thinking about a gamification platform?

A lot of research around gamification concerns its benefits, for example, the way it stimulates the brain’s pleasure centers or reduces the stress around learning so new information is more easily downloaded and integrated. These neurological processes have been given credit for everything from higher-performing employees (Deloitte is an excellent early example of this) to a huge increase in people ordering lattes and macchiatos at Starbucks.  Gamifying an experience can also create a sense of belonging that keeps people engaged long after the training, workout, online class, or shopping trip is over.

But what about the things that draw people to the product, the platform, or the community in the first place?

  1. Who Is Your Target User?
  2. Research
  3. Earned Data
  4. Just The Beginning

Who Is your Target User?

Before designing your gamification platform, it is critical to not only identify your target user, but to compile data about the way they perceive the products in your market and how those products fit into their lives. In fact, depending on your goal it might be necessary to gain an understanding of how they view their immediate environment and the world at large. One way to do this is through empathy mapping, a highly effective method of data collection that gets to the heart of gaming experience, namely, what truly moves the user.

Empathy mapping targets such areas as what a person thinks, feels, says, hears, sees, and does. The purpose is to delve into the emotional space of the individual or a particular demographic (i.e., a group of employees or a target market), thus creating a profile that can then be used to determine what motivates them to buy something, learn something, or achieve a particular goal.  It even reveals the factors that people prioritize while making decisions, for example, if they are willing to wait longer or spend more for a product or try harder to work for a company that speaks to their values.


There are a few different ways of collecting this information, one of which is through the third-party research typically used in product development and marketing campaigns. A more direct and arguably effective way, however, is to go straight to the source with surveys questions that address people’s needs and challenges, as well as the solutions they believe would improve their lives.  As mentioned above, these questions should be designed to elicit responses that reveal what they think (i.e., that there must be a better product or service out there to fill their need); what they feel (if their resistance to switching to a new product is due to “the devil you know” mentality, or a concern that it will be worse than what they currently have); and what they say (an account in their own words about their experience). The survey should also ask about how those other factors influence their behavior. This deep dive also allows companies to determine what kind of rewards their ideal customers prefer – for example, a free e-book for joining the mailing list versus a discount on their first purchase.

Earned Data

A gamification platform based on this type of knowledge honors and organically engages the user, rather than simply to trying to sell them something or manipulate them into providing personal information. This is what’s known as “earned data,” and having it before designing the platform saves the company the time – not to mention thousands of dollars – it would take to revamp the platform later based on less-than-stellar feedback.

Moreover, the process of empathy mapping can be as valuable as the outcome. Like mind mapping, it allows participants to become aware of and debunk any preconceived notions – in this case about their target audience and what drives them – and make new connections, all of which informs further research and guides brainstorming sessions about how to deliver what that audience wants.  It gets really interesting when contradictory pieces of information start showing up – for example, when users give positive feedback about your offering but are declining to re-order, or complain and buy it anyway. Perhaps they are just being polite, or maybe they are waiting for another, better version of your product to come out. Either way, gaining insight into the disconnect between what consumers are thinking, saying, and doing is priceless, for it allows companies to investigate further and, if necessary, pivot.    Another great thing is that once you do have your platform in place it becomes part of the empathy mapping process, providing constant feedback that alerts you to shifts in your market.

Just the Beginning

Though gamification has become increasingly popular over the last several years, we are clearly still scratching the surface of the many ways in which it works and its potential to benefit our businesses and educational institutions. Designing a platform can be a complex, expensive, and time-consuming endeavor, so regardless of what we are trying to sell or teach the key to success is allowing the users, and what makes them tick, as our compass.

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