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Gabe Zichermann: gamification isn’t about offering ‘free stuff’, it’s about status

Gamification isn’t a new concept. Businesses have been trying to increase engagement by introducing game mechanics into their marketing for a few years now.

One of the most obvious examples is Foursquare, which has developed its offering from a social game into a local search engine as it moves towards monetisation.

But can gamification be applied to all business models?

During a keynote at TNW 2012 Gamification CEO Gabe Zichermann suggested that companies must first understand what it is about video games that engages consumers.

It is not just throwing some badges on your website. Although badges are important, they are not the only thing we need.

He also said it’s not about turning not turning everything into a game or converting your business into a gaming company. 

It’s about taking the best lessons from games and applying them to your specific situation.

Zichermann stated that the key reward that marketers can offer consumers is status, followed by access to new content, power over their peers, and free stuff.

Marketers always think we want free stuff, we’re told that’s what drives people. That’s how we reward customers and employees, we give them cash or free products, but it’s wrong.

Instead Zichermann says consumers should be rewarded with status, as that is what people are used to be being rewarded with in video games.

To prove his theory he offered up two scenarios. In scenario A he would give you a free cup of coffee.

In scenario B, the next time you want a coffee you could walk into any Starbucks, walk past the queue and have your coffee immediately handed to you while all the other customers stood in line stared in envy.

But in scenario B you still have to pay for the coffee.

He said nearly every time people would choose option B, and that is what marketers fail to grasp.

The rational idea is that people want free stuff, as that is economics. But humans aren’t rational, we are emotional beings.

There have been some successful examples of brands creating games to increase engagement, notably Barclays’ Waterslide Extreme app and Jimmy Choo’s Foursquare competition, but more often than not the focus is on rewarding consumers with ‘free stuff’ rather than status.

Offering free products is a quick win, but offering customers status above their peers has the potential to create more long-term brand loyalty.

Obviously getting it right is easier said than done, but it is certainly an interesting challenge for marketers.

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