The Games Businesses Play

Gamification. Sounds silly. Isn't.
David RosenbaumFebruary 14, 2012

Immediately beneath the carousel on its home page advertising Samsung tablets, televisions, and phones, you’ll find an invitation to join “Samsung Nation.” Beneath that is a leader board with Kevin Brown, a “Level 6 Legend” and a business owner in Massachusetts, on top with 39,925 points (as of February 13). One earns points by buying products, submitting comments and reviews to the site, “liking” Samsung on Facebook . . . the list goes on.

To the right of the leader board is a rolling log of Samsung Nation member activities, reporting, for example, that Gilbert Chun just “unlocked the Techie 2.0 badge” and Joann Joubert “leveled up to Novice.” And beneath that, there’s a promotion offering a chance to win a Samsung laptop by “unlocking” the “Like 2.0 badge.”

According to Kevin Akeroyd, senior vice president of field operations at Badgeville, since Samsung rolled out what he calls its “gamification layer” — all those badges, levels, and activities — by integrating with Badgeville’s platform in November 2011, the site has received 66% more visitors who, collectively, have submitted 309% more comments.

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Those new visitors also answered more questions than ever about Samsung products on the Samsung Support page on Facebook. Deflecting help-desk calls, says Akeroyd, could help Samsung realize “a very material op-ex reduction to the corporate P&L.” On the revenue side, he says, “If I’m researching Samsung, and I see all this activity on the site, all these rave reviews, that influences purchases. That allows me to acquire more customers with lower marketing costs. And peer-group commentary is more trustworthy than marketing.” And, as Esteban Contreras, Samsung social-media marketing manager, told The New York Times last week, “Visitors who sign in and become active on Samsung Nation tend to explore our Web site much more, learning about our company, our products, and our content.”

Badgeville is a leading provider — along with BigDoor (which last spring signed a deal with Major League Baseball), Gamify, and Bunchball — of gamification platforms and products designed to increase customer and employee loyalty and engagement. What is gamification? Simply, it is the application of game-based psychology and mechanics to get people to act in ways you’d like them to act. Gartner has predicted that by 2014, more than 70% of the Global 2000 will have at least one gamified application.

Gamification. It may sound silly. It isn’t.

Something Old Made New
Back in the ’50s and ’60s, my grandfather was a salesman for Continental Casualty. Every year he’d write polices for over $1 million. That earned him membership in Continental Casualty’s Millionaire’s Club. He wore a gold Millionaire’s Club ring and a Millionaire’s Club watch. He and my grandmother would go on Millionaire’s Club cruises and attend Millionaire’s Club dinners. And he received Millionaire’s Club points he’d redeem for furniture and appliances that he’d give to his kids.

Continental Casualty ran the Millionaire’s Club to motivate its salesmen. You wanted the ring, the cruises, the points, and the status that came with them, so you drove more miles to meet more people to write more polices to get to a million bucks. The idea that people will work harder for status and rewards and thereby add top-line value to the business is hardly new, but today’s technologies can industrialize the process of behavior modification across an enterprise or millions of users. That’s new. That’s gamification.

“You’re grandfather’s gold watch was cool,” explains Akeroyd, “but the only people who knew about it were other Continental Casualty salesmen and your family. Now, that achievement can be broadcast over a network. The network exponentially increases the value of the watch, the reward, the status. It’s a huge deal to win socially. Gamification takes what’s always existed and it’s industrialized it. It’s industrialized reputation.”

Solving the Knowledge-Management Conundrum
Deloitte has 182,000 employees around the world, giving it the biggest workforce of the Big Four accountancies (ahead of PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, and KPMG). James Sanders, product and client manager at Deloitte Australia, is one of the 182,000, and his area of expertise is innovation. Indeed, he’s on the top of Deloitte Australia’s internal innovation leader board, a position he achieved through the firm’s Who, What, Where application, which, he says, is similar to Foursquare, the location-based social-networking site.

When Sanders meets with a client, he enters the contact, the subject of the meeting, and the time and place into Who, What, Where. That entry is then shared companywide on Yammer, an internal social network that is a private, corporate version of Twitter. This, according to Sanders, leads to more business for his innovation practice, and allows Deloitte to avoid duplication in its client contacts, enabling it to present a united front to its customers.

Who, What, Where, plus Yammer, is a gamified solution to the old knowledge-management problem: How does a company get its employees to participate and share what they know with their colleagues? KM initiatives historically have foundered because they’ve failed to answer the questions, “What’s in it for me? Why should I share what I know with others? If I give up my knowledge, it makes me less valuable to the company.” But by rewarding sharing with status (a leader board), by gamifying KM, Deloitte has gone a long way toward answering the “What’s-in-it-for-me?” question.

“All Deloitte’s executives, and the CEO, are real active on Yammer,” says Sanders, “so everyone is real conscious of sharing on Yammer. The initiative comes from the top. It earns you cachet within the organization and exposure to the leaders as well.”

What We Do for Status
Sanders also gets badges (via the Badgeville application) — “heaps of different badges,” he says — for talking about innovation, for checking in with clients, for attending training sessions: in short, for doing all the things Deloitte would like him to do. The more he speaks with a client, the better it is for Deloitte, and the more badges Sanders gets. If he gets enough badges, he becomes “mayor of that client,” which means that Deloitte people who want to contact the client will go though him.

This gives Sanders “social cachet with my colleagues,” as well as brings him to the attention of Deloitte’s upper management. Collecting badges, building up one’s reputation within the firm, “can have an impact on your career,” he says. “Using these apps, participating in new stuff — that’s something my generation values.”

Sanders is 25. According to a recent Harvard Business Review blog by Nick Shore (who, as senior vice president of research at MTV, should know whereof he speaks), Sanders’s generation values the “constant feedback” that the badges and social rewards of gamification provide. “The relationship between Millennials and game play is one of the keys to understanding the generation as a whole,” writes Shore.

Sanders adds a caveat to that belief. “Getting badges in isolation is childish,” he says. “But when they’re shared, that’s valuable. It’s a reward for something you’ve worked for and there’s nothing childish about that. Then you can share that with colleagues and get kudos from the rest of the firm, and that could be the difference between being known as an up-and-comer or not. You want to be known.”

The Deloitte Leadership Academy, which offers online training for executives with content drawn from leading business schools, also awards 30 to 40 different badges. “You can earn badges for completing the training; you can get rewards for managing teams. We encourage the users to share those badges on LinkedIn,” says Sanders. “If a person can get a badge from a company like Deloitte, I think it has value.

“A diploma from Harvard is just a badge. That’s how people see it.”

CFOs may still look for that Harvard diploma, rather than badges, when considering an applicant for a job. Increasingly, however, that’s not how the game is being played.

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