Marketing / Tech

The Ultimate Guide to Gamification Marketing in 2021


The simple act of promoting products and services is a well-choreographed dance between research and results – which brings us to the latest sensory-stimulating trend on the playing field: Gamification.

If you’re currently fulfilling a role that’s in any way connected to marketing, you’re well aware that it’s the ultimate game on the 2021 business landscape. 

What is Gamification in Marketing?

User playing a game that incorporates Gamification in Marketing

/Gamification/ noun.

The strategic application of the iconic elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) in non-game contexts, to create experiences similar to those experienced when playing video games.

An online marketing technique that motivates and engages users, encouraging optimum engagement with products and services.

If you have a passionate gamer in your orbit (is there really any other kind?) you already know that the premise is nothing new. Games have been playing their part in entertainment and education for years now. Chances are your school-age children complete maths and English homework using now-familiar apps like Mathletics & Reading Eggs

In fact with the dawn of the iPhone and subsequent revolutionary boom in mobile apps you’ve probably dabbled a bit yourself. From word games like digital versions of Scrabble to the visual feast that is Candy Crush Saga we’ve slowly but surely become accustomed to the world of gamification in recent years.

What is new, however, is the ever-increasing presence of gaming tech in corporate settings and marketing campaigns. It’s a natural progression given what’s popular and trending in the real world invariably ends up being adopted by Wizard of Oz style marketers, furiously beavering away behind the curtain to pull strings that deliver headline-worthy viral results.

For clarity, the most effective games are based on the following core design principles:

  1. Win-Win

    Yes, it’s a game with a competitive edge, but the intention is not to make it overly challenging, difficult, or inaccessible. Quiz formats, spinning wheels, puzzle pieces, and word matching games like buzzword bingo are perfect for a target audience with limited time, capacity, patience and concentration spans.

  1. Simple Rules

    For similar reasons, the rules and terms and conditions need to be clearly stated and simple to follow. As a marketing tool, the aim is zero feelings of frustration for high completion rates and positive viral word-of-mouth sharing.

  1. Eye Candy

    Taking you back to candy crush saga for a minute, the game was simple, satisfying – and highly addictive. In part thanks to the bright, colorful, candified visual element.  Stand-out designs really work here. Don’t look to imitate or fit right in on the shelf, the goal is to be unique, game-changing, and distinctively bold.
    Think images, animations, sound effects, witty pop culture references, sumptuous illustration, and rollable gifs. Most importantly, go lightly on any text, keep the words to a minimum – and get smart about capitalising on the word count.

  1. Fun & Games

    Yes, it’s obvious, but between trying to hit the spot with concept and design and KPIs, make sure the fun element doesn’t disappear in translation. It can’t be boring and then pop up with a cool incentive at the end because the TA won’t get there. And a high drop-off rate means the work you put in to achieve the predefined marketing goal will ultimately end up going to waste.

  1. Eye On The Prize

    About that incentive: make it good. And keep them guessing.
    By this we mean don’t spill the beans on the exact prize – instead keep them guessing but let them know there is something waiting for them on the other side that they both need and want.

Why Businesses Love It

Users engaging with the business with gamification

  1. Improved consumer engagement
    By its very nature, gamification is entertaining and visually stimulating. Two factors lay the foundations for dynamic, innovative interactions between consumers and brands.
  2. Increased sales and profits
    Marketing nirvana – when the increased engagement above has a flow-on effect that directly results in more sales and more money through the payment gateway.
  3. Compliant data collection
    Much like the strategic collection of data through free wifi registrations, gamification allows for an on-brand and justified request for this information, which in turn guarantees a higher rate of uptake.
  4. Gen Z bridge building
    When it comes to the ever-elusive Zoomers the research that informs game architecture allows us to refine the design to achieve near-perfect engagement levels. A critical piece of the puzzle when targeting an audience renowned for having the attention span of Pac-Man.
  5. Consumer Relationship Maintenance
    Redefining CRM, gamification unlocks new levels of previously unseen incentive and reward management capabilities, for increased repeat business courtesy of regularly returning customers.
  6. Increased Brand Awareness
    As part of the bigger picture, gamification campaigns are essentially a HIIT exercise in elevating brand awareness and instilling brand loyalty by putting vibrant pocket-sized versions of brands in the palms of customers’ hands.

