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Demystifying Gamification: 6 Steps To Success for SMEs

Posted By Sean Ahern, Thursday 14 January 2016

Here are 6 steps to successfully apply gamification to your SME marketing activities.

  1. 1. Define Business Targets
  2. 2. Define Core Challenge and Core Fiero
  3. 3. Add Rules and Get Flow
  4. 4. Boost engagement with added Fieros
  5. 5. Paper-Prototype and Test
  6. 6. Build and Cross 10

Let’s consider a couple of pre-gamification sanity checks before digging into each step: spend control and expectations.

And just to note: if you have not seen my lead-in blogs posted over the past couple of weeks, can I suggest you take a glance at them now? Part 1 detailed the fundamentals of gamification and part 2 explained the target neurological states of ‘flow’ and ‘fiero’.

Spend Little, Think Big

You don’t need to invest big to win. ‘Nice to have’ features shouldn’t even get close to a development spot; you should only ever spend the minimum you need. To ensure that gamification is cost-effective while consistently securing that critical tap or click, the marketer should always be aware of how and why gamification spend benefits the bigger commercial picture. Under standing the specific strengths and benefits of gamification can really help with this.

Remember, we are not building games, we are gamifying. You do not need to create a full game to let gamification work its engagement magic.

My best advice to control costs is to start small. Don’t be afraid to practice and get one or two wrong – small scale failures will go largely unnoticed. If one method gets attention and engagement, ramp it.

To demonstrate this point, I have gamified this blog post for free. Instead of outright asking for your email address to add you to my connections, let me try to engage you with this:

There is a paragraph in this blog that contains a hidden message. Can you find it?

Hint: Go back over what you have read but only read the first and last words between all sentence punctuations.

If I found that my 10 minutes of gamification effort prompted leads to email me more than usual, it’s probably worth developing further. If not, it was only 10 minutes.

Have you solved it yet? Did you feel the minor fiero? How long were you in flow?

Untitled design gamif 4

Setting Expectations

Gamification attracts and holds attention in a uniquely powerful way. The industries that stand to benefit most from gamification, therefore, are the ones battling attention deficit and distraction on a regular basis. Education, research, workforce management and marketing are prime examples.

Gamification will not substitute or replace any skill or technique already employed by any of these disciplines; it will complement each of them. To marketers, I often introduce it like this:

If you could find 1,000 attentive advocates and put them in a room, how much would it cost and what would you do?

Gamification cannot tell you what to do, but it will gather 1,000 genuine advocates, guarantee that they are all enjoying themselves, and tee you up perfectly so that you can do what you do best.

Finally, while 75% of people play games, tastes vary. Never expect greater than 50% engagement in any scenario, it just doesn’t happen.

Ok, if the above is clear and we are still good to go, let’s get gamifying.

Untitled design gamif 6

Step 1 – Define Business Targets

Unless there is a clear success scenario and plan to achieve it in place, gamification can turn into an expensive gamble.

Whether you are targeting acquisition, loyalty, traffic, behaviour or any other business-driven goal, I would suggest using engagement # or % and engagement time as your key success metrics. Assume that success will leverage engagement and plan the rest of your goals from there.

For instance, my little blog game can catch a few seconds of attention pretty easily. How I subtly convert that attention to my own benefit is the business critical part.

Step 2 – Define Core Challenge and Core Fiero

Gamification requires, at minimum, a challenge for the participant. As far as the participant is concerned, the opportunity to take up the challenge should be the only reason that the campaign exists. This is the new priority. Now that we have success metrics defined, we must try to minimise or even hide our business goals by focusing all attention on the challenge and the participants.

When finding a challenge, think first about your core fiero. You know your own brand – find a challenge that plays right into your customers’ passion. Give them a way to feel proud of themselves, preferably while using your product or service.

Think of the core fiero as bait. The better the fiero, the higher the engagement # or % will be.

To this point, there is no spend required, there are only ideas. For this reason, a good practice is to search for the core fiero in every activity you plan. Wherever there is an opportunity to present an interesting challenge, there is opportunity to increase engagement.

gamif inforgraph 2

Step 3 – Add Rules and Get Flow

As I detailed last week, the true power in gamification is the power to achieve flow. Now that you have your core fiero chosen, it’s time to look for flow.

If your core fiero is the bait, then flow is the happy-trap. Increasing flow will increase engagement time.

Ideally, the challenge should be very easy to start and quite hard to master. Also, the ability to try, fail, and try again without any consequences is vital to achieving flow. Tailor your rules to compliment this. Aim for:

  1. A simple to understand victory condition
  2. Clear and simple rules
  3. Instant success or failure feedback
  4. Instant and unlimited retries

If you can provide an environment where flow is the natural response for the player, you have gamified. You have engaged with your core fiero and retained with flow. A person in flow is now your advocate – they are having genuine fun. But for how long?

