work.

Of course if you did want to up the ante in terms of budget, you could do what the US Army did in its recruitment campaign, and spend ten years in the development of a simulation experience to attract new customers – in this case, potential recruits. America’s Army was the first time the US Government had used game technology to help its recruitment drive, enabling gamers to experience what it was like to be a soldier, albeit not in the field. The campaign has been a huge success in terms of pre-qualifying candidates, boosting awareness, raising revenue through game sales, and, ultimately, recruiting new soldiers.

Encouraging people to go beyond mere connection to engagement, by way of absorbing play, is one of the best ways to bypass overloaded cynical defenses, especially those of new generations who have their BS detectors set to ten. So whatever the gamified experience is, it needs to be good. And it can work any way: Roxio took its Angry Bird’s digital gaming experience and flipped it onto high streets in the form of real-life cuddly toys and merchandise, as well as physical games. Meanwhile LEGO took the concept of its physical products and generated a host of online games young children love to play. Diversifying to reach additional touch-points doesn’t start with the premise that gamification is a fad, but by considering the ways that, as a strategy, it can work within the wider scope of campaigns. Surely, the more marketing weapons there are at the CMO’s disposal, the more likely it is they’ll hit target. Add to this the possibilities for sharing and social engagement between consumers, and gamification brings a welcome viral element to the table.

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