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Why Marketing Gamification Is One Of the Best Ways to Promote Your Business

Do you ever wonder where that fabulous free download you offer really ends up?

Is it collecting dust on someone’s hard drive? Or being read and implemented?

You could be the best freakin’ strategist in the world. A mastermind at marketing. An award-winning writer. And you could create oodles of great ebooks, free reports, even high-end info products.

But if people don’t do something with your advice, then giving it is really a waste of everybody’s time.

Here’s why:

If people don’t take action, they won’t see any results. And if they never see results, YOU will never see a testimonial (or, at least one with any substance).

So how do we get people to take action? How do we help them help themselves make positive change?

Funny you should ask… 😉

The Trigger to Create New Habits

If you haven’t yet read the Heath Brothers’ lastest book, Switch, I highly recommend it.

They point out that “for things to change, somebody somewhere has to start acting differently.” In short, they’ve got to create new habits.

(I just heard you say, “Duh.”)

Sure it’s a simple idea, but not so easy to make happen.

We humans are wired to avoid change at all costs. You usually won’t catch us making changes unless we’re facing a LOT of pain.

And that simple fact is what makes creating new habits (like the ones you want your prospect to make) overwhelming hard.

According to B.J. Fogg, an experimental psychologist of Stanford University, there are three elements that must converge at the same moment for a behavior (especially a new behavior) to occur:

  1. Motivation
  2. Ability, and
  3. A Trigger (cues or call to actions)

In the best case scenario, your prospects are already motivated to change, they just lack the ability (technical skill, time and or know-how) to make things happen.

That’s where YOU come in.

YOU are the trigger.

And according to Fogg there are 3 types of triggers:

  1. Facilitator – used when motivation is high, but ability is low
  2. Spark – used when ability is high, but motivation is low
  3. Signal – used when both ability and motivation are high

So to choose the best trigger, you need to know where your user/prospect stands in relation to the ability/motivation chain.

The Facilitator Trigger

Usually, if folks are visiting your site for the first time, they come because they’re searching for an answer to something specific. They’re highly motivated to find an answer, but may not be able to implement your advice for various reasons (e.g., lack of funds, technological know-how, time, etc.).

That means, odds are you should start with the first type of trigger (the facilitator, YOU) as a way to keep your user engaged and moving forward with the change.

A great example of a facilitated trigger would be an email from you very shortly (or even immediately) after your user downloads your eBook or other giveaway. Reach out to them and offer your help. See if they have any questions. This is one of many excellent ways to promote your business.

I recently got one of these check-in emails from PopSurvey. They wanted to make sure I was on track with my project and offered to help me with anything I needed to get the job done. Since I was – at that exact moment – up to my eyeballs in frustration, the email came at a very opportune time. I immediately dialed the phone number listed in the email signature and reached the gentleman directly (this was the CEO of the company!). I explained my challenge and he promised to have a solution for me by the end of the day. Later that day, I received another email that fixed the situation for me.

If I hadn’t received that email, I might have assumed there was nothing to be done and just given up on my project altogether (or, at least postponed it until the waves of frustration passed).

The Spark Trigger

If your prospect’s ability to take action is high, but their motivation is low, this is the trigger to focus on. It’s the one that uses emotions (like hope or fear) to work its magic that’s one of a couple keen ways to promote your business.

You know that TV commercial for the prevention of cruelty to animals? Yes, the one with all of the sad puppy dogs. That’s a spark trigger.

The Signal Trigger

This is the trigger you go to when your prospect is both highly motivated AND has the ability to do something – they just keep forgetting to do it.

A great example would be that alarm you set on your TV to remind you when the game is about to start.

Create new habits via Gamification

Gamification: adding elements of games and game design
to non-game things (like business, education or health).

By now, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve heard of this current marketing trend they’re calling “gamification.”

Of course, the idea of adding things like points and badges (game elements) to something that’s not normally considered a game isn’t a new one. In fact, businesses have been gamifying things for years (how many airline miles have you collected? How many free coffees have you earned?).

But you’re hearing a lot more about it now because gamification is trending up in a BIG way. The gamification industry as a whole is predicted to grow to $2.8 Billion over the next four years (it currently stands at $242 million). That’s 1000% growth! (Might be a good area to look for new clients…amiright?!)

There are entire businesses where you can go and pay tens of thousands of dollars for an almost custom gamification platform to help you market better, hire better, train better…in short, engage better.