Step 4 – Boost engagement with added Fieros

Flow is increased exponentially by adding more and more potential for fieros. Over almost 3 decades, the video games industry has become very good at adding broad-line fieros. Have a look at some commonly used techniques below. See how they align with our core needs; express, explore compete and collaborate. Recognise any of the examples? See how each technique is employed?

Untitled design gamif final

There is a common misconception that adding some of these things to existing processes, like badges or scores, equates to gamification. Unless you have a core challenge and core fiero, these techniques alone are useless. But used in the correct context, these are very powerful fiero drivers.

To take my blog challenge as an example; as you started looking for the puzzle paragraph you entered flow. If I wanted to maintain flow, I might give you a second puzzle. I might give you a badge every time you find and solve a puzzle. The badge alone means nothing, but if there was a leaderboard where I could see my friends trying, it might get a little more interesting.

I didn’t add these for one reason: I didn’t need to. I only needed 20 seconds of your time to attempt a conversion. If I wanted to keep you indefinitely I’d build a full game around this simple challenge by adding plenty of fiero techniques above. I’d also have to spend a lot more.

Getting this balance right can reduce gamification costs by several orders of magnitude. The most skilful gamification professionals can avoid the expense of building full games and still achieve sustained flow.

Keeping a firm eye on the costs, try to add as many fiero opportunities as possible for maximum impact with minimum spend.

Step 5 – Paper-Prototype and Test

Before you build anything, test.

Test for fun with colleagues by running the challenge with minimum or zero technology. In almost every case, it should be possible to prototype your effort using a pencil and paper.

On testing, you might revisit step 4 – some techniques may be wasted and some easy wins may be overlooked. Testing and running validates success before you invest.

Step 6 – Build and Cross 10

In the startup world, where ideas are tested quick and dirty, there is a maxim made popular by Pablo Fuentes: Cross 10.

Crossing 10 means getting 10 people, completely un-associated with the project, to engage and prove your idea. If you cannot get 10 people to enjoy your gamified process, you will not get 1000. This can be a little scary because it opens your great idea to real criticism. Trust me, you want this criticism as soon as possible.

If possible before you build, cross 10.

If not, prototype as you would for any software product and then cross 10.

But certainly before you release, cross 10. The worst scenario in any gamification effort is that fanfare around release leads to ridicule when the effort tanks. If your effort is going to tank, and many of them do, tank it yourself behind closed doors.

When you have crossed 10, you are ready to go to market. What’s more, you have a clear objective, method, targets and measures, and initial validation is done. You are as ready as you’ll ever be, so have fun with it!

When you do go to market, please do let me know. If this blog been of any help to anyone, then I’d be delighted it was worth it.

Still stuck on the blog challenge? Since you are engaged enough to read all the way down, here’s the answer: Have a look at the first paragraph under “Spend Little, Think Big” and read only the first and last words between commas and periods. It reads: “You win nice spot you need to …” and I’ll let you read the rest.

Examples revisited

Case Study: #Glastonburied

By: Glastonbury Music Festival & EE, 2015

Est. Budget: <£10k

Untitled design glaston final 2

#Glastonburied, 2015

Rather than give away tickets for Glastonbury 2015 in the usual way, EE created a treasure hunt. Players had to follow the twitter feed to receive clues and hints on where to look. After a day, the campaign had received 3,000 tweets and 500 retweets, reaching over 300,000 people.

Business Target: Gain exposure and social media activity in the run-up to the festival.

Core Fiero: Show that you know Glastonbury better than most.

Rules: Follow on twitter to see clues. Use the clues to find locations on a grid. Tweet guesses.

Added Fiero Techniques: Leaderboard, Find & Locate, Advance and Progress, Prize Draw, Comment and Share, Puzzle Solving.

Engaged: 3000.

Time Engaged: 1 day.

Impressions: 300,000.


This article was written by Sean Ahern, an avid gamer who made his first text based computer game at the age of 13. In 1999-2000, when competitive online gaming was in it’s infancy, he was a semi-professional Counter -Strike Gamer, playing in front of online audiences of up to 30,000. Real Life ™ has torn him away from hardcore gaming but he still spends his spare time sifting through strategy and indie games. He also worked for Accenture and Microsoft and is currently founder of, a social help game that gets relevant marketing content in front of qualified advocates and influencers, recently nominated by Silicon Republic as “One to Watch” in 2015.

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