UBM TechWeb produces dozens of technology-related publications and websites targeted at IT professionals, many of whom are C-level employees. Getting them to come back to the UBM TechWeb properties, which include InformationWeek, BYTE and Dark Reading, is a goal. Another is collecting those visitors' email addresses along with other demographic and contact information. Visitors then double as qualified leads for UBM TechWeb's custom marketing programs, such as sponsored webinars and microsites, as long as it also secures an opt-in.
The tech publisher achieves its goals, in part, with gamification, a strategy that uses game design elements and concepts in situations to make offerings more engaging and sticky. For instance, with help from gamification provider Bunchball, UBM TechWeb created a trivia contest that lasted a month and tested IT executives' knowledge of tech topics. In addition, the program, called the Great IT Challenge, rewarded participants when they “liked” UBM TechWeb on Facebook, referred friends to the TechWeb online properties or downloaded white papers. Participants earned points for correct quiz answers as well as each individual action.
“The game rewarded people with status,” said Rajat Paharia, founder of Bunchball. “They could also win things like t-shirts and an iPad, but the tangible prizes weren't as important as the status of winning. CIOs are a competitive bunch, and they wanted to prove that they knew the most. Status has value.”
Gamification had its origins in the b-to-c world. “B2b is just getting started, and what they are doing many consider early on and experimental,” said Brian Blau, research director-consumer technologies at Gartner.
The marketing technique is useful anywhere people need to be motivated. A program is gamified if it has two characteristics: game mechanics and engagement. It must go beyond a simple loyalty program—there has to be something to “play” and something to win, even if it is only respect or bragging rights. “If it doesn't take on a more sophisticated game aspect, then I would call it an engagement technique,” Blau said.
Today most b2b companies are using gamification internally to incentivize their employees to do something. For instance, a company might reward employees who outscore colleagues on training quizzes or those who post the most content in an employee portal. Marketers are also starting to use gamification in their customer advocacy campaigns, said Kim Celestre, senior analyst-technology marketing at Forrester Research. “They're using it to energize brand advocacy, getting customers to share content or start positive conversations about a brand,” she said. “You could provide them with some type of symbol or badge that they earn after completing a level on Facebook or LinkedIn, or even Twitter.”
One of the biggest mistakes people are making is adding gamification to a marketing program just because it seems fun or something that would draw interest. It's in these cases, said Paharia, that gamification can fall short. “Gamification should work backward from the key business objectives that a company is trying to drive. You have to figure out your goal—do we want to drive people to our site every day? Do we want more highly qualified leads—and then match a gamification program to those goals,” he said. Gamified programs also must be measured and tweaked during the campaign, even more so than a traditional marketing program.
Rewards must also come into consideration, said Gabe Zichermann, editor of Gamification.com and a conference chairman of the Gamification Summit. “You don't want to give a 55-year-old guy a cutsie virtual reward and expect it to work,” he said. “Rewards have to be something that's meaningful to your target audience.”
Every would-be player, Bunchball's Paharia said, considers the rewards carefully before they get started doing anything. If the marketer can't demonstrate that the player will get as much out of the relationship as they put in, they are likely to skip the experience. Increasingly, those rewards don't have to be monetary or even tangible. Something as simple as earning exclusive access to a website or video, or garnering a badge that proclaims the participant as an expert, will work since each, especially in the b2b world, can provide a knowledge or career boost, respectively.
Electronics giant Siemens in March 2011 went with bragging rights—with a little fun thrown in—for its own gamified experience, an online game called Plantville. According to the company's press release, Plantville, which asks participants to manage a virtual plant, “enables players to improve the health of their plants by learning about and applying industrial and infrastructure products and solutions from Siemens. Gamers are measured on a number of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), including safety, on-time delivery, quality, energy management and employee satisfaction.” Those players who garner the most points move up on a public leaderboard.
Some companies let colleagues and other gamified participants bestow honors and rewards. At Forrester, for instance, analysts earn badges for ideas that garner the most votes by other employees, Celestre said. “Creating a way for customer collaboration is a good use of gamification as long as it is clear that, if customers come up with good ideas to improve upon a product, the company will actually consider implementing them,” she said.
And it's not just online marketing that's seeing a boost from gamification. Earlier this year, SourceMedia Inc., which publishes American Banker, introduced a mobile game called SuperBanker for attendees of its Best Practices in Retail Financial Services Symposium. During the conference, players could earn points by networking with each other, visiting booths and answering trivia questions. According to the publisher, more than 40% of the more than 500 attendees played the game.
This type of one-off gamified process is what Gartner's Blau calls “Gamification 1.0.” It's successful, but the real test of time will come when companies launch longer-term marketing campaigns.. “Can these companies move beyond this stage from not just the business side but the user side? We think the answer is yes,” he said. “The key is effective design of process, and that usually requires business process experts or a designer-type person—not common processes for regular companies.” It's going to take some skill-building, according to experts.