badges, points, leaderboards, and brands

Competitiveness is a fundamental human trait; it’s programmed into our evolutionary DNA.  The first humans needed a fierce competitive instinct for survival and procreation.  More recently, abstract ideals such as status and access played to our competitive nature.   And today, with ubiquitous access to the internet, our means of competition now includes badges, points, and leaderboards as we gleefully announce our conquests, progress, and accomplishments across the web.

For companies, using our competitive nature to drive consumer engagement is nothing new; it is a cornerstone of old school loyalty schemes such as frequent flyer programs.  And, in the digital space, companies like Foursquare have successfully married online engagement with our physical world.  It makes sense that “gamification” of our behaviors works so well – it resonates with our instinctual traits.

But where is the laundry list of success stories where traditional, offline companies have built digital platforms and used competitive gaming tactics to produce meaningful business impact?  As marketers we know the opportunity is huge, yet few compelling examples seem to exist.

Let me share EpicMix, an example from the ski industry that I’ve come to know. VRMC, which owns numerous ski resorts including Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Heavenly, and Keystone, has done a brilliant job of creating more valuable customers and increasing market share through a digital sharing and gaming platform called EpicMix.  EpicMix effectively harnesses the power of engaging digital and physical behaviors with our competitive instincts.

By taking advantage of RFID chips in tickets and scanners located at the base of every chair lift, operators can track a skier’s activity and movement across the course of a day and throughout the ski season.  This information fuels the EpicMix social sharing and gaming platform where one can track vertical feet, earn pins for a wide range activities and accomplishments, see where your friends are, post updates to social networks, share photos – all from a smartphone.  People have become crazed about this. Vertical feet skied in a day or season-to-date have become metrics of status; participants actively seek to earn pins and points for a wide range of activities including exploring terrain, skiing on particular dates or conditions, and visiting multiple VRMC resorts.  The battleground customers, such as skiers in the Denver area who have many options, are choosing to buy season passes and ski exclusively at VRMC resorts to increase their leaderboard status and keep up with their friends.

So, if this works, why is it that so few companies, beyond internet-centric businesses, are doing this?  Our competitive nature is a basic human truth and our interest in broadcasting of our status, activities, and is accomplishments on social networks is real.  These are insights that can be a levered for almost any product, brand or service with an emotional connection with a consumer.

Clearly it takes the right combination of brand equity, consumer target, and business model to be an appropriate and relevant strategy, nevertheless it is a big opportunity that advertising agencies should embrace on behalf of their clients.

Now, can I get a badge or pin for publishing this?

super bowl ad teasers – do they work? buehler? buehler?

A record number of advertisers have pre-released Super Bowl teasers this year on YouTube. The viewership numbers are astounding, with many in excess of 10 million . Pretty cool. But will this strategy have significant staying power beyond incremental impressions, particularly when the videos are essentially competing for YouTube share of voice?

They probably will, but leveraging the digital experience to engage customers effectively could be much, much bigger.

I believe the difference between great strategy and ok execution is continued, relevant, and emotional engagement, not just a buzz-generating video or meme.

Deutsch L.A. (VW’s creative agency) has nailed it with with a holistic digital experience that includes multiple brand touch points and solid viral elements that resonate with the target. You’ve probably seen VW’s The Bark Side, a favorite on YouTube, but did you realize it is one element of a multi-faceted campaign that goes well beyond TV and online video?  It includes websites, social sharing platforms, CRM, product tie-ins, dealerships, and test drives?

And, it doesn’t hurt that the campaign plays to two of the magic consumer engagement pillars of the internet: Pet Videos and Star Wars.  I say to Deutsch & VW, “May the Force be with you.”  I hope airing of The Dog Strikes Back during the big game isn’t a let down after all the pre-game planning.