April 8, 2014

Playing the Game of Gamification

Gamification is a ridiculously hot marketing trend — and when something is hot, agencies and brands alike are ready to jump on the bandwagon in pursuit of the next potential game-changer. Forbes recently released an article titled “How to Solve Your Biggest Marketing Problems with Gamification,” which suggests that traditional gaming principles (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, reaching levels, and earning rewards) can solve four main brand issues: consumer engagement, retention, involvement, and excitement. In a recent survey, Gartner, Inc. suggests that by the end of 2014, 70% of Forbes Global 200 companies plan to use gamification to attract and retain their customers. 

Fun incentives like gamification help keep eyes on the prize—and boost customer loyalty to boot.Fun incentives like gamification help keep eyes on the prize—and boost customer loyalty to boot.

Foursquare, perhaps one of the most visible companies to embrace the trend, was founded on the principles of gamification, rewarding members’ repeat check-ins to local establishments with badges and irreverent distinctions (like becoming the “mayor” of your favorite taco joint if you clocked in the most visits). More recently, the company that became synonymous with gamification has shifted its strategy. Now, instead of serving as a platform for virtual goodies, it’s a social-powered recommendation engine, tuning users into the best nearby hot spots based on reviews.

Despite the granddaddy of gamification changing its game, I’d be lying if I said that gaming principles were not of interest to us. No matter their approach, at the heart of Foursquare is the drive to connect customers with the best experiences in the moment, preferably on a repeat basis. Similarly, at Zipcar, we’re all about engaging consumers and retaining our members, who rely on us for wheels when they want them. But truthfully, we haven’t gone deep on the trend, crazy as it may seem. Yet, we foster a high degree of brand affinity. How, you ask? By continuously delivering on one of our founding principles: obsess about the member experience.

We’re thinking deeply about how to foster greater loyalty with our best members—those who enable our business model to work so well.

What exactly do we do to engage consumers, retain customers, and drive lifetime value? We listen. We see our members as collaborators and co-creators of our service. We engage them directly through hundreds of passionate brand ambassadors across the country. We keep them coming back by delivering an unparalleled member experience; we get them involved by listening to their suggestions for vehicles locations and car types; we excite them by naming our cars after them. (Even Stephen Colbert has a car named after him—well, actually two: Volvo S40 Stephen and Honda Civic Colbert.)  In each city we tailor events, promotions, and marketing campaigns directly to those residents because we know that members in San Francisco have a different way of doing things than those in New York.

In fact, we’re considering a gamification program where Zipsters can earn prizes for exhibiting good behavior, like returning their cars on time and filling up the gas when it drops below ¼ tank, two of the 6 Simple Rules of the service. I’m intrigued about a program like this because it rewards our members and gives them a little street cred (social proof) with their fellow Zipsters. 

We’ll always look at any program that adds value to our relationship with Zipsters, and to the cities in which they live, no matter what the hottest marketing trend may be. In the meantime, we as an organization will continue to stay focused on our top priority: obsessing about our members. Game on.

As Zipcar's chief marketing guru, Brian Harrington takes the lead on global brand building, member acquisition, social media, public relations, and innovative product delivery to further enhance the member experience. Prior to Zipcar, Brian had his own consultancy called Little Harbor Group, and has held leadership roles at Boathouse, a brand communications agency; I'm in!, a leisure travel website that he co-founded; and was a member of the founding executive teams of Upromise and Connection to eBay.