Social and Gamification in Retail: A Recipe for Tremendous Growth

Jun 02, 2013 8:43 PM  By

Gamification has moved beyond the realm of being a clever idea as it rapidly evolves into a key marketing and advertising tool for retailers and brands. According to a recent report by Gartner analyst Brian Burke, 50% of companies involved in new product development and innovation will gamify those processes by 2015.

Another prediction from Burke should make retailers sit up and take notice: In that same timeframe, gamification will become as important as Facebook for customer retention.

In addition to its importance for customer retention, gamification is also quickly being adopted by marketers for its ability to draw in and convert a game-attuned generation of consumers that demand more engaging experiences than ever before. But in order for it to truly reach the inflection point, gamification in retail has to not only happen at scale but provide measurable ROI as well.

From a platform perspective, the confluence of mobile devices, applications and social behaviors provide the means to bring these needs into balance. But to be successful, brands must carefully consider the right combination of strategy and tactics to unlock the power this confluence brings.

Two key success factors are: a) The game mechanics have to be audience, device and often location appropriate; b) There has to be a clear value exchange between the consumer (fun, discovering cool stuff, a better offer) and the retailer or brand (measurable sales, traffic, consumer data).

Let me provide an example to illustrate. A shopper standing in a grocery store aisle gets a location-based prompt which launches an in-store experience that asks: “If you were X brand’s ice cream, which flavor would you be?” A vote is rewarded with an instant discount for the brand in question. We now have a location appropriate, engaging experience from a standard coupon use, but this can go much further towards creating scale.

Now imagine this scenario extended to one that rewards our voting shopper and his social media friends with an additional one-time exclusive offer when they also play. Perhaps it’s a sample of a new flavor or “buy one, get one free.” Whatever the case, it’s the combination of an engaging experience, fun information and a strong enough offer that will trigger social engagement that reaches new audiences and creates foot traffic. The point is that it’s relatively easy to combine gamification and social behaviors so that the brand’s offer and experience breaks out beyond whatever platform the shopper is on to reach a circle of friends.

Of course there are many variations of this scenario, and I see them having real impact on retail because they make the formerly mundane enjoyable and available across an entire audience. And when structured well, it doesn’t always matter where the effect starts – it could be in store like the above scenario, but I’ve seen eye-opening results from high-scale display advertising and even email.

The big idea is not really about the medium, gamification or social, it’s that we’re now marketing to whole sets of relationships rather than just to individuals. This not only benefits the friends playing together – who are engaged, having fun and getting a better offer – but the retailer or brand that is getting the scale it wants as interest and momentum builds. When you tie in analytics, collected data fuels the identification of key buyers, sharers and influencers which can be tapped and ROI can be measured – the whole enchilada.

In this vein, gamification is an ingredient rather than an end in itself. Like social media, retailers need to start thinking about gamification being applied horizontally, not just on a single platform or over a single medium. An integrated, horizontal approach will provide the scale and ROI that retailers need to see in order to defend the value of their advertising. I think we’re going to see a lot more of those types of rewards in 2013 and beyond.

Todd Parsons is founder and CEO of social advertising platform firm Aditive.