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How Brands Use Games to Develop Better Products and Marketing Campaigns

Gamification: it’s a relatively new buzzword, but you’ve probably been hearing a lot about it lately. Why? Because it’s now clear that digital games go well beyond your XBox and Farmville accounts. All kinds of brands can use games to promote their products: here, for example, Edelman PR‘s Robert Phillips discusses the firm’s success creating a digital bar distraction for popular rum brand Captain Morgan.

And companies don’t just use gamification to entertain customers and familiarize them with a brand–it can help them develop better products and figure out exactly what the public wants from them in the first place. We recently had the chance to chat with Julie Wittes Schlack, SVP of Innovation and Design at Communispace, to figure out how they help brands like Kraft, State Farm, Citigroup and Comcast develop better products and marketing campaigns with simple betting games known as “prediction markets.”

How does the public see “gamification”? Do they distinguish it from traditional video games? 

The public doesn’t really see it in the product development sense. We create what we call “prediction markets”: places where you can invest real or virtual money to predict outcomes in the real world like who’s going to win the election, which product will sell most among 18-year-old-girls, which promotional messages will be most effective, etc.

Traditionally brands created their own prediction markets by interviewing employees. But with online “gamified” markets, you can see where the public’s passion lies, determine what they’re betting on, and kill bad ideas early. We’re in the business of generating brand insights.

How do you create these “markets?”

We recruit and manage private online communities typically made up of 300-500 people who, in essence, advise the brand. We recruit members of the public through targeted Facebook ads or, if a brand’s target audience is Latino, we’ll go to Cinco de Mayo parades and hand out postcards.

We also offer some modest incentives for those who participate regularly like $10 Amazon certificates, etc.

Then these participants help brands predict how well certain campaigns or products will perform by betting on them in forums like this one, which asks: “Will Apple stop making and selling product x? How confident are you about that?”

The big allure of these communities: they’re private and people know that the sponsor brand is paying attention to what they have to say. They get involved because its exciting to feel like you’re talking to decision makers at major brand that plays a part in your life. It feels safe. And research has shown that this kind of predictive market is more accurate and less expensive than other research methods.

How do the games work?

They’re not as visually oriented as some, as you can see. They’re closer to Facebook games. 

They have social elements like online interfaces where users can post comments and interact with other users. And of course there’s a competitive element: we give prizes to the smartest “investors.”

So participants bet certain amounts of money on which product or campaign will do best, and whoever predicts the market most accurately wins.

So what are some examples of brands using this practice effectively?

Well, one of the world’s largest hospitality brands was trying to come up with 32 “service enhancements” or new features for customers. They used our predictive service to prioritize, weed out changes that would have a limited impact and choose the ones that our “gamers” told them would have the greatest impact on sales.

Another example: a major bank is releasing a new credit card, and they want to figure out which features to add. They do the same thing.

How do clients measure the real-world benefits of this practice?

Here’s an example: client was a gift company trying to determine which products would sell best. By the time they used our services, their 2012 products were already on shelves–but results told them that 2011 models would have done better with the public. So if they’d done the research earlier, sales would have been better. There’s their ROI.

What role do PR professionals play in this gamification equation?

It provides them with a great promotional angle: this product was chosen by customers like you! And then they can use that point to reinforce the brand’s reputation.

Also, when you really know what speaks to customers, you can develop better pitches.

It’s really all about helping brands do a better job of appealing to consumers.

What do we think? Will gamification be a big part of future PR projects?

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