Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Five gamification ideas to better engage your audience

Can you captivate your audience?
(photo credit: apogee photography)
Gamification has been all the hype for me in the past months, as it got prominently mentioned in several of the classes I took.  Are there anything valuable one can take from it after digging past the marketing hype?  My classmates and I worked together over the past few months to formulate five recommendations for a financial firm, on how it could use gamification to better engage its customers in the use of its financial planning tools.  The company loved our recommendations, and we felt that the same recommendations can be applied in many different settings.  So here they are for you to try in your own settings.

#1 Focus on the first minute

The first minute a new user interacts with the tool is extremely important, as it decides if the user will continue using the tool or if he will go somewhere else. The firm thus needs a clear idea of what it wants new users to experience during that first minute.  In the first minute, the user should not experience long, boring instructions.  He should not experience painful registration processes, or hard-to-understand terms and conditions.  Instead, he should experience the core experience of the tool.  If the core experience is fun and interactivity, he should experience it.  If the core experience is easing his financial planning tasks, he should experience it.

The challenge for delivering the experience is that there are no definite points on the firm’s website where users will enter. Users can come in through the company’s main webpage, or to the planning tools’ landing page, or even directly to one of the planning tools. How then can the firm deliver consistent first minute experience to first time users? One idea is to have a prominent button on all webpages that will take first time users to a starter page. Another idea is to focus on the navigation menu on the side or top, since it shows up on all webpages.

As part of the first minute experience, the website can ask meaningful questions to help users navigate the sea of content available. One possible question is “What are you planning to save for?” and the choices can be “Buying a car”, “Getting married”, “Buying a house”, “Children’s education”, “Retirement”, etc. Based on the user’s choice, he can be taken to content that is most relevant to what he is trying to accomplish. These questions can be asked proactively (e.g. via a pop-up questionnaire) or passively (e.g. as a section of text on a webpage). 

#2: Leverage on users' current concerns

We interviewed 25 users on their financial planning priorities, and many of them were more concerned with near term goals like “buying a car” or “getting married” than they are with long term goals of retirement planning. These life-stage events present precious windows of opportunity that can be leveraged to deepen users’ engagement with the tool. Minimally, users will grow more familiar with the tool’s user interface. More importantly, relevant user information (e.g. amount to save each month) can be collected, which increase the chances of them coming back in the future for other related financial planning tasks.

Games implement this idea through “Challenges and Quests”, like FourSquare’s badges and Farmville’s ribbons. Through challenges and quests, users are focused on smaller and more immediate tasks, and they might use the system for tasks even though they are not interested in the system (yet…). 

#3: Provide feedback using a progress bar

Business networking site LinkedIn has a visual indicator telling users how complete their professional profile is. If a user only provided his education information, his profile might be tagged as “20% complete”. If he has included his work experience, it might be “50% complete”. This progress bar is very helpful in helping users know how complete their profiles are, and it taps on inherent motivations in humans to complete tasks.

The tool can take on similar concept: tag users as “20% complete” if he provides his monthly savings goal, “50% complete” if he adds his current assets, and so on.

LinkedIn also frames this concept using a different idea. It includes an “Improve your profile” button on users’ profile pages, and when users click on the button, it shows a number of “To-dos” that users can do to improve their profiles, highlighting the first to-do task. This is an excellent way of focusing users to the next bite-size task they can focus on to improve their profiles. 

#4: Give more free rewards, more often

It is very hard to motivate people to plan for something that will only happen 40 years later. It is said that people spend more time planning for their vacations than they do for retirement, and it is not hard to believe that, because 40 years is a very long time! It is also very easy for other tasks to take precedence since in comparison; all other tasks are more urgent.

One way around this challenge is to help users break down their long financial planning journey into “levels”, and reward users each time they attain a new level.  Thus the concept "more rewards, more often".  For example, a user might promote into the next level when he has setup an investment plan, or if he has re-balanced his portfolio at least once in the past year.

The reward can be monetary, based on the firm’s estimation of the lifetime value of such a customer.  But there are also many other "free" rewards. The book "Gamification by Design" laid out four categories of rewards strung together by the acronym “SAPS”. Figure 1 lists the four categories along with some examples.

Reward Category
Badges, Levels
Lunch with CEO or celebrity, Access to the firm’s clubs, Priority queue at banks
Moderator on a forum, more say in what new features to include in the tool
Figure 1 Four Categories of Rewards

#5: Define an engagement score

How can the firm know the impact of its gamification efforts unless it measures it? An engagement score should measure more than just the conventional page views or number of unique visitors. It should also measure how much time users spend on the website, how often they return to it, if they have registered accounts, etc. A good way to create the engagement score is to think along five dimensions: recency, frequency, duration, virality and ratings (detailed in the book "Gamification by design").

With a good engagement score, the firm can measure where it is at before it implements gamification, and later have a clear way to assess the effectiveness of the gamification efforts. In addition, the score will also be useful for incremental calibrations, as the firm experiments with tweaks in its engagement efforts.


[1] Gamification by Design, “Implementing Game Mechanics in Web and Mobile Apps” By Gabe Zichermann, Christopher Cunningham
[2] Lee, H., Schlossberg, E., Seelhof, M., Teo, K. S., & Wong, M. F. (2012). Fidelity Engagement and Gamification. MIT.

One of my classmates who worked on this project also wrote about the project on his blog, check out his article "Are You Game?".

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