Look at your keychain. See all those "reward" tags hanging from it?
Now, check out your wallet. Are there credit cards in there that offer frequent flier miles? What about your smartphone? Got apps that help you track what you've eaten today?
If any of these apply to you, then you are living proof of the power of gamification, or using game-like elements to encourage customer participation. You are connected to a specific company and its products in a way that you may not even think about.
Now, here's the really tough question: Why aren't you doing the same thing for your small business?
If you've ignored gamification because you believe it's something only a larger company can implement, then you're missing a golden opportunity to not only boost customer loyalty and sales, but also to better engage your employees. New technologies make it easier—and more affordable—for small businesses to use gamification.
Gamification is typically used to drive sales by getting customers to compete with one another (or just themselves) to earn products or services. It also can be used to engage and motivate employees and customers by helping them reach certain goals. The underlying strength of it is that most people love to play games and compete, so it's not difficult to capture their interest. (Check out these examples of gamification and how they're used.)
If you're not sure if gamification is right for your small business, consider these advantages:
1. It supports your brick-and-mortar store
According to U.S. Department of Commerce reports, e-commerce sales in the U.S. for the second quarter of 2015 were almost $84 billion, an increase of 4.2% from the first quarter. As online sales grow, it's going to be critical for small businesses that have brick-and-mortar locations to ensure customers keep coming in the door. Gamification, for example, can reward them for "checking in" at a store or give them chances to win prizes if they show up in person.
2. It drives brand awareness
When customers reach certain goals, or earn rewards, they can share the news with their social networks. This helps create brand awareness and turns more customers into brand ambassadors who will promote your company's products and gamification efforts.
3. You learn more about customers
You can glean extra information about customers through your gamification process, such as where they're most likely to spend their money and their likes and dislikes. This helps any small business become more efficient, as it can use that information to target the right products to its customers. Don't let the idea of collecting that information scare you—a growing number of flash storage solutions are more affordable than ever.
4. It engages workers
Gamification often has been used to urge salespeople into making more sales, but all employees can earn "badges" or points for improving customer service, cutting costs, helping other team members or going above and beyond their job description. Points can earn workers gift cards or a tickets to a sporting events, depending on the points attached to each achievement. In addition, dedicated social media channels can help employees be motivated by seeing recognition from others.
5. It's fun
Small businesses often can't offer the same perks that Silicon Valley tech companies do, but they can offer the same kind of fun. Millennials especially desire an enjoyable, vibrant workplace, and putting gamification into play can help alleviate stress, promote a positive environment and build morale.
Finally, while a study by the Gamification Research Network shows that gamification produces positive results, there are still some potential pitfalls that can undermine it, including poor design and implementation.
The lesson is that before setting up any gamification plan, think of how it will fit into your business strategy and workplace culture. Make sure you clearly understand what you want to achieve with it, then target your efforts toward reaching your goals.
Freelance writer specializing in workplace issues. She is the author of two career advice books and has been quoted in O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour and BusinessWeek.