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How to Gamify Loyalty: Implementation Strategies

$html.esc($author.firstName) Zichermann By Gabe Zichermann on December 1, 2014

This is the eighth and final installment in a series by gamification expert Gabe Zichermann that examines how loyalty marketers can integrate gamification strategies to increase engagement.


In this series, we've looked at a wide range of strategies and tactics, issues and concerns regarding gamification for loyalty marketing. We've assessed the benefits and pitfalls, looked at some winning approaches, and even developed a framework to help us consider how – and when – to bring gamification into the mix.

Now that we've done all of that legwork, it's time to look at implementation approaches that are right for your business. They follow in four phases.

1. Set goals

First and foremost, it's essential to have a clearly articulated set of key performance indicators (KPIs) that the organization has agreement on. In my work at our gamification consultancy Dopamine, we've found that it's best for most organizations to begin the process with a kickoff meeting of all key stakeholders. This gathering isn't for solving detailed design questions, but rather for getting agreement on critical issues like KPIs. It's best to focus initially on two to three major indicators that are within your control. Resist the urge to use revenue or conversions here – focus instead  on those that lead to the desired outcome.

At the same time, it's critical to set organizational expectations. Plan on the first stage of gamification to take a year, achieving about a20% increase in key metrics through an iterative process. Make sure the organization is committed to a medium-term trial period and that there's an opportunity to iterate, test and improve the approach. The first gamification element you release will likely have a huge effect on metrics (because it's new), but will taper off quickly. To counter this, ensure resources are in place to offer some additional options or experiences to leverage that momentum and keep it going.

If you can, avoid gamification as a fixed-duration pilot or trial; this will undermine the value you can derive from the approach. What we really want is long-term increases in engagement and cost performance.

2. Begin design

Next, find a partner to help with design or educate the team on the design process. You can take an online course through the site Udemy (I offer a course that, in three stages, teaches the skills of basic gamification design). If you choose to work with a partner at this stage, be sure to look for the right combination of creativity and experience. Do not start by choosing a technology platform to power your experience. Rather, leave the tech choice until after key design decisions have been made.

Once these core elements are in place, the process of design can begin. Leveraging the understanding of your customers, markets and technology limitations, your design expert should craft one to two approaches that are feasible and will help achieve the stated KPIs. This should include preliminary creative and deep competitive analysis to understand how others have succeeded or failed doing the same exercise.

3. Test launch

After a creative approach is chosen, the program should begin the first stage of development while you simultaneously identify a test group to evaluate the gamification elements early. Ideally, the solution should be built in an agile fashion – releasing new code every week or two, immediately released to the test group, and the results measured. This approach minimizes the amount of mistakes that are made in the program's design and the amount of rework necessary to make the program actually function. In this way, you are building progressively toward a solution that can accomplish select objectives instead of building something big in abstraction and then dropping it on the market.

4. Measure and improve

Once this basic version of the gamified program is released (often called an MVP - or minimum viable product - in agile-speak), the groups should continuously improve and measure the results until it's worthwhile to release the program to the general population. This should lead to the perfection and maintenance phases of the project, in which your development partner is continuously polishing and improving everything.

If elements don't work or are less than optimal, they need to be retooled or removed as soon as possible. Although this is quite unusual for most loyalty programs where everything tends to be thought through and revealed all at once, in gamification the agile approach often proves more valuable. This is because we can use this agility to produce a better product or solution with less cost and more customer satisfaction by staying close to what's working for the consumer.

Most gamification projects in medium-to-large enterprises take about six to eight months to come to fruition. The initial design and spec phases may take anywhere from 30 to 90 days, and the development, testing and rollout phases absorb the rest. Of course, if using an agile approach as recommended, the software will work fairly early in the cycle, allowing you to better evaluate its efficacy. As mentioned, make sure the organization has reasonable expectations for how to proceed beyond the initial delivery milestone, and don't tie all future performance to that first reported result.

A word on technology – the kind required to make gamified solutions work in loyalty marketing is a relative commodity, with a wide range of vendors. Your design partner can conduct an analysis of the right technology – whether branded, open-source or built in house ­– based on the requirements first established. Choosing the right tech partner here is critical; too many projects fail because that choice is either premature or weighted too heavily toward a test or trial rather than an ongoing program.

By leveraging the approaches we've discussed in this series, you can successfully bring the power of gamification to your loyalty marketing efforts. This amazing new technology and design discipline can lower reward and redemption costs, improve customer engagement and spending, and create fun, fabulous and intrinsically social interaction loops that can guide business goals in this new era. As long as you prioritize the customer, giving them the feedback, friends and fun that they want through gamification, you just can't lose.


The Gamification of Loyalty – An Eight-Part Series
  1. Loyalty and the Engagement Crisis
  2. What is Gamification?
  3. The Science of Gamification
  4. Game Mechanics for Loyalty Marketers
  5. Using Gamification to Guide the Customer Journey
  6. Intangible Rewards and Gamified Loyalty
  7. Gamification: Four Mistakes and Pitfalls to Avoid
  8. How to Gamify Loyalty

Meet The Author

Gabe Zichermann

Gabe Zichermann is CEO and founder of Gamification.Co, a clearing-house for news, insights and research on gamification, and EQ magazine. He chairs the GSummit, where top gamification experts share knowledge about customer and employee loyalty.

Gabe also is co-founder of strategic consultancy and product lab Dopamine (dopa.mn) where he works with leading brands and start-ups to bring engagement to every corner of their enterprise.

A highly rated public speaker and author, Gabe's books include "The Gamification Revolution" (2013), "Gamification by Design" (2011) and "Game-Based Marketing" (2010). Gabe resides in New York City, where he is co-director of start-up accelerator The Founder Institute, and a board member of StartOut.org.

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