Why Gamification works every time

Users loving their experience as a gamer

Done right, gamification is a supremely creative conversation starter. Yes it’s new and that’s definitely part of the appeal but there are other factors involved which make a significant impact too. There’s a real sensory satisfaction to the gaming experience which had long been enjoyed, explored, and missed on by the passionate gamers we touched on above. 

Strong perception of a brand

Between the sounds, the interactive element, and the visually enticing appearance of game screens, there’s space for brands to be lifted beyond their one, two, or three-dimensional status and taken to another (fourth) dimension entirely. 

In terms of timing, the in reading popularity of gamification ties in with the rise of VR, and the potential for businesses it unleashed recently, following the many pivots of 2020 lockdowns. 

It goes without saying that gamification in marketing should be one pillar of a wider strategy. As a strategically used tool, its potential to make a big bang impact is breaking new ground in the industry. 

Gamification has been shown to exponentially increase the average amount of time a user invests in a website session, or on the reading of a related email. This boosted engagement is priceless regardless of the size of your marketing budget – if you hit that sweet spot make sure you’re set up to ride that wave all the way into the shoreline, with a campaign that leverages all social platforms plus EDMs, PR and internal comms.

There’s a real element of joy to gamification. It brings levity to the user experience and has the ability to shine a light on a whole new side to a brand. athletes also the satisfaction component. It seems in 2021 that the best online experiences are designed to deliver a thirst-quenching dopamine hit. 

Draw all types of engagements

Pair this with acute sensation with an experience of an actual brand and the end result is a durable connection between individual and company that is more likely than ever to lead to rave reviews, recommendations, repeat website visits, and an increase in the ever-elusive email open rates. Gold.

The beauty of gamification for businesses new to the platform is that it packs a punch without requiring complex solutions. A social media post will carry the campaign out into the world and the game design itself can be similar, in terms of difficulty levels, to implementing a basic email template.

Speaking of which, gamification works in such a way that it pretty much generates its own content for EDM campaigns. So if you’re a business that runs light on blog posts and newsletter content, perhaps because the products or services you deliver products are rarely updated, you don’t run sales very often, or you’re not in a position to send personalised recommendations due to lack of customer data – then a gamified challenge could work wonders for your content calendar.

Throwing some ideas out there to get the creative juices flowing, consider a seek and find style challenge with products tucked away and a discount code or free gift at the end. Or a word game that spells out a key message or exciting announcement. The possibilities are endless.

When It Doesn’t Work

Example of when Gamification in Marketing has worked

While gamification is definitely the golden child of 2021, it does have its flaws.

There’s a fine line between nailing it, and missing the mark.

Get it wrong and you risk alienating a whole new target audience at your first introduction.

No ties in customer relationship

There are a few key elements in the game design setup that can potentially significantly impact the success of the gamification process.

For example, 95% of people who download an app and don’t receive a push notification from you will be inactive in 90 days. So once you begin the chain of events instigated by the gamification project it’s imperative that you have your follow-up and nurture communications in place to cement the new customer relationship.

User Experience failure

Other common issues tend to involve the design of the game itself. As you may have gathered from our advice above, simplicity is key. To be clear, this starts with the creation of a level playing field for those who participate.

Simple format, simple instructions, simple rules, and simple scoring.

This way everyone understands equally how the game works, what the goal is, and how to succeed.

Ultimately, gamification in marketing is about kicking larger goals such as driving new leads, laying the foundations for new opportunities, or increasing brand reach.

