How Major Brands Are ‘Gamifying’ the Consumer Buying Experience

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Gamification is more than just a buzzword. For marketers, it’s a tried-and-true tactic that triggers human emotions and uses feelings of happiness and excitement to encourage consumer spending.

For the uninitiated, gamification is a way to use game-like elements in a marketing strategy. Get 10 stamps on a coffee card, and you win a free drink. It’s a loyalty strategy, for sure, but it’s the gamification element—the opportunity to get “free” rewards—that keeps customers coming back for more. Gamification usually includes some type of scoring system or ranking list, but it doesn’t have to. Any marketing tactic that influences behavior through gaming falls into the category.

Although gamification itself is not a new marketing strategy, advancements in mobile apps and location technologies are providing brands with new opportunities to engage customers using these time-tested techniques. Let’s say, Buddha Bingo promises to reward new players with some funds to start playing bingo games without having to spend money from his own pocket. In that way, the user certainly will not oppose his involvement. Here’s how six major brands are using gamification to change the consumer experience and promote loyalty.

1. Nike
Nike has been a leader in the gamification space for years, having released its first Nike+iPod Sports Kit more than a decade ago. Today, the company’s Nike+ Run Club app purports to keep runners motivated through progress tracking, personalized coaching, and custom playlists. But it’s the gamification features that have many runners coming back for more. The Nike+ Run Club app offers a way for users to compare and compete against friends when they hashtag their miles against specific goals or challenges. Encouraging users to show off to their friends via social media has helped Nike create an army of brand advocates, effectively keeping the company top of mind among the consumer demographic that’s most likely to purchase its products.

2. GameStop
The video game retailer GameStop, with more than 6,000 stores located around the globe, took a stab at gamification with its Monster Hunt promotion, timed to promote the release of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. GameStop’s Monster Hunt promotion ran in partnership with Google Maps and Warner Bros. Interactive. As part of the promotion, players were encouraged to register on GameStop’s website to “hunt” virtual monsters on city streets around the world. Clues were posted regularly on GameStop’s social media pages as a way to drive traffic and incentivize followers on those accounts. In exchange for playing, customers were eligible to win $50 gift cards.

3. Starbucks
Always a leader in the world of hyperlocal marketing, Starbucks enhanced its own mobile rewards program in 2017 with a new gaming feature. The Bonus Star Bingo feature prompted customers to fill out a bingo card by using Starbucks’ own mobile app to pay for purchases during certain times of the day or for certain items. Customers who filled out their cards were granted extra “stars,” which could be used for free drinks and pastries. Starbucks promoted the game with a standalone website and a paid social media campaign that made use of the #BonusStarBingo hashtag.

4. Coca-Cola
Gamification is one way for brands to connect with customers at the point-of-purchase. Coca-Cola has been able to do this by placing kiosks around supermarkets in Beijing and Singapore. Using the kiosks, or their own mobile devices, shoppers have been able to play a game that’s similar to Angry Birds, where they throw virtual ice cubes into virtual glasses to “make” fizzy Coca-Cola drinks. Players who “win” the game receive a prize, which will often be enough to tip the scales for someone still deciding which brand of soda to put into his or her shopping cart.

5. Heinemann Duty Free
Duty free shops aren’t known for being especially forward-thinking in their marketing strategies—they’ve got a captive audience, for the most part—but shoppers at Heinemann Duty Free at Berlin Schönefeld Airport were given the opportunity to “win” discounts on their purchases by playing an augmented reality game this past holiday season. Travelers in a “special activation area” within Berlin Schönefeld Airport were invited to burst virtual balloons with an AR app and an iPad. The more balloons they popped, the greater the discount they received. Live images from the iPad were cast onto TV screens in the duty free store, encouraging other shoppers to take part in the game. Based on early successes, Heinemann says it plans to expand the promotion to its other retail stores.

6. Taco Bell
A game-based campaign helped Taco Bell promote the launch of its online ordering system, as the company introduced its first “virtual flagship restaurant.” A few months after the launch of its Live Más app in 2015, the company added a gamified loyalty program designed to appeal to millennials. Rather than doling out points based on the number of purchases or dollars spent, Taco Bell’s program gives rewards to customers who link their social media accounts to the program or place orders through the mobile app. In a unique twist, Taco Bell used an algorithm to track social media posts that demonstrated the “Living Más” ethos and gave out virtual puzzle pieces to loyalty program members without requiring that a certain hashtag be used.

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.