Gamification in Marketing Research – Is it Time to Get in the Game?

Gamification in Marketing Research – Is it Time to Get in the Game?

Long before the first person rigged a carrot stick in front of a horse, the motivating benefits of gaming techniques have been a part of human society. Today, the term ‘gamification’ is becoming more common in marketing discussions, but not everyone defines it in the same way. According to the Gamification Research Network, gamification is simply “the use of game design elements in non-game contexts.” This is nothing new to most of us. We need look no further than our mobile phones to see how thoroughly ingrained gamification has become in our daily lives. From apps like Snapchat to Pokémon Go, Couch to 5K, and Todoist, everything from photo sharing to improving personal productivity becomes more fun with gaming principles and techniques.

“If you make a game, gamers will play it no matter what your motivation is in making it.”

~Jane McGonical, Ph.D., Director of Games Research & Development, Institute for the Future

    Recently, marketing researchers have been exploring the use of gamification techniques in online survey design. In fact, according to a recent GRIT report, gamification is one of the top 10 methods used to optimize online surveys. Sixty percent of research professionals say they currently use this technique or are considering using this technique. While the trend is likely here to stay, it’s important to critically assess the role of gamification in your market research studies. Ask yourself these three questions before you “gamify” your next online survey:

    • What factors are prompting your desire to use gamification?
    • What techniques are right for your research needs?
    • What pitfalls should be avoided?

    Why Mix Gamification with Marketing Research?

    • Gamification makes participating in marketing research more engaging and meaningful.
    • Gamification in marketing research encourages respondents to share accurate, candid, and detailed feedback on products and services.

    The Gamification Research Network states that, “Gamification primarily aims at increasing users’ positive motivations towards given activities or use of technology, and thereby, increases the quantity and quality of the output of the given activities.” This is precisely the goal of all marketing research initiatives – to encourage participants to take part in studies with a positive, engaged mindset, in order to provide the most accurate and detailed information about their opinions, perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors. Maximizing response rates can be challenging in an age where consumers have so many external media sources vying for their attention. Keeping respondents interested and engaged during the survey experience is necessary in order to collect the most accurate data possible. With that goal in mind, marketing researchers are increasingly looking to gamification techniques as a way to optimize the survey-taking experience and the resulting outcomes.

    Which Techniques Are Right for You?

    Here are some effective ways to enhance online surveys using gamification techniques.

    Progress Bars

    Visual indicators that show participants how far along they are in the survey
    Key Benefit: Encourages survey completion, minimizes drop-out rates

    Slider Bars

    Use a slider bar on a continuum line or scaled response question to capture intensity of response
    Key Benefit: Yields a greater difference in response not captured in fixed rating scales

    Star Ratings

    Click on one or more stars to indicate opinions
    Key Benefit: Yields a greater differentiation in response due to difference in meaning attributed to “stars” vs. arbitrary numbers on a scale

    Drag & Drop

    Use cursor to select response icons for attributes, product features, purchase decision criteria, etc., or move icons to category areas (high, medium, low importance, etc.)
    Key Benefit: Minimizes automatic, repetitive answers or “straightlining.” Responses are more thoughtful, yielding greater accuracy, more precise differentiation

    Participant Challenges

    Ask participants to list as many questions as possible in a set amount of time. Give participants a goal number of responses to strive for.
    Key Benefit: Participant is motivated to provide immediate first reactions, truly top-of-mind recall without over-thinking. The time limit (whether enforced or not) introduces an element of success when completed, enhancing the survey-taking experience.

    Virtual Currency

    Create purchase decision scenarios, with constraints on availability of virtual funds
    Key Benefit: Puts participant in a real-world mindset where price and available funds play a role in the purchase decision. Cost factors are contextualized, yielding richer feedback on non-price related factors driving consideration and purchase intent.

    Interactive Question Wording

    Use a conversational tone in question wording
    Key Benefit: Contextualize data in real-world scenarios vs. artificial or quantitative framework (proportion of purchases, frequency of usage, etc.) Obtain greater specificity of response, reasons “why” beyond the “what.”


    What to Watch Out For

    • Longer Surveys – Gamification techniques tend to take respondents slightly longer to use than traditional radio buttons, or numeric rating responses. However, research suggests that when participants are engaged and enjoy the survey taking experience, they tend to underestimate the time it took to complete compared to less engaging surveys.
    • Limit to Statistical Analysis – When replacing numeric scale rating questions with slider bars on continuum lines, mean ratings and statistical significance testing should be used with caution. Resulting data is better presented in a visual, non-numeric format.
    • Issues with Trend Ability – Any changes made to an ongoing trended study need to be made with caution as they may impact the accuracy of comparing responses over time.
    • Response Bias/Winning the Game – Gamification implicitly suggests that there are “better” or “right” answers to questions, which can introduce potential response bias (giving answers thought to “be right” or “please” the researcher/firm).
    • Time to Field – Depending on the survey length and level of customization, incorporating gamification techniques may take additional time to program unique features.

    Parting Thoughts

    Like any new technology, gamification techniques shouldn’t be used simply because they exist. Instead, carefully assess the quality of your online survey data and look for ways to improve it. Are you experiencing declining response rates? Are your drop-out rates rising? Do you seek to uncover more nuanced differences in opinions about various brand, product, or service attributes? If so, identifying opportunities to enhance the survey-taking experience using gamification techniques is well worth considering.


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