But we can’t all afford tens of thousands for the technology. At least, not yet.

And yes, there are a few interesting players in the WordPress plugin space (e.g., PunchTab and Rafflecopter).

But these free plugins are meant to be added to something that already exists – and that isn’t usually appropriate for most of us.

Gaming elements will do next to NOTHING if they are just tacked on at the last moment without being an intrinsic part of the campaign / product. Gamification by itself does NOT make people want to do things.

So how do you (and your little business) use some of these cutting edge (and apparently pretty pricey) techniques to trigger and/or motivate your prospects to take action?

First: start with the end in mind. In most cases, that end is an engaged and loyal customer.

At what points along the path of your sales funnel could you (and should you) aim for higher engagement? Where could you make things more…fun?

The Fun factor

“Whoever MUST play, cannot play” –Dirk Markham

Games must be voluntary. As soon as someone says you must do this, all the fun gets sucked right out of the room.

What makes things fun?

According to game expert Marc LeBlanc there are eight kinds of fun:

  1. Sensation – Game as sense-pleasure
  2. Fantasy – Game as make-believe
  3. Narrative – Game as unfolding story
  4. Challenge – Game as obstacle course
  5. Fellowship – Game as social framework
  6. Discovery – Game as uncharted territory
  7. Expression – Game as soap box
  8. Submission – Game as mindless pastime

When you can include the fun factor in how your offering works or is delivered, you will make it much more desirable (and less like hard work).

This is especially important if your product or service is complicated, new and different. Even if it’s just complicated, new and different to your prospect.

Lesson: If you know your users will have a big learning curve and need help making progress, adding fun to your facilitation will make the process feel easier and more like actual play.

One of the best examples of how this works is via the Adobe Photoshop software trial.

Trial users of Photoshop have 30 days to test the software before they decide to buy it. But if they can’t get it to work for them, they will abandon the trial and never buy. Adobe helps users with this via a gamified tutorial called Level Up – and trial users are given “missions” to complete which teach them how to use different aspects of the software. As they complete a mission, they’re given points they can redeem toward a discount on the software. Read more about there program here.

The Gamified Tribe

In preparation for my Prosperity’s Kitchen project (a 12-week reality web series that teaches start-ups and entrepreneurs how to market themselves online), I started a gamification experiment with a small group of my loyal blog readers (see The Test Kitchen Project).

The idea is to see what types of missions would see the greatest success – not just in terms of outcomes, but for engagement levels as well. We’re also testing which game elements work best.

As of this publish date, we’re just two weeks into the 8-week experiment, and so far the results look good. Enticing these readers to play a new game each week (facilitated on Facebook) hasn’t been too difficult. The fun factor is definitely there.

But beyond the fun, I made the WIFM (What’s-in-it-for-me) factor clear:

  1. Get free help with a current marketing challenge
  2. Have the chance to earn and win prizes
  3. Possibly learn something new in the process

The rules are simple and promote things like collaborative sharing of ideas, earning points and badges, as well as random (surprise) rewards.

The games help the players to learn and implement ideas that I write about on my blog every week. To date, we’ve focused on email list building, downloadable giveaways, and email newsletters – all things that my readers would like to get better at doing themselves.

How Would You Gamify a Free Download?

To be honest, I haven’t yet cracked the code on this one. My instincts tell me that we’ve got to change HOW the free information is delivered altogether. That a simple PDF isn’t quite enough.

Perhaps the download is replaced with a game, a quiz or some other more dynamic activity (like the gamified tribe example above).

At the very least, we should look at building in facilitator triggers. At a minimum, a series of follow-up emails that reminds our prospects that they’ve downloaded something and need to take action. Perhaps there’s one email that acts as a signal trigger (simple reminder) and another that inquires about ability – “where are you stuck? How can I help you?” (the facilitator).

Now I turn it to over to you. How could you bake some gamification into your own products or services? Ideas are everywhere.

Share yours in a comment below so we can help each other build more engaged and enlightened readers, customers and loyal fans.

(Update: Tea has written another great post for us, full of even more gamification examples – so make sure to check it out!)

About Tea Silvestre

Tea Silvestre (@TeaSilvestre) is founder of the Small Biz Storytelling Soiree (in Portland); author of Attract & Feed a Hungry Crowd - Zero-Hype marketer. Join her at Story Bistro.


