Gamification to Drive Engagement: More than One Way to Create Fun

When it comes to driving engagement, gamification is one of the top strategies to make it happen. We love working on projects or with clients that include an element of gamification. It’s fun to get the creative juices flowing and connect with the target audience in a way that’s fun for them, too. When you think about gamification, is there a certain tactic that comes to mind for you? There are actually many creative outlets that will give your audience something fun to do while engaging with your brand and/or taking a desired action.

Gamification to Drive Engagement

Making Trails

Trails are probably one of the most ubiquitous forms of gamification in the travel, tourism and hospitality industry. They are also a great way to tap into niche market tourism, by the way. Many trails are an ongoing “game” – one where the target audience is compelled to visit all the stops or as many as they can. Trails highlight a certain activity for their target audience, bringing many stops and disparate choices into a narrower focus that’s easier for the consumer to choose from. The Haunted History Trail‘s annual brochure resembling a magazine is highly sought-after by its audience and provides a guide to the stops that can help people choose since there are so many.

Many trails create a game within a game by using elements like passports either year-round or for special events. Wine trails in the Finger Lakes often have holiday passports or special event passports where you get something at each stop, like an ornament or a unique food tasting.

Gamification with Contests

Is this what you thought gamification was all about? As long as you can conjure up a prize your audience will be excited to win, your contest can be almost anything. Many are short-term, but they can also be longer-term. Some rely on advertising and big budgets, others succeed with other marketing promotions. Our two main contest types fall into simple entry versus story sharing:

Simple entry contests

These contests ‘simply’ ask participants to enter some of their details (name and email, at least) to enter. The prize can be big or small – and again the timeline can be long or short. If you’re looking beyond long-term lead generation to year-round lead generation, I’d recommend looking at some other tactics. However, these simple entry contests are a great way to kick-start a campaign that needs more emails on a list or activity/engagement in a burst.

For Red Shed Brewing, we created a simpler entry contest at the end of 2020 that asked participants “Where do you beer?” with 4 prize choices. To enter, they gave us their name and email (to receive newsletters), verified their age and picked their favorite place to beer (and their fave prize). The contest grew their email list with their target market and generated a lot of buzz, as they were also able to earn more entries by sharing the contest and taking different engagement actions.

A banner ad for the Red Shed Brewing "Where do you beer?" contest
A banner ad for the Red Shed Brewing “Where do you beer?” contest
Landing page for the Red Shed Brewing "Where do you beer?" contest
Landing page for the Red Shed Brewing “Where do you beer?” contest

Sharing contests

People love to share, and sharing a story is another go-to gamification strategy for our team. It works best with highly engaged communities who have a strong emotional connection to the brand. That was the case when we first started working with Letchworth State Park for their capital campaign to fund the construction of a Nature Center.

For this campaign, we developed a “My Letchworth Story” contest to collect and share audience stories and childhood memories of Letchworth State Park. It was a wonderful way to engage a passionate audience to spread the news of the capital campaign and to encourage a sense of community. A winner was selected to win a stay at the Park’s Glenn Iris Inn.

Virtual Experiences

Here’s a new buzzword that wasn’t as trendy before 2020. But they did exist! Now, of course, people are much more used to the idea of virtual experiences. I’ve been hearing about destinations using virtual reality for several years. While virtual reality and augmented reality have certainly picked up as our world went virtual, many turned to video and photo resources to create a similar effect. Video tours and 360-degree photo technology are now quite prevalent.

top travel campaigns of 2020: tourism marketers get creative in the face of adversity

Creating Apps & Games

Who does gamification better than apps? One of my favorite first projects that included gamification was an activity for a tradeshow around the time that Candy Crush was pretty big. We designed a postcard that resembled the app with candy pieces, but some were missing. In order to fill in their cards for a chance to win a prize, attendees had to visit certain tradeshow booths to get the candy stickers.

A more recent example of gamification is another one related to a trail. We’ve worked with the annual fall Apple Tasting Tour in Wayne County, NY for many years. The trail has used a paper brochure to gain entries in a contest, adding people to their mailing list for the brochure each year. In 2020, we worked with them to develop an app that took the whole contest to a new level with badges and non-apple stops in the region.

Earned Gamification

A final entry in the list of gamification strategies to keep in mind when creating a plan to drive engagement is earned media. Have you ever voted for a business, destination or organization to win a spot as “the best of X” or “the year’s best X” or the like? That’s gamification too! It mobilizes the audience to take action and take on the brand as something personal by voting. It can be a local newspaper’s annual contest that accepts nominations and then votes, or a larger opportunity that requires pitching and more targeted outreach.

Letchworth State Park is working on another capital campaign project to build an Autism Nature Trail (ANT). We earned ANT the opportunity to be part of a voting contest held by a plumbing business. The prize was a donation to their cause, and a designed, wrapped truck that would continue to share the message of the winning non-profit. The gamification works regardless of whether you win or lose the voting competition. In this case, though, ANT won!

A Facebook cover image encourages the audience to vote.
Part of the prize: a “wrapped” plumbing truck