Ever wonder about the marketing value of Facebook "likes," being the "mayor" of a store on Foursquare or Google news badges?
Gamification, which involves the addition of game play elements into marketing programs, consumer products and online applications to increase consumer engagement and support marketing strategies, is seeping into marketing, but its effects are unknown.
"This has the potential to get pretty out of control," said Donna Hoffman, the Albert O. Steffey professor of marketing at the University of California - Riverside. "Marketers are starting to treat customers like monkeys. They are dangling large bananas. You walk in a store: 'Here's your banana. Now buy something.' It's important to step back and study the implications of this."
Hoffman and Novak, who have done pioneering research in social media, online consumer behavior, and digital marketing trends, will take that step back with the seed grant from the Marketing Science Institute's (MSI) Idea Challenge competition.
Within a year, they plan to hold a workshop where a small group of thought leader academics and practitioners will identify key research themes related to the gamification of marketing.
Following the workshop, MSI will hold a research competition to support the best ideas and then there will be a larger conference where the winners will discuss their ideas and results.
Hoffman and Novak believe there is an urgent need to address the gamification of marketing because marketers are incorporating game design into applications without input from professional game designers and game design is proceeding with little input from marketers.
For example, game mechanics are "baking in" constructs, such as the "like" button, that will be difficult, if not impossible, to change. Meanwhile, marketers really don't know what "liking" something means.
In their proposal, Hoffman and Novak list 24 apps, activities, programs, and networks that incorporate gamification elements. These include: Android Marketplace, Foursquare, Groupon, iTunes App Store, Shopkick and Zynga.
They also list a variety of companies that have used the gamification of marketing. These include Buffalo Wild Wings using SCVNGR, Green Giant using Farmville and USA Network's Club Psych.
Hoffman and Novak argue marketers first need to focus on fundamentals and then game elements so they can better understand which applications and activities are suitable for gamification and what elements are likely to be successful in achieving marketing objectives.
Fundamentals include understanding when to gamify, creating demand for gamified applications, motivating purchases within those applications, and then developing applications that use game concepts to achieve the appropriate marketing objectives such as brand awareness, brand engagement and purchase intent.