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.
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.
When we talk about content marketing, marketers are usually referring to those ambiguously successful efforts like brand building, awareness and top of the funnel engagement. Efforts not accountable to sales numbers, of course.
How about a form of content marketing that boosts the selling price of an item 9 times over? Check out this bandana for sale at the Austin airport.
There’s nothing to distinguish this bandana from one you can buy at a drug store for less than a dollar. Except for the packaging. Printed on low budget construction paper, the content turns an ordinary bandana into a cowboy bandana, perfect for business travelers looking for a last minute souvenir. (This is Texas after all.)
Plus you get the list of all the amazing things you can do with the bandana which includes such helpful suggestions as ‘a sling for a broken arm’ and ‘a muzzle for a biting horse.’ It’s one of those things where you know it’s kind of lame, and the person you give it to knows, but it qualifies as an appropriate gift so you get credit anyways.
In the end the ten cent piece of paper turns the $1 bandana into a $8.99 souvenir gift. Now that’s what I call content marketing with ROI!
We talked a while back about how the moment the customer opens their shipment is the climax of the customer experience and the ultimate single make or break point for brand delivery. By that time, the results are beyond our control as marketers. Once the product leaves the warehouse, the die is cast.
Before we get to that point though, we do have chances to influence the final impression. It’s our job to tip the scales in our favor as much as we can. To do that, we must build anticipation for the solution that our customer is waiting for until they can’t wait to tear open the package when it finally does arrive.
The only real caution here is to avoid setting expectations beyond what your product or service can deliver. The product has to come first and I’m assuming that we’ve already got something that does its job. And it’s always wise to save a few surprises for the very end. In the meantime though, there are plenty of ways to whet the appetite.
- Make estimated delivery updates available at each phase of completion
- Offer a photo or PDF of your customer’s custom product before it’s boxed up and email it
- Display happy testimonials on your order confirmation emails
- Send an email with tips and suggestions on how to use their product in the days before it arrives
- Mail a handwritten thank you note on the purchase date or email a short comment that is unique to them
I’m sure you can think up many others. These are not cheap marketing tricks though. Anticipation is part of the customer experience. And it’s an opportunity for us to increase customer satisfaction because people want it.
The process surrounding a product is part of the product. Once you’ve created a pleasant expectation in your customer’s mind, they’re very likely to have a positive ultimate experience (unless you completely botch the job.) Think of how good a bakery smells in the morning. Once you’ve got idea of a warm, tasty bagel in your mind, and spend 5 minutes waiting to get a fresh one, chances are you’re going to be happy when you get it.
Most of the time the reason behind this dynamic of persuasion is cognitive dissonance – people don’t want to disagree with themselves. When you buy shoes online, you’re placing your trust in that shoe retailer. You’ve paid your money and, in a sense, placed a bet that you’ve picked out the right company. You want your decision to be affirmed as a good one and will tend to lean toward that conclusion when the shoes arrive.
One of the old sales tricks that salespeople employ is to get the prospect saying yes, even if it’s not directly related to a sale. Once they start saying yes to the small things, they’ll be more likely to keep saying yes. In our case, they’ve already said yes to the big question; they’ve made a purchase. We’re trying to keep the momentum going past the sale and into the product unboxing.
By maintaining contact with customer pre-delivery, you’re making that pull toward a happy conclusion a little stronger. In various ways, you’re telling them ‘you made a good decision, you’re going to be happy when your product arrives, you are a smart shopper…’
Once the customers internalize those messages, they’ll start repeating them to themselves and others, expanding your branding statements even further.What are some ways that you can create positive anticipation that can add to your customer’s experience?
What’s the difference between the pesky magazine subscription inserts that fall into your lap when you’re trying to read an article and your personal business cards that you slaved over, shelled big bucks for and stake your reputation on? To the manufacturer, not much.
To the printer’s eye, it’s all just ink on cardstock. Ask the consumer though, and the difference is obvious: one is obnoxious advertising that you didn’t ask for, the other was co-created by you to be perfect. The difference in those points of view has never been greater and that spells opportunity for manufacturers.
(Good) Content Producers Add Value for Money
Artists and content producers have long known about that ability to add value to simple production materials. That’s why Renoir canvases go for millions of dollars and your art school homework gets $5 at a garage sale. By arranging their paint or design or text in certain ways, the artist has the potential to sell their products for a profit. For the manufacturer making the materials used in production, it doesn’t help them a whole lot. It’s better than making generic widgets maybe, but the author of the content has the best chance to make the money.
Things are different these days. The modern trend of mass customization through micro-quantity manufacturing is fueling a major Do It Yourself movement. People are empowered to produce their own content and products and want to do so, to show the world how unique they are.
Digital Manufacturers Enable Production for Money
This enables a really amazing opportunity for manufacturers that produce personalized stuff. Technology improvements now allow one-off production of things that used to require production runs of thousands. With the right tools in place, they can accept content produced by customers in the form of graphics, text, video, etc. and turn it into a tangible product. And sell it at a premium price. To the manufacturer equipped with digital production technology, they couldn’t care less whether they’re producing one order of 1,000 pieces or 1,000 orders of 1 piece. Except that they can charge a lot more for orders of 1 piece, even though their production costs are basically the same. After all, it’s just ink on cotton or toner on paper to them.
What happens to the content producer who sends their original design to a t-shirt shop now? They get the opportunity to see their work come to life in a real way, even if they have to pay to get it. That’s something I guess – it wasn’t even possible a few years ago. Meanwhile, the t-shirt shop that produces the item takes home a very large percentage of profit while effectively outsourcing their design development for free. At least the designer gets a cool shirt out of the deal.