Keeping the experience positive and accessible upfront for everyone who decides to have a go gives you the best possible chance of achieving these goals behind the scenes. 

The game has no “stay” factor

If you launched a game that ticked these boxes but the uptake was still slow, and the numbers didn’t hit the highs you’d hoped they would, it’s possible the issue was with the incentive.

In a crowded marketplace, with every competitor offering free samples, it pays to get creative with your rewards. Literally. In the words of Eminem: you only get one shot – do not miss your chance to blow. Instead, get creative with your chosen reward. Avoid the temptation to go for a classic gift card or Home appliance as the disconnect doesn’t seem to work for target audiences in this space. They respond better to well-thought-out prizes that are actually. 

Experiences and opportunities work really well too. Think guest appearance on a blog or podcast. Professional recognition or company promotion. Unique, engaging, and priceless. We cannot buy loyalty after all. And these are low-cost rewards that promote the business in and of itself. 

Not only about winning

Another clever device is to celebrate all participants. Games that focus solely on the winner risk missing out on the chance to connect with every other player. You now have their data, their attention, and an interesting, personalised conversation starter. So make sure you use it. 

This is also the perfect opportunity to reinforce messaging about teamwork, sportsmanship, resilience, integrity, and any other values that align with your brand. It opens up the door to additional, related content and allows you to showcase another more personable side to the business brand.

The final stage of any gamification project is the tracking and reporting which will ultimately inform any future endeavors. And there are two issues here that will determine whether you consider your own project a resounding success or an epic fail: one is the level of tracking implemented and the other is your ability to analyse this data and translate it into actionable feedback.

As marketers, we love that “if it didn’t get tracked did it ever really exist?”

And we’re right too. Fun fact – it’s even more critical when it comes to gamification in business. For starters, it provides bottled insights on the participants that need to be leveraged in subsequent communications. It also gives a bigger picture understanding of how the game is meeting the business goals originally set for it.

How to Strategise It

Marketing Mangers discovering how gamification has improved their experience

If you’re pulling together your first gamification strategy, we suggest an exploration of the potential pitfalls above before you start. Once you’re familiar with the key ingredients needed to make a strategy work it’s time to focus on using gamification techniques to drive user participation to stimulate long-term, meaningful engagement and create brand awareness with your target audience. 

The first step will be clarity in understanding how people interact with gaming tech and applying this information to your own gaming design. 

According to Richard Bartle there are four player types when it comes to gaming: achievers, explorers, killers, and socialites. 

  1. The achievers – let’s call them Virgos – love goals and gathering points and rewards.
  2. The explorers – Pounce team members know exactly who our explorer is – are investigating every tiny detail of the game, from geography and landscape internally to the actual game mechanics externally.
  3. The killers – there’s one in every office – are in it for the satisfaction of the kill and using the virtual space to eradicate enemy players.
  4. The socialites – there’s one in every friendship group – are in it for the chat and the drama.

Identify an element of your gaming strategy that will appease each of these categories and you’re onto a winner.

Who Nailed It

Two gamification and social media campaigns we loved:


M&Ms launch to spread the word about the new pretzel-flavored addition to the family. A now viral game that challenged followers to find a mini “pretzel guy” hidden among the other colourful M&Ms and had received a phenomenal 25,000 likes, 6,000 shares, and 10,000 comments by the end of the campaign.

Facebook post from M&M USA team on the Eye-Spy Pretzel gamification


My Starbucks Rewards, a gamified loyalty program that increases customer engagement and ensures repeat business from members through smart incentives like free birthday coffees and free refills as customers. A clever way of using gamification to reinforce the idea that loyalty will be rewarded.

Starbucks Mobile app utilising Gamification to motivate users to use their Loyalty Program

The Next Level

If you’re ready to enter the Jumanji of marketing with a gamification strategy, find us on level 14 – we can’t wait to work with you.

Check out The Maverick Marketer’s Infographic Guide To Gamification here and set up a direct meet with the team> here:

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