Hacking Motivation Through Gamification

As mobile devices pull our attention in ever more directions, marketers are pressed to make the most of increasing tech capabilities. But it isn’t enough to build the shiniest new toy or create the app with the most interesting functions. We must better understand our audience’s fundamental motivations and create experiences that connect with and motivate them on the most basic, “gut” level.

This is where behavioral science comes in. Gamification has been a buzzword for some time—making a digital experience fun and engaging by making it feel like a game to the user. But true, effective gamification is far more serious and complex than its name implies.

Game design is an art thousands of years old: Think of chess, checkers or mandala. Those games have survived for eons because they work in elegant but vital ways. Why does chess work? It’s easy to learn, but hard to master. Why does Candy Crush work? Same reason.

Use of the term gamification is risky. It’s easily recognizable but can trivialize the concept. Gamification is what expert Yu-Kai Chou calls human-centered design. It actually has very little to do with games per se—it’s about unlocking motivation, feeling and purpose. As he puts it, “The reason we call it gamification is because the gaming industry was the first to master Human-Focused Design.”

Daniel Pink is another well-known expert on motivation and behavioral science. From his book Drive to his National Geographic series “Crowd Control,” he also focuses on investigating the best motivational paths that can spur people to act.

It matters as we move from a focus on websites and computer-based interactions to mobile apps and device-based interactions. Human-centered design and behavioral science become more important because the content we create is far more personal. Using an app on your phone is an intimate experience. You interact with the app as an extension of yourself—one that’s constantly within arm’s reach. An app experience is more purposeful and requires more commitment than just clicking on a link.

What can the pharma industry learn?

What we can learn: How to design in a way that is simultaneously scientific, strategic and creative. It’s scientific in that we consider how to develop content that optimally manipulates the levels of dopamine in the brain using rewards that work with what Chou calls the eight core motivations.

It’s strategic because we must stop when we consider mechanics—not motivations—first. The strategy must determine the tactics, not the other way around. Marketers still sometimes get stuck on “we need X” in which X is a platform, network or popular gimmick. Behavioral science keeps us grounded in conversations about why first, not what.

It’s creative: We’re using that scientific and strategic intellectual knowledge on the same great puzzles our work has always included. How can we hack motivations to help patients live better and help healthcare providers treat more effectively?

These questions and processes are integrated into our brand strategies with exciting results. We’re unlocking engagement and meaning in our digital experiences. Gamification isn’t a game. But it does bring with it the thrill of victory.

  • Faruk Capan

    Faruk Capan is CEO at Intouch Solutions. Faruk heads a 17-year-old pharmaceutical marketing agency known for its clients-first approach to service. Intouch has 650+ employees in offices in Kansas City, New York, Chicago, and London.


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