  1. For those reading this post, but not following Tea’s Prosperity’s Kitchen show that further puts these principles of gamification into practice, I thought that I would let everyone know that the second show in the series is in the can on YouTube at

    The real time Google Hangout chat amongst all the players and audience members is a great addition to the experience, so if you are free on Mondays at 10 am PST, you should give a listen. You can even ask your own burning business question – though of course the focus is on the show’s public contestants.

  2. This might be too simple, but if you are promoting an ebook from your blog, you could create a game that requires rereading some of your blog posts. The reward is the ebook for free.
    With my blog I am trying to help people stay healthy and break bad habits, so creating a game that reinforces that might work.

  3. Mary Jaksch ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Hey Tea, thanks for an excellent article. I’m also a participant on the Gamification course offered by Coursera!

    I think using elements of gamification is the cutting edge of blogging and of online education. It’s going to be interesting what we all come up with!

    As to free PDFs: imagine giving away your info in a format that supports multimedia and includes videos, quizzes, and other interactions with the readers. All this is already possible.

    I’m keen to see what you do in the Test Kitchen Project.

  4. Sheyi | says:

    Tea, whao, all i can say is this is great!

    Asweardown, this is gonna re-define the free download world. I’ve got couples of ebooks sitting on my HD here (free downloads) and i’ve not been chanced to read them…. at times i just delete some at once.

    It’s time we get a better solution to this.


  5. Johnn Four says:

    Stackexchange does a brilliant job gamifying their community. Check out their different special interest sites and see if you can spot all the ways they game or motivate members to:
    a) Get people contributing often
    b) Surface the best content

    For free downloads, one idea is to reward outcomes. What outcome should people using the info of your PDF achieve? Offer prizes to people who achieve those outcomes, and promote those testimonials.

    You see some stores doing this when they ask customers to take pics of the products they’ve purchased, and the store displays these pics on the product page later as hero shots.

    You can do the same thing. Downloaders take a picture or screenshot as proof and send it in for a chance to win something. Combo with social media.

  6. Gamification’s been working for me ever since my mother convinced toddler-me that “playing school” by working through old textbooks and grading my work with a red pen was fun! Fast forward another 30 years, and I’m still playing writer/editor. But now it earns my family’s living.

    It takes clear thinking and full integration to make a game of a serious task, and I totally agree that you can’t do it effectively as an afterthought. Mary Poppins claimed that “You find the fun, and snap! The job’s a game.” That snap! is the sound of Mary breaking the sound barrier as she skips over the real work of gamification. A brilliant gamified resource like doesn’t get thrown together or have the game elements tacked on last.

    I would love to hear more about ways to engage readers of downloaded resources – I’ll be using those 3 triggers to help keep everyone moving forward after they download my list of higher-paying blogs!

    1. LOVE that quote by Mary Poppins! (Had forgotten it until just now). sounds interesting…will be looking at it to see what I can learn. Thanks for chiming in, Sophie.

  7. J. Delancy says:

    Guilty as charged of e-book hoarding. B.J.Fogg has done some brilliant work in persuasion psychology. I’d suggest that anyone who reads this post, try to find his 3 Tiny Habits program, yes its FREE but he makes you take action on the very first day and then ingrain them into your daily life.

  8. Ally says:

    Hadn’t actually heard of gamification and promptly realized how backward I am – in fact the last computer game I played was on a Playstation 1 sometime around the Jurassic era… which makes me wonder if I’m to get both my and client websites gamified should I pop out and buy the latest superfast computer and a bunch of games as business expenses – you know, for research purposes 😉

    1. It would definitely be nice to write this stuff off as a biz expense, right? LOL Thankfully, I don’t think it’s your computer that needs upgrading. Just want to make sure your internet connection is sufficient.

  9. I admit it, I suffer a lot from infobesity. Who on God’s green Earth doesn’t like something for free? I believe if all of us self proclaimed “freebie hoarders” united, we could score a hilarious reality TV show on a major cable network 😀

    I believe the signal trigger works best with me. I seem to need nudging. Life keeps us all busy right? I’ve found though, that when a blogger personally reaches out to me for whatever reason and asks for my help, 99% of the time I’ll follow through and do it. Deep down I’m a helper and am most happy when I’m helping someone else.

    I love the idea of gamification. It sparks creativity on both sides of the coin. Plus, we all get tired of eating the same thing at the same restaurant every single day. Throw some spice in there and mix it up I say. Great things will always result.

