Using Gaming Effectively As A Strategic Brand Tactic

The great post, below, from GigaOM is spot on. As branded and social gaming have grown exponentially over the last few years (solid infographic here), the creation of custom branded games and integration into popular social games, as a tactic, have become one of the new shiny objects for companies looking to spice up their marketing. However, a brand is doomed to fail if they just slap some game mechanics onto their latest product offering or marketing campaign without considering why their audience would want to “play” with them in that context.As with all content and brand experiences, relevance is absolutely key.

People are flocking to games because they’re fun, they offer social interactions, or the games otherwise benefit them in their lives. There are plenty of games out there, so there’s absolutely no reason for people to choose a branded game unless it offers a uniquely engaging experience or incentive. 

It’s not an easy challenge to merge a brand with a game, but it’s possible. We, at Real Branding, have been exploring this arena heavily, recently, using the tactic only when we fully believe it’s relevant. Our branded game endeavors include:

  • Lipton Brisk: The Way of the Brisk
    • Solution: We unleashed “The Way of the Brisk,” which sought to tell the untold story of the story that was never told. Hmmm. Part Kung Fu movie, part mockumentary, part journey of flavorful discovery, the video series starred Chuck Liddell and his dream-destroying claymation counterpart, Tiny Chuck. Next, we launched a multi-level online fighting game that pulled consumers even further into “The Way of the Brisk” legend, while simultaneously highlighting the six flavors of Brisk. Finally, rich media banners, a Facebook page and featured placements on Funny or Die and Brisk’s own website helped rally MMA fans and drive them to all corners of the Brisk world.
    • Brand Microsite (click the bottom tab to play the game)
    • Case Study
  • Michelob ULTRA: Challenge de ULTRA
    • Solution: Create an online brand experience that enabled people to “play along” with Lance Armstrong’s quest for an 8th Tour de France win – the “Challenge de ULTRA”. The Challenge was a Facebook application consisting of 20 daily challenges, one for each stage of the Tour de France. By designing a 20-point return engagement strategy, consumers came back each day to complete the current day’s challenge and get additional sweepstakes entries.
    • Case Study
  • Lipton Brisk & Hess Express: Foursquare Integration
    • Solution: Tips & other organic content, point of sale deals and a sweepstakes drive Foursquare users to engage with the brands in PepsiCo’s first location-based social gaming effort.
    • Check out my recent post about it

How do you think brands can be most effective in the gaming space? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Gamification Needs to Level Up — Here’s How
By Ryan Kim Nov. 26, 2010, 2:00pm PDT 7 Comments

Gamification has been a buzzword for 2010, and now we’re seeing the inevitable backlash. For every company trying to add points, badges, challenges and leaderboards to their apps, websites and products, there’s a critic complaining about the trend. It’s not just haters looking to squash the next big thing; there are many underlying issues plaguing gamification, also known as funware. I still think game mechanics can be a force for good and positive outcomes for things like aiding people’s health or improving the environment, but for that to happen, gamification needs to take the next step.

Let’s first look at some of the problems facing gamification:

  • Game mechanics are being tacked on without regard to their relevance or appropriateness. The trend has spawned copycats who haven’t really thought out how they want to use gamification features. It’s like a box that’s being checked off. Just because I wrote a review on Yelp, why does that get me a badge? What’s the connection? Yes, it denotes repeated visits but the link to a badge seems tenuous.
  • Gamification proponents are assuming that points and badges are fun. Just because you apply points to an act doesn’t make it interesting or engaging. It’s what game designer Margaret Robertson called “pointsification.” She said points can denote progress, but they can often be the least interesting thing about a game.
  • Gamification is too focused on changing behaviors. Often, game mechanics are applied to get people to do something. That’s fine, and obviously the point for many companies. But many are just obvious attempts at getting users to do an act that helps a company and are not deeply engaging for users. Deals are helping soften the blow, but even those, if they’re irrelevant, just underscore that you’re not a player; you’re a pawn.
  • Gamification is seldom well-implemented overall. Some gamification attempts are aimed at attracting new users, but don’t offer engagement for experienced players or opportunities to level up. Others over-emphasize achievements or dangle singular honors like a mayorship for one act, which can turn off or intimidate less competitive users. Many attempts haven’t undergone through the serious testing that a traditional video game undergoes.

