Engaging Gamified Experiences Begin with Emotion

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By Michela BaxterSenior Director, Strategy & Insights, Merkle Promotion & Loyalty Solutions at Merkle

Mention the word gamification to a marketer, and points, badges and leaderboards undoubtedly come to mind. But the most engaging gamified experiences don’t come from adding a single mechanic, like a badge, to an approach. Gamified experiences are most successful when you tap into a core emotion that motivates intrinsic engagement. That emotion — what we call a brand engagement driver — aligns to the specific mechanics that are best used to elicit that desired emotional response. Ultimately, what makes a gamified experience engaging and successful is how both the emotion and mechanics work together.

Determining the Brand Engagement Driver is a Critical First Step

A brand engagement driver is the emotion you want to spark: the core emotional need you’re trying to fill as an outcome of engaging with your brand. It should serve as the foundation for the gamified experience. It is a powerful tool to motivate engagement because it is an internally fueled incentive, producing happy hormones in your customers’ brains. The result is positive brand relationships that are more sustainable and powerful than those from transactional incentives.

Determining the most appropriate brand engagement driver requires developing a deep understanding of your customer. Empathy mapping is a great way to gather the emotional insights needed to assess your customers’ brand engagement driver. Once you understand what motivates your customer, you can use the behavioral drivers highlighted next as the starting point for forming your gamification strategy.

Brand Engagement Can Be Both Social and Individual

Behavioral psychologists may use hundreds of drivers to understand and influence behavior. There are six that commonly stand out for marketers looking to create higher levels of brand engagement and loyalty:

  1. To give: selflessly contribute or help others
  2. To connect: share, bond, collaborate or establish relationships
  3. To compete: achieve individual or team goals
  4. To learn: gain knowledge and mastery, satisfy curiosity, and explore
  5. To create: express oneself or build something
  6. To solve: make a decision, fulfil a need or aid choices

Giving, connecting, and competing tend to be socially oriented drivers. Learning, creating, and solving tend to be individualistic. An easy way to think of the difference between the two is this: social drivers work well if your audience is motivated by the opportunity to engage with others who share their interests, and individual drivers are best used when a customer’s motivation is specific to themselves. There is always the possibility that your customers’ needs may be both social and individual. They may also be motivated by more than one driver. For example, your customers may be emotionally driven by creating ideas as a community. Or maybe they like to learn through competition.

Map Mechanics to Emotion

Emotions alone aren’t enough to hold your customers’ attention. Game mechanics are necessary to motivate behavior because they allow your customers to interact with your brand experience and generate super-charged emotions. But all game mechanics don’t fit all emotional drivers.

For example, common game mechanics like badges and leaderboards are great for motivating social competition, but they aren’t well suited for inspiring individual creativity. Instead, game mechanics with which you may be less familiar, like creativity tools, feedback, and user-generated content, are smart additions to a gamified experience where the objective is to spark creativity among customers.

If you’re just getting started with gamification, choose a small set of mechanics that map back to your selected driver and optimize the experience over time. Search “game mechanics list” to gather ideas about which mechanics to use. Or better yet, partner with gamification experts to help design a gamified experience that meets your business objectives while sparking deep-rooted emotion in your customers.

Investigate Interaction Elements to Find the Emotional Lens 

Look at brand experiences from an emotional lens instead of a mechanical one. Deconstruct the key interaction elements of the experience and see if you can tie them back to an emotional driver. Think about the different elements in your favorite board game or the navigation of your favorite brand’s promotional events. Identify the intrinsic motivation behind what drives you to play or participate. It’s not always about competition.

Game designers use the idea of epic meaning or a greater purpose to inspire gameplay. Brand engagement drivers are meaning woven into the gamified experience. For successful gamification, determining mechanics should always come second to isolating the emotional driver that best achieves your customers’ goals and your brand’s objectives.

To learn more about gamification, download the new Two Essential Elements of a Gamified Experience eBook today.

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