"Turn Your Customers Into Players" "What do video games have in common with ROI? The answer might surprise you. In this article Kevin Werbach, Associate Professor of Legal Studies at The Wharton School, shares how viewing consumers as players in a video game will help you keep them engaged in your brand." "

Business leaders seeking to improve engagement and marketing ROI should look to a surprising source for inspiration: video games. And the first thing to learn from video games is how to start thinking of your customers as players.

\n

The digital revolution hasn't reduced all marketing interactions to bloodless transactions. In fact, it has done the opposite. Low barriers to communication, information sharing, and data analysis have made efficiency a mere table stake. Cloud and big data analytics will increasingly become levelers, rather than differentiators. The one asset that cannot be replicated with greater processing power is customer passion. True digital leaders use technology to motivate sustained engagement not through greed, but through joy.

\n

If such a focus on passion and engagement is the future of many digital businesses, it's where one industry segment has been all along. No one plays a video game because of rational calculations of efficiency. Video game designers' mastery of the art and science of fun is the reason that video games are now a $70 billion global industry, a social-media based game like Zynga's \"Cityville\" could go from zero to 100 million registered users in 41 days, and the second biggest wiki site in the world (after Wikipedia) is the one created by players of the game \"World of Warcraft.\" Wouldn't you want your customers to be that enthusiastic?

\n

The first step toward thinking like a game designer is to reconceive of your customers as players. The words you use to describe your business relationships matter. \"Consumers\" connotes passive recipients; \"customers\" implies short-term transaction partners; and \"users\" suggests faceless surfers with a disengaged agenda. \"Players,\" by contrast, describes active seekers of sustained engagement.

\n

[[quote]]

\n

As Dan Hunter and I explain in our new book, For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business, there are several good reasons to begin thinking of your customers as players. The first and most obvious is that players play. They crave fulfilling experiences, not just cold economic exchanges. They want stimulating challenges, not boring and repetitive interactions, and they hope to be surprised and delighted every once in a while, in all aspects of their lives. The visceral satisfaction of flinging a cartoon bird toward a building with a virtual slingshot may not seem like much, but it has propelled more than one billion downloads of \"Angry Birds\" and its spinoffs. The best digital marketers, from Apple to Etsy to Zappos, succeed because they focus on creating similar moments of joy.

\n

Calling someone a player also implies a degree of autonomy on their part. If you play a video game, you're the hero. Everything depends on you, and your choices matter. You may be one of many millions playing \"Halo\" or \"Madden NFL,\" but as far as you're concerned, the game revolves entirely around your actions. That's really not true, of course. The game designer is the one who makes the rules, but players cooperate in the illusion because, once again, it's fun.

\n

Digital marketers should take these lessons to heart. Design opportunities for players to shape their own experiences and see the results of their actions. Use game-like feedback and growth toward mastery to create engaging experiences. Give your players a degree of input and control and they will start to take the initiative rather than passively wait for your next pitch. The social location startup Foursquare is a great example, motivating users to \"check in\" on their mobile devices over 2.5 billion times, despite strong competition from other social media, largely by adding a game-like layer to the experience.

\n

Truly conceiving of your customers as players isn't easy. It requires a fusion of creativity and data-driven engineering. Fun is a universal human emotion, but an idiosyncratic one. This is where analytics come back into the picture. Great digital game designers master the artistic elements of player experience, but they are equally adept at iterating their designs based on data. Every player interaction can be tracked, analyzed, and used as a basis for dynamically redefining pathways, or for A/B testing. Thinking of customers as players means constantly asking what they are doing, and - to the extent possible - what they are feeling, in order to improve their experience.

\n

Thinking in this way does not undermine the seriousness or importance of the undertaking. All business is a game at some level, offering many challenges on the path to success, and powerful rewards for those individuals and organizations that excel. Today's hyper-competitive digital environment is no different, and thinking of your customers as players and designing a more game-like experience for them may be the best path to building more enduring and profitable relationships.

\n

What are some of the ways you can help your brand deliver more fulfilling, stimulating, surprising and delightful experiences by thinking of your customers as players?

"