Gamification image: video game graphics

There’s an evolving trend in companies today — the use of game thinking to enhance customer and employee engagement. Gamification is about driving business objectives and motivating people through data. By tapping into diverse principles from design, psychology and behavioral economics, gamification has the power to engage customers and employees with your brand.

Though the principles of gamification aren’t new, today’s technology has transformed its application. Data has become an increasingly influential player in companies. Corporations are able to track a wide range of customer and employee data with relative ease and it turns out that technology at our fingertips provides an ideal platform for gamification. It allows companies to scale and customize gamification to any number and segments of participants at an extremely low cost.

How is it being used?

Building internal engagement

Some companies use gamification among employees. Internally, the framework can be used to achieve a multitude of aims — train, educate, onboard employees, drive desired on-brand behaviors and improve productivity and performance. For example, a company may define a simple, straightforward behavior they wish to see become a widely held best practice in their company. This specific behavior could be anything from answering calls with an on-brand greeting to scheduling a set number of client lunches a month. Whatever the behavior, the company defines a clear way to measure it and lets regular tracking of that data be the foundation for their gamification. They create an explicit scoreboard that lets employees easily and continually see whether or not they’re winning. This also boosts healthy workplace competition in a way that often increases morale.

In fact, in their book The 4 Disciplines of Execution, Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling claim leaders can produce breakthrough results, even when executing a strategy that requires a significant change in behavior from their teams by:

• Focusing on a wildly important goal (aka WIG)

• Acting on lead measures (measures within one’s control that indicate the likelihood of achieving a goal)

• Keeping a compelling scoreboard

• Creating a cadence of accountability They believe gamification of “WIGs” is one of the most effective ways to promote the practice of new behaviors in the midst of the daily “whirlwind” i.e. the urgent activity required to keep a business running day to day.

Building external engagement

Other companies use gamification externally — as a way to connect with customers. Some use it as an educational tool, allowing users to test out a new product through a game that teaches them how to use the product. Others make loyalty programs the core of their gamification initiatives. They encourage ongoing use of the company’s products or services by offering rewards and incentives.

How does it tap into human behavior?

Gamification’s power lies in its alignment with the motivators that influence 21st century lives. As author Daniel Pink explores in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, carrot-and-stick reward approaches are insufficient in our modern world in which creativity, problem-solving and conceptual thinking are desired. Companies must instead tap into three key motivators that encourage — autonomy, mastery and purpose. Gamification taps directly into this trifecta.


People crave a sense of autonomy – the ability to have control over one’s work and life. As our recent article on neuroscience and engagement noted – autonomy is more than a “nice to have.” It’s a deeply wired neurological need that activates our reward or threat system, which directly influences our engagement levels. Gamification puts this powerful motivator in motion. People can chart and control their pace of progression and exercise their autonomy.


People desire to get better at something that matters to them. Gamfication taps into this motivator as well. Real-time data provides ongoing feedback and lets people track their progress. They are able to strive for mastery, getting better with continued use and practice.


People need to know that they are part of something bigger than themselves. Gamification helps keep a clear goal in sight to motivate people, and it connects people to the larger corporate goal. As our work with purpose-driven companies demonstrates, when individual actions are clearly linked to the corporate purpose, people are able to become brand ambassadors, impacting organizational performance powerfully and positively.

Beyond these motivators, gamification also recognizes the very real competition for attention in today’s world. By adding qualities of entertainment and social connection to work, it becomes more attractive to employees.

How does it connect to your brand story?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to gamification. Each company must consider its unique culture and market-facing positioning and shape a solution that respects that. Gamification may be a new tool in your arsenal, or it may be an existing concept that your company is evolving in new ways. Regardless, it should be treated much like any other communication initiative, rooted directly in your integrated brand.

Before plunging ahead, gauge how the concept aligns with your company’s mission and values. Ask questions, and involve employees and customers in the solution. Will this initiative spur our internal teams in positive ways, or will it create a negative competitive climate at the expense of unity? Will this be an impetus for our employees to act, or will it create a “big brother” climate that will instead stifle performance? Will this framework esteem our customers or alienate them? Will this strengthen their loyalty to our company or trivialize their relationship with our brand?

If you do choose to move forward with a gamification initiative, intentional communication is key. Treat the endeavor as an extension of your higher communication strategy, not as a one-off campaign. It must be clear from the get-go why the tool is being introduced and what results it hopes to produce. Be transparent with your employees and customers, ensuring that your communication ties back to your overarching mission for the company. As you design each of the tools associated with the initiative, make sure they promote your culture and speak in a way that reflects your company’s personality. This will prevent the endeavor from coming across as off-putting to employees and customers.

Done poorly and without respect to your unique company culture and brand, gamification can have negative affects on your company. But when based on a deep understanding of your brand and culture, gamification can be a worthy investment that spurs excitement for your brand.

Resource Referenced
McChesney, Chris and Covey, Sean and Huling: The Four Principles of Execution. New York, NY: FranklinCovey Co., 2012. Print.
Pink, Daniel H. Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. New York, NY: Riverhead, 2009. Print.
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