I laid out $6 to read the New York Times this morning. It’s likely to be the most super part in the bowl of today’s events (and I have good-looking females senselessly following me around LA like it’s my Twitter account! But, I digress.) A particular article on ‘gamification’ barked at my eye, calling my interest like a boardwalk vendor. It discussed brand-to-consumer engagement via a mélange of online games and ‘loyalty’ programs churned out by brands large and small.
What gives me an “icky” feeling, like I need a shower, is the potential disparity of intentions, as if the waters of truth are two fathoms deep, or in nautical terms, mark twain. (Samuel Clemens adopted the name, calling attention to the two-way messages of his novels – the ‘surface’ meaning as well as the ‘latent’ metaphorical-symbolic meaning.) As the Times article’s title (You’ve Won a Badge (and Now We Know All About You)) calls to attention, brands may have ulterior motives; and, in reading some consumer sentiments showcased within, so do some consumers…
Is your brand engaging in online gamification? It could take fruition through eventual-monetary incentive systems (Samsung’s points and rewards systems) or it may offer non-monetary, intrinsic value, such as awarding consumers points via blog comments and thumbs.
Which is beneficial to your brand? I believe both have benefits, but is your brand being transparent , hosting a game of good intentions, or is your brand of ‘gamification’ a euphemism for link baiting and data collection?
As Esteban Contreras, social media marketing manager for Samsung Electronics, states in the Times article:
Visitors who sign in and become active on Samsung Nation tend to explore our Web site much more, learning about our company, our products, and our content.
Okay, no foul air coming from that comment. Maybe games are a genuine way to facilitate Esteban’s words and Samsung’s intended wishes. As the article highlights, a ‘loyal’ customer, Ken Brown, has racked up 4.5 million points on Samsung Nation, earned badges, and garnered a virtual award as added booty upon his sail into the brand’s ‘nation.’ Mr. Brown must be a real ‘patriot’ for Samsung, a real fan and ‘follower’ of the brand…right? Mr. Brown explains his impetus for playing games with Samsung:
[Mr. Brown says he joined Samsung Nation and started accumulating badges just to enter a contest on the site to win a television. He set up a Twitter account, dedicated to posting his Samsung links, to obtain more points. "It's a game," Mr. Brown says. "You have to tweet so many times to earn Twitter badges.]
Wait. Mr. Brown is ‘gaming’ Samsung? Though he’s atop the Samsung Nation scoreboards, earning ‘clout’ via badges and virtual awards, his intentions are not completely genuine? That’s not ethical! But, who’s gaming who? As the Times article elucidates:
[For companies, the premise of gamification is that it engages people in the kind of reward-seeking behaviors that lead to increased brand loyalty, not to mention increased profits.]
Kris Duggan, chief exec of Badgeville, designer of game-based programs (leveraged by Samsung) is more direct about ulterior motives:
People use gamification to measure and influence user behavior to meet their business goals.
Hmmm…so this gamification is sounding more like a bizarre, social-media-mutation of Spy vs. Spy than genuine, mutually-beneficial, brand-to-consumer engagement…and I’ve been spending my time writing about brand awareness…isn’t anyone reading!? Maybe my titles need to be more catchy, but I digress.
So, brands, are you leveraging gamification for user engagement or analytics? Ian Bogost, a professor of digital media at the Georgia Institute of Technology (hey, didn’t the Times use another smart guy from another Georgia institute a little while ago to discuss smart phone hacking?) has another term for gamification, “exploitationware”:
Why not call it a new kind of analytics? Companies could say, ‘Well, we are offering you a new program in which we watch your every move and make decisions about our advertising based on things we see you do’
But hold on. Wait. The sinister sentiments of Slyvester McMonkey McBean may not prevail! The Times article offers a smidgen of sunshine; but, you have to do some sleuthing yourself (kind of like what Danny Sullivan did regarding Google’s impending privacy policies). As the article instructs, a ‘novel’ aspect of gamification is displayed through ‘virtual’ rewards rather than ‘tangible’ ones.
Emily Murphy, a researcher at Forrester Research and recent author on gamification explains non-monetary rewards:
It’s deepening the engagement and exposure to the brand through something that has intangible value.
Yes, Emily! You can engage customers; you can attract their loyalty and interest without gaming them! Rather than offering monetary or extrinsic rewards, which can be chased for all the wrong reasons (as established above), you could offer quality services and products, warranting interest and engagement, rather than playing (questionable) games with consumers.
Working on brand awareness is likely to recruit the ‘brand’ of attention you really desire. Let’s use myself as an example. I’m a consumer, engaged in an ‘intangible’ system. Right now, I’m just at the ‘Contributor’ level, eliciting a hug from Roger; ultimately, I aspire to enjoy the spoils of an SEOmoz t-shirt, mozBot trophy, and coveted ‘Oracle’ status, but those extrinsic things aren’t my main motivation. Actually, I could get there quicker; I was previously a member, accumulating ‘points,’ but I don’t care about drawing attention to that because it’s not a game for me. I’m a part of the brand’s community because I genuinely enjoy it and the brand’s services.
That’s the kind of engagement you want from your consumers. If you have to game and doublespeak to achieve that level of attention, who’s really being gamed in the end?
Thanks for reading – Anthony Pensabene