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Why Your Branded Content Marketing Should Put Gaming Into Play

future of marketing-start pageReaching and engaging consumers in today’s digital, always-connected marketplace requires unprecedented multi-platform, cross-promotional messaging agility. Content marketing techniques employ a gamut of informative, educational, useful, and entertaining assets that are ideally coordinated to deliver consistent, yet targeted, messages about a brand to meticulously segmented audience groups.

One particular engagement technique that’s gaining traction is the use of gamified content. Often delivered as a native advertising unit, it’s a strategy that combines branded content within interactive opt-in tools like social media, games, and events — all designed to foster two-way relationships with consumers. It includes the introduction of quizzes, contests, and challenges to pull consumers into branded content.

Strategic content development for targeted audiences

Great native engagement campaigns integrate gaming elements with social media, freebies or prizing, and information, all wrapped together with a theme that’s punchy, memorable, and fun. Incentives to share on social networks help extend the campaign’s reach and individual engagement. It’s all part of a friendly relationship-building exercise that characterizes the kind of brand preference consumers are gravitating towards these days. No longer will they respond to one-way marketing. Consumers want an equal part in the relationship today, so successful marketers will make it worth their while.

Development of gamified content is extremely strategic and reliant upon first-hand knowledge of the target audience. Done right, it’s content marketing at its best, providing information tailored to meet the key audience demographics, psychographics, digital literacy, interests, and even diminishing attention spans.

One of the initial steps in planning for gamified branded content is to understand the key performance indicators (KPIs) of each campaign. In a gamified approach, content is built into gaming steps that are created and combined to maximize ROI against those KPIs. Other factors taken into account include the target audience, brand tone or voice, the item/service being sold, and seasonal factors.

The process for gamification

Gamified content is first devised to fit the brand and the specific campaign’s needs and goals. Content creators must consider how the brand sees itself — and its key consumers — before even thinking about how it will build a gaming aspect into a branded content piece. Steps include:

  • Knowing your brand voice: To get a sense of a brand’s intrinsic tone, start by looking at the voice of the content that’s already on its social pages — is it serious, conservative, sarcastic, playful, or edgy? The gamified content will need to fit the brand’s overall personality, so it should align with the overall messaging style.
  • Crafting your messages: Next, key messages must be incorporated into the branded content “game plan.” An easy way to do this is by including entertaining facts in your content, which should be concisely crafted to deliver impactful, memorable sound bites. Remember, in gamified content, the user experience itself is likely to be brief — so a well-executed messaging plan is vital to ensuring that consumers’ memory of the content will be much more lasting.
  • Knowing your audience — and segmenting it accordingly: Campaign audiences are segmented according to criteria befitting the brand and its messages. Age groups, income levels, education, and cultural distinctions are among many important factors when developing game-centric branded content. For example, if you are targeting a hardcore gaming audience, they will likely be more engaged by games with a relatively complex series of steps than a digital neophyte audience would tolerate. And while frequent online shoppers might persist through multiple steps of a game, they would likely expect punchier graphics than would players who are not used to spending a lot of time online.
  • Going outside your brand’s comfort zone: Using game-centric content to build brand awareness and preference among an “outlier audience” — such as making an old-school product seem “hip” to young adults — might require adoption of a specific tone not previously associated with your brand. For this reason, crafting your game play into a series of ongoing challenges might work well, as it allows your brand to build a relationship of understanding over time. In this way, behavioral preferences become part of the user database, so that future challenges can be designed to fit the target audience with increased accuracy.

Content that comes alive

Effective content customizes the message and format to the target audience, like puzzle pieces. For instance,’s Grandparents Gone Wired campaign wanted to encourage young people to help facilitate senior citizens’ ability to use today’s technology. The campaign educated participants about the history of technology in communication and incentivized them to share their knowledge with older relatives.

The program began with an interactive challenge — a short, fun, trivia quiz testing the participant’s knowledge about various technologies. Content built into the quiz was relevant to the campaign and appealed to the audience members’ interests, as well as their pride in being proficient in all things digital. In addition, it was created to educate young people about the relative novelty of technological developments, demonstrating for them that much of what they know so well was actually introduced long after their grandparents’ prime.

Effectively, the content was devised to lure the young participants into the next step by pointing out how their proficiency naturally surpassed their elders’. After completing the quiz, participants were invited to extend their engagement by using Instagram to take and submit photos of them teaching grandparents how to use new technology. The best photos submitted by participants were eligible to win prizes, including a sizable scholarship to the college or graduate school of the winner’s choice.

The campaign leveraged the use of Instagram-generated photos to bring each story to life. Therein lies the golden rule: Inclusion of various tactical campaign pieces depends on fitting the content information and delivery mechanism to the end user. For example, Pew Research Center’s 2013 Internet & American Life Project report showed that 43 percent of 18- to 29-year-old cell phone users also use Instagram — a number bound to rise given that Instagram is now considered the second-most important social network to American teens (tied with Facebook behind Twitter).

grandma with laptop, ebay sign

When it comes to engagement, every brand needs to create relevant content (though some brands need it more than others). Many companies have something great to offer that can’t be summed up in a 30-second spot, so getting the chance to engage an audience is crucial to selling the product. That’s why content creation around a gamified approach is so appealing for brands looking to grow their relevance to a target audience — it allows for content to be digested while also increasing the amount of time a consumer spends with a particular brand, overall.

