The 5 (Business) Elements of Gamification

by Joe Fontenot
This is an adaptation from my new book, Minimalist Marketing: How Entrepreneurs and Nonprofits are Reaching Their Audience Without a Marketing Budget.

The 5 (Business) Elements of Gamification

Are you familiar with gamification? It’s what makes Facebook so addictive and why credit card points are so popular.

 

Formally speaking, gamification is moving your audience to engage (or continue engaging) with your product or service through the elements of game. But, unlike its name may imply, gamification is not about games. It’s about the elements that makes games successful.

 

Here are five elements of gamification that you can build into your product or service to make it harder for your audience to resist.

 

1. Points

Points are the smallest way of showing progress. And showing progress is what motivates your users to stay connected.

 

As Zichermann and Linder write in The Gamification Revolution, points  “track behavior, keep score, and provide feedback.”Points in a business environment usually look like some form of currency. I get points on my Amazon Visa card. Some purchases get me more points than others, and all of them can be used as cash on Amazon (or just cashed out).

 

But points also define how your users interact with you.

 

Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter note in For the Win points can be used to define competition, they can be used for the “dopamine drip of constant feedback,” or they can be used to show progression without being promoting competition.

 

But points are a bit limited by themselves, and so they are often used with badges.

 

2. Badges

Badges are a form of identity.

When I completed a certification as a copywriter, the certifying agency send me a digital badge I could put on my website or in my email signature. Badges are a way of quantifying points.

 

Badges, write Zichermann and Linder, generate “a touch point for the gamified system to communicate with the users, bringing them back into the experience.”

 

Because badges show accomplishment, they use the persuasive force of consistency (from chapter four) to move their holders to re-engage. After all, they’ve put this much in, they may as well continue.

 

And so badges have the dual ability to show the outside world what a certain amount of points gets, while also working to keep the badge holder engaged.

 

3. Levels

Like badges, levels communicate identity, but they do it though community. While an individual gets a badge to stand out from the crowd, being at a certain level signifies camaraderie with others at that same level.

 

Academic degrees, staff titles (like “pastor” or “executive director”), and customer labels (such as “preferred status” or “beta testers”) all act as level designators. Levels indicate hierarchy and “provide users with a sense of progress and accomplishment”

 

This comes in handy when you need to mobilize your audience to act on your behalf, such as with influencers or brand ambassadors.

 

By providing a certain level of accomplishment, those lower on the hierarchy look to higher levels as authorities within your brand.

 

4. Letterboards

Letterboards are a public display of status. But unlike badges and levels, letterboards are reserved for the high scores. By getting to a letterboard status, a person (or group) has signified that they are elite.

 

But letterboards can backfire. If they are the only element in your gamification, they can be demoralizing, acting as a display announcing everyone who’s not a winner.

 

“Several studies have shown that introducing a letterboard alone in a business environment will usually reduce performance rather than enhance it,” write Werbach and Hunter.

 

One way to build a good letterboard is to emphasize several factors to compete on. Doing this allows people with different strengths to excel.

 

But it also removes the focus of a singular competitive point. If, say, three to five competitive factors are registering, it’s easier to show multiple legitimate winners who would not otherwise be listed. Doing this increases morale by communicating that different strengths are valued.

 

5. Rewards

Everything to this point has been peer-focused. Rewards, on the other hand, are primarily user-focused. It’s the benefit of playing.

 

“The goal of a good gamified system,” writes Zichermann and Linder, “is to offer a set of rewards that activates the users’ intrinsic desires, while leveraging external incentives and pressure where appropriate.”

 

This is important, because it will ultimately be the intrinsic—or internal—motivations that drive your audience. (This is similar to the StoryBrand notion of the internal problem.)

 

However, it will be the external elements that others see, and that in turn motivate others to join in. Zichermann and Linder conclude: “Gamified systems lean heavily on psychological and virtual rewards for driving meaningful behavior.”

 

Gamifying Your Business

How can you gamify the way your audience interacts with your product or service? If you’d like to schedule a call, we can discuss a strategy that will work for you.

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