Pharmaceutical companies often hear complaints about cost from customers, says communications strategist Shel Holtz.
“My grandmother’s eating cat food so she can afford her heart medication—you bastard!” he quotes the customers as saying.
No amount of logic will convince worried relatives that the price reflects the enormous financial risk of developing a drug, Holtz said. So the pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim developed a Facebook-based game in which players create a digital pharmaceutical company and develop imaginary medicines.
That’s just one of the games that are transforming communications as organizations find new ways to train employees internally and boost their brand externally, Holtz said in a presentation to Ragan’s Breakthrough Strategies for Corporate Communicators conference. The video was released on Ragan Training this week.
Here are some tips for using games in your communications:
1. Make them feel good.
Games provide the kind of rush many people get from shopping, Holtz said, but the good feeling lasts longer after a game. Games boost the sense of accomplishment that organizations want in their employees.
“Among the contributors to this feeling are the fact that you figured out how to succeed on your own and, for team or multi-player games, that you’re part of something larger than your own individual effort,” Holtz said.
2. Tap into the interests of a game-crazy generation.
Games reach today’s employees. By the time they’re 18, most young people have spent 10,000 hours playing games, Holtz said. No wonder they make faces when you hand them a three-ring binder and tell them there’ll be a test on Monday.
Employees trained on video games “learned more factual information, attained higher skill levels, [and] retained information longer than workers learning the traditional way,” he said.
3. Deliver something they need.
Kids get fidgety on long trips. Parents start growling, “Keep it down back there.” What if a brand had an idea that would help?
The retail fuel company 76 created an app that allows kids to play “the quiet game,” keeping them occupied in the car, Holtz notes. Parents have eagerly spread the app, along with the gas station brand.
The app “reinforces the brand while giving you something you’re very grateful for if you’ve got noisy kids in the back seat,” Holtz said.
4. Make it social.
During the Beijing Olympics, McDonald’s created a global alternative-reality game based on a fictional storyline that involved a hunt for a secret codex and a lost Olympic game. It drew 2 million players but had almost no branding, trying to lure people turned off by heavy marketing.
Players eagerly participated, making beginners’ guides, wikis, videos, and recruitment posters, according to a video that Holtz presented. They bonded with the brand.
“The creation of the players’ guides, the wikis, the helping each other with their strategies was all people volunteering because they had gotten so invested in this from the original game,” Holtz said.
5. Give them feedback.
A frustration in some workplaces is that employees don’t get the feedback they need in order to improve. Annual performance evaluations, Holtz said, tend to go like this:
BOSS: If you’d been doing it differently, you would have gotten a higher score.
LOWLY DRUDGE: Well, if you’d told me, I would have done it differently.
Games change that by immediately letting you know what you’re doing right and wrong, helping you to correct your behavior.
6. Think through your objectives.
What are you trying to accomplish with your gaming? Internally, games can be used in orientations for new hires, the promoting of wellness and sustainability, and team building, Holtz says. Externally, it can promote participation, establish customer peer groups, and offer hidden discounts at retail outlets.
“They take a situation that is not a game … [and] imply a game element in order to make that fun,” Holtz said.
By next year, 70 percent of large companies will incorporate gamification, but the bad news is that 80 percent of all gamification efforts will fail, he said, citing studies.
“That’s because what we’re going to do is slap leveling and badging into non-game situations without really strategizing, ‘What is it going to take to make this really fun and engaging?'” Holtz said.
7. Have fun.
Gaming isn’t about mentioning your product or your organization’s Earth-saving mission. It’s about making something fun that people will participate in and learn from or share.
Consider the Volkswagen “Fun Theory” campaign to get people to change their behavior for the better, such as driving the speed limit. People submitted ideas to the carmaker. A team in Stockholm got people to climb a set of stairs next to an escalator by turning the steps into piano keys.
In the long run, Holtz said, work itself could be transformed by gamification, “where the reason you go to work is to have fun accomplishing things the company needs you to do.”