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Four Ways to Win at Global Gamification

August 14, 2015

Thanks to technology, our world is becoming as small and intimate as our local coffee shop. Social media, mobile communication and advanced networks have brought us closer together, in real time, with just the touch of a thumb.  

For brands, this phenomenon presents both tremendous opportunity and peril. On one hand, technology provides greater reach through which to tell stories and connect with customers in meaningful ways. But to do so involves creating an always-on marketing machine that looks and acts like never before. 

Today’s global marketing leaders need their international teams and partners to all row in one direction while allowing and rewarding unique thinking at local levels. They are asking people to move faster, work more efficiently and make smarter decisions, while at the same time excelling within an often-rigid corporate framework.

A tall task, especially given the speed at which our culture moves.

Enter gamification, which when applied globally, can solve many of the progressive challenges holding back CMOs and their organizations today. Smartly designed game platforms are built around principles such as consistency, collaboration, innovation and competition. Who wouldn’t want to excel at all of those?

And you’re not alone. Gartner has predicted that in 2015, 40 percent of Global 1000 organizations will use gamification as a primary mechanism to transform business operations.

We're already seeing gamification show up in some surprising places. In the financial industry, investment banks are using game mechanics to teach retail investors to trade options and boost consumers' financial health. And B2B marketers are using game mechanics to supplement sales training and drive behavior change across distributed teams. 

Take what the global media agency PHD (an Omnicom company), did to unite its workforce around the world through its gamified media planning platform, Source. Designed to empower and motivate 1,500 employees in 75 markets, Source has become one of the largest gamified business platforms in the world. It’s built as a global multiplayer game, where players “win” by beating media performance of colleagues around the world. It works because everyone wins: clients get better results, employees are more engaged and the agency has secured major clients who are drawn to this type of operation.

Or look at Cisco, who organized its massive social media training program into categories, with various certification levels for employees. The result was turning the overwhelming and complex into something digestible and actionable.

One of my favorite cases is how Google drove more efficiency with its travel-expense process by gaming how employees could reallocate surpluses saved from their spending allotment. The result: 100 percent compliance in just six months’ time.

But there is a downside. Gartner estimates that up to 80 percent of gamified applications will fail to meet business objectives, primarily due to poor design — a significant risk given the costs of rolling out global platforms like those mentioned above.

So what can marketers do to ensure that investments in gamification pay off? Below are four simple rules that all successful gamified platforms share:

RULE #1: Know Your Users. This seems simple enough, but consider the subtle differences between Millennials and Gen Z. Both are highly likely to engage in a gamified platform, but where Millennials communicate primarily with words and text, Gen Z communicates with images. Where Millennials think multicultural, Gen Z thinks blended. You get the picture. And it can have huge implications on the design of your user experience and rewards structure.

RULE #2: Make it Fun. Gamification. Games. Fun. The root of how games work is mechanics meant to amuse and stimulate people’s attention. Simply stated, if an organization can make their employees’ tasks entertaining, their people are apt to produce more and minimize distractions that plague the workforces. Multiplied at scale, a single organization can increase effectiveness — and save costs — that significantly impact the bottom line… just by having some fun.

RULE #3: Be Authentic: A company’s culture is critical to its success, and what individuals witness from their peers — both behaviors and attitudes — play a large role in shaping a company’s DNA. As a result, internal cultures are social entities and align perfectly with the social aspects inherent to game mechanics. By introducing game principles, leaders can fuel the growth and strengthening of enterprise-wide cultures than transcend typical geo-centric boundaries. But beware: gamification is an inherently social activity, so trying to be something you’re not is one of the fastest ways to kill a program.

RULE #4: Measure and Improve: Central to any game program is its rules or parameters that allow consistency. When installed across an entire organization, leaders have a framework to compare and track individual and group performances against one another through data. With mechanisms like recognition and rewarding performance in place, it becomes easier for decision makers to identify top contributors. Establishing benchmarks for performance is essentials, of course; but while consistency is important, don’t be afraid to change the rules too. It sounds simple enough, but adapting a program to be more effective is a natural behavior, and your users will be grateful that you listened.

We expect gamification will only grow in importance as a go-to tool for business transformation and engagement, especially as Millennials and Gen Z become the dominant populations in our global workforce. These are generations that are wired to interact and respond to a highly social, competitive and reward-based environment.

Brands and their leaders who choose to continue to rely on antiquated ways of driving performance — particularly across complex, diverse organizations — simply won’t be able to compete.

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