It's Time to Gamify Online Shopping

Games Let Brands Reach Far Wider and for Much Longer Than Traditional Coupons

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Brands and retailers have always supplemented marketing plans with promotional games, contests and sweepstakes. The most-popular loyalty programs use points and group mechanics to reward and motivate the most-valuable audiences.

Now it's time for the next level of play: gamification of the shopping experience in retail, consumer packaged goods and e-commerce. We call it "shopification." This means inserting game dynamics into shopping behaviors to make thinking about shopping a regular activity that puts products top of mind and makes the shopping experience more rewarding.

What motivates the gamer inside us? Solving meaningful challenges, gaining and demonstrating status, getting special access and expressing individuality. Those same motivations are embedded in the culture of shopping, and we're finding new ways to unlock those motivations in shoppers.

How does this look in practice? One example is a campaign by Birds Eye and Birds Eye Voila! in which the brands are rewarding website members with badges, points and coupons for participating on the site and in its social activities. Included is a "Here's One, Share One" program, where members received a coupon for themselves and an additional one to share with a friend on Facebook. During a 10-week launch, which is nearly complete, Birds Eye expects to distribute the same amount of coupons as a traditional national insert, but with the new-media benefits of improved customer relations and countless brand mentions and referrals for its products.

These sorts of techniques have five big advantages over traditional coupon marketing.

1. Through social-media outreach, we can distribute the same amount of coupons as with a traditional free-standing insert -- many times at a higher redemption rate -- with little effort and no required media costs to the brand.

2. We can put the brand message, product idea or discounts in the hands of highly targeted consumers, based on demographic, interest, geographic and behavioral triggers.

3. As opposed to the singular anonymity of the traditional coupon-clipping experience, the engagement that accompanies shopification rewards consumers for taking desired actions such as sharing coupons, learning about a product or making recommendations. It makes the brand and the coupon more valuable, through that trusted referral.

4. As downloading the coupon can require being a fan, follower or member of a customer-relations management (CRM) program, shopification can dramatically grow your brand's Facebook following and CRM databases. Every coupon distributed through shopification tactics can minimally equal a fan or CRM member. And every fan or member should mean hundreds of branded impressions and program activations per year.

5. Unlike traditional programs, the sharing generates branded message impressions for those who do not participate, when they see their Facebook friends' activity. The best part is that the message being shared isn't "our brand is discounted." It's an endorsement of your brand by their friend, accompanied by a gift they will feel more obliged to try.

Shopification tactics for many brands will not provide as immediate a gain as the quick free-standing insert, but that can change easily if they are dedicated to growing a social following. As the community grows and becomes engaged with a brand by participating in fun and rewarding social games, agencies will be able to deliver immediate results with zero lead-time, no media investment and no required effort other than directing customers to act and download.

Even at a smaller scale, the value of shopification does not end in the weeks following the activity. With the additional Facebook fans and CRM members gained, the brand has hundreds of opportunities a year to remind shoppers about its products' benefits and uses. This can drives purchase frequency, friend recommendations and customer trials for years to come.

It's impossible to predict how shopification will look in five years. But it's hard to imagine a future for brands without it.

Eric Schwamberger is partner-strategic services at Tenthwave.
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