Make Your Program as Engaging as Pokémon GO!

Aug 9, 2016

Many marketers are madly looking for ways to leverage Pokémon GO such as offering discounts when a player spins the Photo Disc at a Poké Stop, hosting gym locations as McDonald’s plans to do, or using Pokémon themes in their marketing as JC Penney has done. There are both immediate and longer term lessons to be gathered as quickly as Pokémon to drive engagement with your brand loyalty efforts.

When evaluating literal tie-ins to Pokémon itself, loyalty marketers should evaluate the deal as being akin to joining a gamified loyalty alliance such as ShopKick or Belly. Will the relationship build customer traffic? Will those customers be motivated to stay long enough to make a purchase from you or will they check-in, collect a potion and chase the next Pokémon on their screen? Will you have an opportunity to capture customer contact information and permissions before they go?

Gamification doesn’t necessarily drive profits by itself – it does drive engagement. However, many gamified programs are just driving engagement without having any measurable effect on sales or profits – it should be viewed as a source of incremental media impressions and not expected to provide contact data or purchases.

The other thing to remember is what game makers know — you need to enhance your game regularly to keep players engaged. Game developers are masters of fast cycle time to combat boredom and level up before their most adept players do.

This doesn’t mean that loyalty marketers shouldn’t play games. Loyalty programs have been a collection based game since the beginning of Green Stamps in 1896 and the digitization of the experience is just the latest iteration. In fact, the most successful loyalty programs of the past 35 years have all incorporated key elements of gamification such as collection, recognition leaderboards and badging, or sharing.

Collection: For those who can’t remember the original airline programs, there used to be a thrill to earning airline miles, because the miles were truly distance based. Your mileage balance proved you were a sophisticated global traveler and gave you bragging rights. Collection is a powerful gamification engagement tactic as Pokémon GO has amply proved. Airline programs had to become more revenue based in order to remain economically viable, however, they’ve lost the thrill of collecting those global miles. It’s why Southwest includes your miles flown and number of destinations visited in their Rapid Rewards statements even though their program is now fully revenue-based. Somehow, it’s not quite the same as seeing my miles every trip.

Starbucks Rewards has had a similar issue when they moved to a revenue based program. The original Starbucks Rewards app caught on like wildfire in part because they gamified the boring account balance progress bar into stars that you could bounce in the virtual cup on your screen when you jiggled your phone. The 12 bouncing stars reinforced the convenience of mobile payment and the two elements working together spiked adoption of mobile payment. The 130 stars required in the new program simply aren’t as much fun sloshing around in that virtual cup and it’s devastating to see 130 stars disappear when you redeem a reward.

The opportunity is definitely out there for a loyalty program to reignite the desire to collect and leverage it to increase sales.

Recognition through Leaderboards and Badging: Recognition has been proven time and again to be what turns a program from an incentive scheme into true brand loyalty. However, marketers need to be careful how they apply the gamification tactics for recognition because they are also tightly tied to competition — leaderboards and badging. There’s been academic research¹ into gender differences and elite status. Men are more engaged by leaderboards than women are — visit an airport gate for a legacy carrier like American or United and listen for conversation about the upgrade lists. There will sometimes be an audible groan when someone with higher status arrives and the order on the upgrade “leaderboard” changes. By comparison, women appreciate increased personalization that is not necessarily visible to everyone else – think of the popularity of the Sephora VIB program where the reward options appear to be customized based on purchases and interactions with the brand. Pokémon GO has a multitude of badges that are personalized by your choice of avatar and the type of Pokémon you capture to keep you engaged as you level up. A badging approach to recognize knowledge gained would be more appropriate than a leaderboard for some brands depending on your target audience.

Sharing: The aspects that keep many players engaged with games are related to joining teams and sharing, but again, marketers need to find the right context. A recent study by a loyalty marketer² claimed that 37% of customers would like to be able to share points with friends and family. That means that 63% aren’t interested and indeed sharing of points can be underutilized when a program offers it. However, there is more evidence that program members regularly share rewards. The trick is to ensure that the transfer of a reward is indeed for a gift and not for re-sale purposes where the member earns a profit rather than the brand.

Gamification when it’s only a game is over-hyped as a tool for loyalty program. However, integrating elements of gamification can enliven otherwise pedestrian programs, encourage engagement with your brand, and ultimately drive profitable behaviors.

Research referenced:

¹  “Make me special: Gender differences in consumers’ responses to loyalty programs” Melnyk, V. & van Osselaer, S.M.J. Mark Lett (2012)

²  “Customers looking for more social loyalty programs” Steve Taggart, Loyalty360, May 17, 2016