Gamification in Internet of Things Customer Experience

By the year 2020, there will be a projected 26 smart objects for every person on the planet or 200 billion smart objects total. The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing at an astonishing rate, and no industry will escape its effects. Every department that touches the customer — from product design and strategy to marketing — will need to quickly adapt their customer experiences to reach and integrate connected objects and IoT-generated customer data.

We are on the cusp of an exciting marketing revolution where connected devices deliver more immediate, 360-degree views of customers. What’s certain is that IoT data will help us better understand the individual user, refine the marketing process and innovate customer relationships. What is still largely unknown is what an IoT-centric customer experience can and will look like. Based on what we know of the highly interactive, responsive and personalized nature of IoT products and services, gamification promises to be one of the most-effective marketing concepts to apply to IoT customer experience.

Gamification Reaches Full Potential in the IoT Landscape

Gamification is not new, nor is it unique to IoT customer experiences. Marketers have been exploring the applications of gamification in everything—from loyalty programs and product apps to referral marketing campaigns and in-store promotions — for some years now. The increasingly interconnected IoT landscape, however, may be the environment that allows us to realize the full potential of gamification in marketing.

Gamification, defined as “the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems,” is becoming core to engagement strategy for brands across industries from healthcare to automobiles to electronics. It is much more than a point system or cute game features. As Esteban Contreras of Samsung USA explains, “Gamification is ultimately not about buzzwords and mechanics, but better and more meaningful experiences.”

Gamification can be used in IoT to maximize engagement in the midst of a highly competitive market. The IoT apps and products with the most meaningful and rewarding customer experiences will rise to the top, and the rest of IoT will have to play nice with their systems.

Three Ways Gamified IoT Can Maximize Customer Engagement

How exactly can gamification be applied to connected objects to encourage frequent interaction and deeper engagement, conversion, and loyalty?

  1. Encourage Real-Time Interactions

Use data- and location-driven insights to anticipate customer needs, to offer advice, products and solutions, and to give out points and rewards in your gamified experience. The key is to enable real-time game mechanics that deliver instant signals, feedback, rewards and scoring to the user in response to his or her behavior.

With sensor tracking in IoT objects, brands can collect and analyze real-time data from user behavior and program gamified responses. For example, a user might unlock new levels or exclusive in-app features with every month they meet the energy-saving goals they’ve set in their smart thermostat.

The possibilities are truly endless: The MIT Media Lab developed a set of smart ice cubes that can measure your amount and rate of alcohol consumption. The ice cubes trigger certain actions if you’ve passed your limit, like sending you a gentle warning notification, texting a friend or calling a cab. This example may not sound like a fun game, but it still employs some techniques of gamification: responding to real-time interactions, it sends feedback that begins to shape user behavior and delivers social and emotional rewards that will encourage the user to keep engaging.

  1. Enrich Social Engagement

Make sure users have the option to share their actions and progress with your IoT product via social media. This has the dual benefit of boosting the user’s enjoyment and satisfaction while using your product and encouraging others to join in and respond. As Clinton Bonner writes,

“Physical ‘things’ are now being transformed into social ‘things’ and when they communicate data with one another, there is an amazing opportunity to create better, more useful experiences at this digital chasm.”

We have seen the socialization of IoT play out to great success with wearables and fitness apps like Nike+ and FitBit. When you set up your FitBit, you’re immediately asked to connect to Facebook where you discover which friends are also using FitBit. From there, you can share goals and progress, cheer one another on and even compete. The gamification is explicit: users can set up challenges, invite their friends and then see who performs best. The brilliance of FitBit is that they let users design the game they participate in, and they make social interaction the reward.

When you make an app or object social, it has the potential to be viral, spreading the engagement and play like a wildfire and helping you retain lasting users.

  1. Reward Customer Loyalty

Beacons are an integral part of IoT, mobile marketing and gamification, and they’ve been used to build loyalty through it all. The Starbucks mobile app has cornered the market on gamification and loyalty with over 120 million users completing more than six million mobile transactions in stores each week. The accompanying rewards program is fun, interactive, useful, and delivers achievement awards, gifts and coupons that keep coffee lovers coming back.

As of this year, Starbucks has now installed beacons in many stores to up their loyalty game: when customers at their premium coffee stores come near the beacons, they will be able to access information about the freshest brew and other contextually relevant messages and promotions. The idea is to help transition some customers to their premium stores and reserve blends. The exclusive content and giveaways will reward their existing customers, giving them yet another reason to choose Starbucks over the cafe across the street.

In short, if you “sweeten the pot” as customer engagement deepens, you inspire users to stay engaged. Fun — like an addictive smartphone game — also keeps us coming back.

Gamification Should Engage Not Distract

A final word of caution: Make sure you focus your IoT gamification strategies on bringing people into deeper engagement with the core goals and identity of your connected product. If all your bells and whistles do is distract customers from the product’s purpose, they aren’t truly engaging with you, and they’ll quickly find another, more exciting game to play.