The Grandparents Gone Wired campaign was geared toward an audience (young people) that wouldn’t necessarily jump at the chance to spend Saturday afternoons with their grandmothers. Therefore, the task of the content creators was to convince them it would be a fun activity. Hitting kids over the head with raw data on depression rates in the elderly wouldn’t work, but that same information conveyed through a challenge format is far more appealing to a Millennial.

Challenging convention: Attracting gamified groupies

In addition to strategic content development, creating a rewarding user experience is a vital key to success in native engagement. A meaningful interactive connection is the linchpin that sets emerging forms of content marketing apart from conventional advertising and its diminishing effectiveness. Consumers will only invest time and attention where they perceive a mutual value exchange — they get something in return, whether it’s useful information, a free service or utility, or simply entertainment. Gamified content provides this in spades — challenges are fun for the user and create opportunities to share their experiences with others via social channels, thereby increasing overall exposure.

MITX, New England’s premier internet business and marketing association, used gamified content to generate engagement in pursuit of recruitment. When MITX organized FutureM, its annual event showcasing innovation, emerging technology, and the brightest minds in industry, its goal for the 2013 conference was to attract the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs — students filling the top-notch bastions of higher education. This presented an interesting quandary: Innovation begets innovators, so how can you attract young people to a technology event focused on innovation?

Realizing that the market has moved beyond the transactional heyday of Evite and Eventbrite, event organizers needed a fresh approach. The goals were to educate students about the event and build excitement for attending. Driving registrations required an innovative approach, not only to heighten awareness, but also to maintain audience attention all the way to event commencement. In a world where attention spans grow shorter by the tweet, a mere Facebook fan page was not the solution. This would require more than a sign-up page — event organizers needed to draw the target audience in, create an experience, capitalize on relevant trends, and simultaneously educate them about the companies and individuals to make FutureM a must-attend event.

Organizers reasoned that Millennials have grown up in an era of game play, so why not leverage a gamified experience to attract and entice them? The content creators translated juicy event details into the FutureM Challenge, an online guessing game, shareable through social media. The game built anticipation and curiosity using content that encouraged interaction and sharing on social channels.

The campaign was distributed across multiple platforms and networks to reach the identified segment, and was also promoted through an email marketing strategy. Students were offered the chance to win an all-access pass to FutureM by participating in a challenge that tested their brand awareness and social media knowledge of the big-name brands involved in the conference, including Hasbro, GE, and Scholastic. At the heart of this strategy was the special sauce: The games delivered the “fun factor,” while the content of the message drove students to share their contest experience through social media, thus encouraging their cohorts to join in.

The results? More than 15,000 students were reached, and a hugely successful FutureM conference convened.

futurem quiz example
When the contest is fun and engaging, participants are naturally driven to share their experience with others. Buttons for social sharing are easily identifiable and make it possible to invite friends and colleagues to participate.

However, there is more to the story than the numbers:

  • Quality content was essential to the success of the game and its results. The FutureM Challenge achieved relevance by testing its audience’s familiarity with the big business names associated with FutureM.
  • It was intriguing, which helped build anticipation and excitement.
  • It was designed to encourage social sharing to increase reach.
  • The campaign “gamified” the interaction experience — in other words, students were challenged to do more than just fill out an admission form.
  • The content within the contest was topical, ensuring that students learned why MITX’s FutureM conference was best of breed, both in content and the high-grade speakers who would deliver that information.
  • It had strong viral potential: The strategy created substantial growth in FutureM’s audience by motivating participants to take one action (playing the game) that led to another action (encouraging their friends to play) —­ and extended the campaign’s reach sequentially.

“Innovation is the lifeblood of the MITX FutureM event, and it underpins the goals our speakers have when they step on that stage: engage, excite and inspire,” said Debi Kleiman, President of MITX. “Likewise, our gamified campaign excited our targeted audiences and drove them to not only attend the FutureM conference, but [also] to become involved in inventive ways that increased awareness of our impressive panelist lineup and challenged attendees to learn more.”


Content creators have new options to effectively reach a target audience. In a world full of targeted advertorials and Facebook snooping, native engagement re-empowers content marketers to deliver their message via a platform that responds to the changing ways we digest information, while also eliminating the backlash so often felt by native advertising. By gamifying content, a new conduit for reaching consumers is formed, all in a way that solicits their involvement honestly and rewards them for their interest in a brand.

Remember these simple steps:

  • Create unique content served up via a gamified experience.
  • Develop seamless interaction with social channels to drive content sharing.
  • Integrate fun into the process, balancing content with an interactive challenge utilizing the best practices of gamification.

A well-conceived, multi-platform content marketing strategy that leverages gamified content will not only gain attention, but also loyal followers who are eager to learn more and share their experience with others.

Looking for more inspiring ideas for getting audiences to spend more time with your branded content? Read CMI’s Content Marketing Playbook: 24 Epic Ideas for Connecting with Your Customers.