But all is not lost. Gamification can work, but it needs to do more than dole out points. It needs to get to the heart of what games are and tap into their power. Here’s what companies employing game mechanics should remember:

  • Funware needs to be fun. It’s pretty obvious, but games have to be intrinsically fun. There’s a big difference between getting points and doing something interesting. Points are the outcome, but good games focus on what you put into it and how you play. A good gamification implementation taps interesting inputs and makes that part of the fun.
  • Gamification should tap emotions and deeper motivations. Tim Chang, a partner at Norwest Venture Partners and a proponent of gamification, says game mechanics need to leverage more emotions. He said the seven deadly sins are great motivators but game mechanics only rely on a couple of them like greed or pride. Robertson says good games are also about being “interestingly hard” with the fear of failure a real motivator.
  • Game mechanics need to work with your product. A gaming mechanic needs to be in sync with a product to be powerful. A decent example is Foursquare’s partnership with Pepsi. Now, earning a ”Gym Rat” badge can get you an offer for SoBe Lifewater.
  • Games need to offer choices, strategy, mastery. Right now, game mechanics are often about just collecting points or achievements with the only variable being how often you do something. But real games offer choices that produce different rewards. You can play riskier but get more rewards. That kind of strategy can also help deepen the experience. Also great games are easy to learn, difficult to master. Good uses of gamification must not only bring in new users but give more committed customers a way to grind it out and gain a sense of accomplishment. For many gamers, it’s that quest for mastery that motivates them, not their gamer score.
  • Spend time working out your gamification strategy. Companies need to spend a lot of time thinking about how they want to deploy funware. A strategy needs to make sense and identify what the company is trying to accomplish and how game mechanics done well can accomplish that. Then they need to test it out with users to make sure it resonates.

Gamification is bound to hit a wall as detractors declare it a fading trend. But there’s still a future in leveraging game mechanics. It just needs its practitioners to step up their game.

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About Tarah

Ever since I founded my college TV station, I’ve aspired to tell relevant, engaging stories. Seeing digital platforms as a powerful tool with which to facilitate interactive conversations, rather than passive entertainment, I have worked throughout my career to merge my entertainment sensibilities with the combined needs of advertisers and audiences to create inspiring content experiences. As Digital Innovations Specialist & Chair of the Social Media Council at Real Branding (recently merged with Schawk/Anthem! & Brand New World), I drive creative direction and strategy, working directly with brands to develop engaging consumer experiences across the entertainment, advertising and digital media industries. As a strategic partner of NBTV Studios, I work with the management team to help them find new clients, develop and produce industry-leading film, video and entertainment products. Before joining Real Branding, I held the position of VP, Creative & Digital Strategy on the executive team at Big Fuel Communications, where I crafted innovative distribution strategies and producing award-winning branded entertainment, interactive and other campaigns for partners such as Neutrogena, AOL and Fox Interactive Media. From 2005-07, I was a founding member of the NBC Universal Digital Studio, as Manager of Program Development, where I created, developed and oversaw the production of series and entertainment products for digital and traditional platforms. Prior to NBCU, I worked in Marketing and Original Programming at HBO, as well as running my own independent production company, producing and directing a number of short films, documentaries, music videos and other entertainment products. As a member of the Producer's Guild of America, NATAS, NAMAS, IFP and other associations, I maintain regular involvement with industry organizations and have enjoyed speaking on panels for the Producer’s Guild, IFP, NYU, NALIP and others. Additionally, for several years, I served as the Executive Producer of the website and managed the marketing efforts for Stellar Network, a trans-Atlantic organization for professionals in film, television and theater. I grew up in the green mountains of Vermont and graduated from Brandeis University, while pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy and Film Studies. When I’m not working, I’m sharing my life with my wife Anjali, a brilliant foodie, and our dog, Taj, in Brooklyn. For my full professional details and to connect professionally, please join me on LinkedIn: http://linkd.in/tarahf
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