Rules of the Game: How to get your customers motivated

When I was quite a bit younger, I remember digging deep into the box of Cracker Jack for the toy prize. Now that I think about it, the sticky snack of popcorn and peanuts was actually a better treat than the cheap token ring or paper tattoo sunk deep within the box. Who doesn’t like to be rewarded, though? Just buy nine sandwiches to get the tenth one free. Sure! I’ve got a wallet full of loyalty cards from my favorite businesses. I’m earning discounts and frequent flier miles with every credit card purchase. I enjoy my perks from earning select shopper status and admit to playing a few rounds of McDonald’s Monopoly to win more than free fries. It’s all just a game, but smart businesses know these incentives work on consumers. If they can make it fun and engaging in the process, then even better.

Now that our massive social framework is in place, gaming has the potential for even greater influence. Look no further than Farmville, which at 80 million active monthly users and 30 million daily, has more active users than Twitter. That’s a lot of pig. Game designer Seth Priebatsch discusses this growing game dynamic and its value to businesses at a Boston TED conference. He says that the game dynamic is more prevalent in the world around us than we may realize. Consider happy hour, a long reliable traffic driver for bars and restaurants and one of my favorite times of day. Priebatsch calls this the “appointment dynamic” as it requires people, or players, to be at a predefined place at a certain time. Show up at the right time and place and receive a reward. Farmville uses this same gaming technique. If players don’t show up at a certain time, their crops wilt. A powerful driver considering the magnitude of people arriving at their computers each day. Other gaming principles we may also be taking for granted include:

1) The progression dynamic: This requires players to progress through various steps to reach a goal. Consider your LinkedIn profile progress bar, or loyalty cards that draw customers repeatedly back to a business to earn and unlock rewards.

2) Influence and status dynamic: Consider the bragging rights of reaching level 30 on World of Warcraft, becoming Mayor on Foursquare, or reaching for your American Express Black card. The motivators here are status and influence.

3) Communal discovery: This dynamic truly leverages the power of social networks by relying on communities to solve problems. Digg is a great example of crowdsourcing to identify the most interesting news. This dynamic is also ideal for adding legs to promotional campaigns. Businesses can encourage customers to reach out to their networks to vote for consumer-submitted videos, win game challenges and support causes.

As this gaming framework is taking shape alongside our social networks, how can we leverage it for good? It’s more than fun and games — it’s a powerful influencer.

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