Whether it be collecting trading stamps, qualifying for platinum or earning a badge for completing a challenge, “Game Mechanics” have always been a cornerstone of loyalty marketing. Loyalty programs are legendary for driving seemingly “irrational” behavior. Paying $200 more and waiting 90 minutes so I can fly Delta because I need the miles to reach Platinum is a classic example.

Embedded in this example are several ‘game mechanics’:

  • Levels. Loyalty programs use a progression of benefits to encourage members to continue to do a little more.
  • Feedback Loops. The ‘thermometer’ I see every time I go to a website reminds how much more work I need to do to get to the next level.
  • Time sensitivity. I know there is a deadline. I need to qualify by the end of the year or I won’t re-qualify.

Vesting customers in the value proposition of a loyalty program, whether it be collecting miles on my favorite airline or game pieces in McDonald’s Monopoly game, allows marketers to drive economically irrational behaviors.

As behavioral economics has pointed out, consumer behavior isn’t entirely rational. Emotional factors play a big role in the decision making process. Loyalty marketers have long used game mechanics to drive member behaviors.

Here are some of our favorite game mechanics that loyalty programs employ:

  1. People like to collect stuff. Points, Miles, Tokens, Badges, people naturally have a hoarding and collecting instinct.
  2. Feedback loops are powerful. Part of any game is keeping score, tracking progress, seeing the history, getting the statistics are not only motivating– check the score and the stats is an important engagement point.
  3. Create challenges. Games create a tension between work and reward.   As the hurdles get higher satisfaction with accomplishing the goal increases
  4. Regular goal accomplishment. A need to accomplish a goal at an appointed time is often a key element of game play is the regular accomplishment of the goal is often an element of the challenge. Incorporate this dynamic to drive regular ongoing behavior.
  5. Being an expert is a powerful motivator. A little complexity can be a good thing. Adding complexity allows people who are highly engaged in the game to gain expert status with their peers and friends– providing positive reinforcement for the most engaged players and generating word of mouth buzz.
  6. Create layers of a value proposition. Good games have a relatively simple to understand premise with layers of complexity.  As you get deeper (more engaged) the game (marketing program) gets richer and more complicated.
  7. Time sensitivity. Games often create a sense of urgency, apart from driving action that urgency builds engagement and excitement among the players.
  8. Ramp the reward values. Games designers (and marketers) often get people invested in the game by giving them an incentive to save their points for the big prize at the end.
  9. Re-engage the winners and the losers when the game ends. Smart loyalty marketers want you to come back win or lose.  When a player cashes in all their points get them re-started with some courtesy points so their account isn’t zeroed out.  Or for those who get close but don’t qualify recognize their effort and carry something over to get a head start on the next game.

At Sprocket CX, we believe that rewards need to go well beyond “extrinsic motivators” to resonating directly with the natural motivations of program participants. Game mechanics that resonate with the often “irrational” behavior of humans is a great way to accomplish this goal.