How gamification can rev up your content marketing

At every stage of the sales process—and beyond it reinforcing customer loyalty—this fun approach can keep your brand on consumers’ minds.

In content marketing, gamification offers the playtime that we kids at heart desire.

Gamification is more than just a substitute for recess. It’s ideal for increasing important metrics and creating brand affinity in spades.

“Gamification” can be a mouthful to say, but it’s not nearly so complicated to define. It’s the art of making a game out of your content marketing. Apps, interactive tools and even quizzes can fill the gamification bill.

Though not a new concept to the Internet at large, gamification has become a go-to tool for many content marketers, as it can yield a slew of coveted marketing benefits.

Engagement is the most obvious of these results. Though engagement is a bit of a buzzword, it translates into very specific metrics. Time on site/app, bounce rate and social media sharing all fall under the engagement umbrella, and each of these benchmarks can be improved through gamification.

For example, GrubHub offers a classic video game experience while customers wait for their food. Rather than let users exit after purchase, GrubHub Fastfood Runner uses gamification to increase the time each customer spends using the app.

Common mistakes

Before you start designing gamified features, there are a few roadblocks to overcome. First and foremost, consider your budget. In order to pull off a game that users actually want to play, the game must be well planned and well designed.

Unfortunately, this achievement doesn’t come cheap. A clean, functional app will cost $10,000 minimum (though intricate designs can run upward of six figures). For a full rundown of app design budgets, check out SavvyApp CEO Ken Yarmosh’s detailed advice.

As always, you must also consider your audience. Do users tend to visit your site on the go? If so, consider a game that takes no longer than 30 seconds. If your audience is more generous with their time, you might be able to increase that. Just be forewarned: Very few games should last longer than a couple of minutes.

Finally, gamification can go south quickly if you don’t optimize for different platforms. Though this might increase your budget significantly, keep in mind that mobile use now outpaces desktop traffic . If you aren’t optimized for mobile, desktop and tablet, you might as well not attempt gamification at all.

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Getting started

If you’re convinced that gamification is right for your brand, it’s time incorporate it into your overall content marketing strategy. But what type of gamification should you pursue? Luckily, there are ample opportunities for gamification that work at every stage of the sales process.

1. There’s an app for that

As we mentioned above, app design can claim a hefty chunk of your marketing budget. Yet don’t discount apps just because of an upfront cost. After all, apps are one of the most evergreen forms of gamification.

Whether paid or free, an app can result in long-term returns for your brand. For example, addictive games or useful features keep users engaged with your brand during everyday moments when they need your product or want to kill some time.

Apps are also great for ongoing data collection. When do users open your app, and can you glean any buyer insights based on that information? Do users jump away from the app at a common point? If so, you might have a glitch or needless feature on your hands.

Before you assume apps are only for tech companies, consider that some would argue you need an app as part of your product portfolio. If you’re selling something, an app is probably worth your investment.

2. Personalization

Gamification doesn’t have to take the form of intricate apps or video games. Most gamified features are little more than interactive building blocks.

Let’s take Blue Nile’s Build Your Own Ring as an example. The online engagement ring retailer encourages users to build their own ring using a straightforward pathway. Users are taken through diamond selection, ring setting and, of course, purchase.

This type of personal gamification is a win/win situation for users and for Blue Nile. On one hand, users avoid the overwhelming task of looking through thousands of rings. It’s especially useful for those who may be new to the world of clarity, cut, color and carat.

Blue Nile mines its own consumer data “gems,” as well. First, the company gains invaluable insight into user preferences and taste. Not only does this help Blue Nile marketers improve its site and strategy, but it also helps operations and business teams make product decisions.

Also, gamification helps Blue Nile to build a relationship with its audience. The Build Your Own Ring feature is a registered trademark, giving Blue Nile immediate street cred in the engagement ring arena. What’s more, the gamified feature conveys trust and expertise in a way that simple articles or photos never could.

3. Interactive sweepstakes

When it comes to brand sweepstakes, there is such thing as a free lunch. Audiences love an opportunity to win prizes, especially if entry is easy. Gamification can add a fun factor that most sweepstakes lack.

Take VSP, for example. Although eye care might seem like a humdrum category, VSP has gamified its content marketing. The brand hosts a gamified sweepstakes every month. Users play a 20-second game to receive an entry into the contest.

VSP also recycles many game features each month—a smart idea for any content marketer who wants to host an interactive sweepstakes. Though VSP’s games may vary from Whack-a-Mole to Memory, it uses the same icons, framework and microsite.

4. Product announcement

Obviously, you want any new product to make a memorable entrance. Gamification is a fantastic way to announce a new product or feature in a way that wows.

EA Sports released NFL Madden 15 in just such a way. Its NFL Giferator allows users to pick a football team and GIF (pulled straight from the video game, of course), followed by an opportunity to personalize and share the GIF. Engagement, high pages per visit and social sharing? Yes, please.

You, too, can create a game that allows users to have fun with your new product. Not only that, but users can have fun with the game long after your product has been released. Just make sure you tweak it accordingly.

One more thing: Please don’t forget a call to action (or seven). After all, the whole exercise is pointless if no one remembers your new product.

5. Post-purchase engagement

Any marketer worth her salt knows a long-term brand strategy isn’t all about first-time purchase. A brand must have repeat purchasers and brand advocates to succeed.

This means engaging users even after their purchase is over. Enter gamification yet again. Gamified features in this scenario are unlocked only after a customer has completed an order.

Domino’s is a pioneer in this category. Since 2008, the pizza delivery brand has used GPS technology to let users know exactly where their pizza is in the delivery process. This registered trademark process keep users engaged and on the site even after their credit card has been approved.

If you have a long delivery cycle, this feature won’t be the right fit for you. However, you can offer other post-purchase gamification. It can be complex (e.g., GrubHub’s Fastfood Runner) or simple, such as automated social media sharing.

Now that you have an idea of the wide world of gamification, it should be clear that you really can engage users at every stage of the sales process. Let’s see how that breaks down:

  • Awareness : This early stage focuses on attracting new users. Gamification is ideal for this, namely in the form of apps or sweepstakes.
  • Engagement/evaluation: In the middle of the process, users get to know your brand. Product announcement games are perfect for this stage.
  • Commitment : The very last stage entails commitment and purchase. Intuitive, well-designed gamification will smoothly transition users into buyers. Consider personalized product-focused games, such as Blue Nile’s Build Your Own Ring.
  • Loyalty : Finally, gamification engages users beyond the sale itself with brand loyalty features that unlock after the purchase.

Though you must plan and budget for effective gamification, it’s well worth your time for most brands. Plus, who said content marketing can’t all be fun and games?

A version of this article previously ran on the StudioD blog .

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