Archive of ‘minnesota’ category

Gamification is Motivation – A Charity Success Story

Gamification is a marketing buzzword of late that involves using scoring and reward mechanics to encourage new users of a site or a piece of software to stay engaged.  Foursquare is famous for offering badges for various activities, which promotes further use of their application.
But gamification is not just for startups and mobile app developers. A recent visit to a MN charity showed how they use these tactics to engage new donors and to fulfill their mission of feeding children in need around the world.

Feed My starving is a charity devoted to delivering nutritious, culturally acceptable meals to families in impoverished countries. In collaboration with food scientists at private companies they have developed a $1.32 packet of dry food that can feed 6 kids when cooked. FMSC buys the ingredients, fills the packets and ships them to partner charities across the globe, who ultimately deliver them to needy families.

The game mechanics come into play during the packing stage. All of the food is packed by volunteers at one of their packing facilities in Minnesota, Illinois and Arizona. Everyone is divided up into teams, where they work to fill bags with the 4 ingredients, seal the bags and pack them into shipping boxes. It’s a great time and amazing how many meals a group can pack in an hour and a half.  And it works! In a year the organization can ship over 120,000,000 meals with the help of 500,000+ volunteer packers and the food reliably arrives to those that need it. They have the highest possible rating at Charity Navigator.

But why use people, strangers, to fill the bags at all?

Wouldn’t it be more efficient to ask staff members to do it rather than train new groups for each shift? And there must be machines or at least measuring equipment that could help automate the task of filling plastic bags with a consistent amount of rice. I think the answer is that the benefits of gamification, especially the increased feeling of ownership amongst volunteers, outweighs the potential inefficiencies.

While any contribution from a donor helps, it’s the long term partners that are really useful to a healthy charity. For any non-profit, it’s a challenge to get people involved and invested. Unfortunately donors are often asked to mail out checks and never hear from the organization about the results… until it’s time to ask for another check.
Reward systems change that by offering measurement and feedback immediately.  It’s clear from the moment you walk in as a volunteer that Feed My Starving Children has long term relationships in mind. Entering their facility you’re greeted by the staff and given a nice introduction to how the ministry works. Subtle scoring systems and rewards start from there.

Volunteers are divided into teams and gather in the packing room around a station. By design, all the teams are in the same room with identical set ups, establishing a playing field for competition. Quietly, the staffers mention how many packs fit in a box and how many boxes a typical team can pack during a session. So the benchmarks have been established.
The staff never tells volunteers to rush or to try to set packing records. But do offer tips on how to operate quickly (“hand signals can speed up re-supplies by a few seconds”) and they start the packing session in the same way a race might start. Ready, set, go.

During the session, there is up-tempo music playing across the room’s speakers and the room gets loud with teams trying to communicate with each other. Of course some good-natured trash talking is included and teams start to shout out how many boxes they’ve finished. Each team is pitted against the rest and pretty soon there is singing, chanting and dancing going on as the ingredients fly. It’s super fun but very much about winning.

Once a session is completed (after a count down of course) the groups gather back in the meeting room to hear the numbers. Staffers tally up the packs, boxes and palettes completed and share the results of that day’s session. In all the times I’ve been to Feed My Starving Children to pack meals, I’ve always been assured that our group was phenomenal, much better than the average group’s output. Either I’m just that good or FMSC is using intangible rewards intentionally to give volunteers a sense of pride, ownership and some bragging rights.

Photo: A View From The Edge

Finally volunteers are informed that all of the food they’ve packed has been paid for by the organization, costing hundreds of dollars. Previous donors have paid for the food packed in that session and FMSC needs more donations to enable future volunteer crews. The appeal is all very well done and guilt-free but it’s very persuasive, as I can personally attest to.

In all, they’ve created a personal connection through a fun, competitive experience using game mechanics, which results in more volunteering, more donations and more word of mouth. This post is just one example!