    1. Thanks for sharing your POV, Colleen. I’m glad to have a bit more insight into what triggers you. 🙂 And you’re right — we all need to get more creative in how we deliver content and engage with each other. Who wants to eat at Red Lobster 7 nights a week?

  10. CJ says:

    So spot on. You hit on several things that have always felt ‘off’ to me about receiving, and sending, the freebies.

    Big thanks for the article.

  11. Simon Duck says:

    I seem to have a folder on my computer full of eBooks, free graphics and the sort, which I download and never look at, or look at way down the line, as you mentioned above… time to stop!

    Simon Duck

  12. Birdy Diamond says:

    “When you can include the fun factor in how your offering works or is delivered, you will make it much more desirable (and less like hard work).

    This is especially important if your product or service is complicated, new and different. Even if it’s just complicated, new and different to your prospect.”

    Sounds like the Brigade, doesn’t it???

    We’d already started the fun with the metaphor & the Kittens, but now it’s feeling like we should take it up a notch.

    Look at your average kitten – they will play-practice at the drop of ANYTHING even VAGUELY resembling a cue! 🙂 ;>

    So now, to ponder how to do this. 🙂 :>

    1. Part of the fun comes from how you deliver the content (words/pictures/sounds/etc) and part will come from the experience of interacting with you/your product/service. Sometimes we just need to start from the place of being authentic — if your personality is inherently playful (as yours is), this will make the fun flow much more easily. If you tend to be on the adult side of things, it might be harder.

      1. Birdy Diamond says:

        Thank you! 🙂 ;>
        Will add that in to the pondering. 🙂 :>
        I do want to figure out how to get some Catnip & Kitten Toys into the Brigade in a way that adds to the mix, as you say, instead of just being a shoe-horned-in-after-the-fact sort of arrangement.

        Will talk to my Tech Helper Mouse & see if she has any ideas on how to implement some of the notions I have. 🙂 :>

  13. Sandi Amorim says:

    I’ve downloaded so many free reports, ebooks etc only to glance at them, throw them in the bin and unsubscribe, and I appreciate you sharing the triggers and how to use them to avoid that result!

      1. Sharon Hurley Hall ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

        That was the part that spoke to me as well, Tea. I can count on the fingers of one hand the stuff I downloaded that I actually took action on. Thanks for spelling this out so clearly.

  14. sharon says:

    Hi great post thanks for the information. I think it’s so cool that changing habit can change your life. Your totally right. Work out the trigger, and come up with a new response and half the battle is won.

  15. Carol Dodsley - The How2Girl says:

    Great article that takes you deeper into the motivators and triggers that drive people to take action. Without action there are no results, and like you say often the pure work to achieve just does not underpin the motivators.

    Love the way you focus on the WIIFM and emotions in parallel with making things fun to see real results too
    The How2Girl

  16. Nick Armstrong says:

    Absolutely, Tea!

    So many marketers tack on gamification to the end of a campaign. It reminds me of that 30 Rock episode where Jenna makes the movie in Connetecut and they add in a text voting campaign to a STATIC MOVIE. Liz Lemon points out that it makes no sense, Jack retorts by saying, “It doesn’t matter, people will do it anyway.”

    You may get drunk college kids to do it, but you most certainly will not attract a long-term crowd who loves your products and services without a concerted effort built straight into the heart of your campaign.

    1. I missed that one, Nick! But yes – I see this happening a lot. Even Google tried it once (remember the badges you could “win” for reading articles?). You can’t just slap this stuff on willy-nilly.

  17. Jason "J-Ryze" Fonceca ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    HEAVEN, Tea. Thank you for this.

    Danny, as always thanks for the HQ POSTS.

    I’ve been saying this in offline chat for ages.

    I used to run a video-game website, for the game – an INCREDIBLE TEAM-FOCUSED game…

    And get this it, by itself, is a 2gb FREE DOWNLOAD. Free To Play.

    Check their business model – they’ve revolutionized esports, and any marketer should be blown away.

  18. Annie Sisk ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Tea, you’re in my territory now! I love that you mentioned Switch, by the way. So much advice about productivity or accomplishing any goal (business or personal) lives up in the stratosphere but basically boils down – as it must – to “Do the work.” Which is so much easier said than done. Whether we’re motivating others to purchase or ourselves to act, the principles are the same.

    1. Yes. AND it’s funny how often we forget that helping our customers get something done (or solve a particular problem) is where we have to focus our efforts if we want to be able to show how valuable we truly are. Thanks for helping the cause, Annie!

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