For more information on Feed My Starving Children visit fmsc.org and seriously consider bringing some friends and volunteering. It makes a great team building event, birthday or night out and you’ll be glad you did.

So bad it’s good, so good it’s bad: when campaigns turn on you

The performance of a Marketing campaign is difficult to predict. There are just too many variables: vehicles used, frequency, the mindset of the recipients, unforeseeable marital scandal by celebrity pitchman, etc.
It’s no wonder that sometimes we get completely unexpected results.

The Cult Status Effect – Execution that is so bad, it becomes a meme of sorts, spreading the word much further than if it were merely mediocre. A lot like winning the lottery, these rarely happen on purpose. It worked for The Snuggie, The Doyle and Devoe Real Estate Team and the Montgomery Flea Market but pursue this strategy at your own risk. Most bad commercials or ads simply die out quickly and anonymously. Or worse, you could become…

…The Punchline – The worst kind of viral ad. This type of message gets remembered and passed on for all the wrong reasons. What seemed like a good idea on paper becomes the bane of your existence. Bad campaigns are notoriously hard to live down once they’ve picked up steam online.

Too Much of a Good Thing - Like mom said, Halloween candy is wonderful but too much will give you a stomach ache. Growing up in Minneapolis, we visited family in Chicago on a regular basis. In Chicago, I remember hearing the catchy jingle for Empire Carpet – “5-8-8; 2-3-hundred… em-PIRE!” and thinking that it was a fun ad.
Now Empire commercials are aired in the Twin Cities and I hear their ads every single day on TV and on the radio. My nostalgia-hazed memories of Empire have been replaced with an intense loathing for the cursed song. (I realize that Advertising 101 says that repetition is good and even annoying ads work if they’re memorable. There is a line though and Empire has crossed it.)
If the Empire ads are not familiar, think Presidential campaign ads or football TV commercials for men’s prescription medication. You get the idea.

Extenuating Circumstances – Some things are simply out of a marketer’s control. No matter how good an ad campaign is, it can be sabotaged. A classic example in the news today is Toyota. Their recent ad campaigns have been eye-catching and effective. (Even their Prius campaign, which is a little creepy, delivers their message well.) But all of that is undermined by safety concerns resulting from massive recalls.

It’s good to remember that while we do our best to influence our marketplaces, persuasion is an unpredictable field that sometimes yields strange results.

Minnesota Tech Scene at SMBMSP

I attended the latest Social Media Breakfast on Friday morning. I’ve always been curious to go and since the event was at the State Fair this year (and I wanted to go there anyway) I decided it would be a good time to give it a try.
The day started off early and wet and I found myself wandering through an un-crowded fairground for the first time I can remember. The event was held at the Blue Ribbon picnic area, on the opposite side of the fair from the bus drop off. That meant that I arrived a bit late but didn’t have any problem finding a seat.
The program itself was pretty silly. It was funny to sit back and hear the bacon jokes and mixer games but there wasn’t a whole lot of new content presented there. I started to feel a little disappointed that I’d come out until I left the tent and started shaking hands.
I spoke with Rich Goldsmith for a few minutes. (He had just presented an especially angst-ridden bacon haiku about the temptation to eat the non-Kosher food.) He shared a bit about his work in social media and how he’s using it to reach new audiences. You can read Rich’s work at Defenestrator.
Thanks to David Erickson (see his e-Strategy blog) from Tunheim Partners as well. He was at the fair representing No Name Steaks and we talked about their recent effort to add social media tools to their campaigns. The chocolate-and-bacon Conan O’Brien bust that has been all over the media lately was their doing and it was interesting to get a behind the scenes look at how they pulled it off.
The official content up on stage came around too. Eventually, the program moved away from musical chairs and toward some interesting and useful case studies from local companies. That of course is what the Social Media Breakfast events are all about – meeting people and learning from each other. Although I could do without some of the silly games, I enjoyed the event and would try it again.

The rain dried up quickly too and I had a great day at the Fair with my family. I recommend the cinnamon rolls for pre-lunch snacking!