A new buzzword has crept its way into business boardrooms; the concept of ‘gamification’. ‘Gamification’ aims to tap directly into the natural human behaviour of playing games by encouraging the use of gaming mechanics such as badges, levels, achievements and leaderboards for non-gaming applications.

By creating an experience that people engage with physically, mentally and emotionally, businesses are fostering a new way to connect with their customers that will help stimulate further innovation.

In fact, Gartner analysts have predicted that by 2015, more than 70 per cent of global organisations will have at least one gamified application and go as far as to say that a gamified service for consumer goods marketing and customer retention will become as important as Facebook, eBay or Amazon.

There is no doubt that gamification is an effective way of engaging customers, with many brands such as Nike and Green Giant adopting the technique to build relationships and create a community of customers or brand advocates. However, any gamification strategy must take into account some key mechanics to help stimulate and maintain a sense of brand engagement, loyalty and advocacy.

Firstly, gamification should be implemented to support users’ natural gaming behaviour and capture their imagination. Empowering users through tough yet achievable challenges, allow them to evolve from a state of initial curiosity in a brand, to a state of willing engagement.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly in the current age of social media, the application should encourage collaboration between its players. This mechanic appeals to the natural desire to work together and solve a problem, and can also instil a healthy dose of competitive spirit.

Foursquare is a great example of using gamification, with many businesses realising its potential and subsequently incorporating it into their social media propositions. Through the use of badges and other rewards, Foursquare encourages users to increase the number of times users enter their location data, allowing businesses to leverage the idea to continually engage customers and guarantee repeat business.

For example, Debenhams on Oxford Street offered its customers who ‘checked in’ at the store, free coffee every Friday, while promising free coffee to the ‘Mayor’ whenever they chose to visit the London store.

The concept of gamification is slowly gaining ground in the business world and is certainly not a passing fad. However the technique is still very much in its infancy and must grow and develop to push businesses in new directions and attract new audiences.

Tearfund has recently adopted gamification for this purpose, by building a mobile app that incorporates social media channels and gaming strategies such as rewards and achievements. With the number of young people volunteering down for the first time since 2008, Tearfund aims to reengage this audience through gamification, by transforming the image of volunteering into a “shared social action”.

Gamification is a technique that can be adopted across industries, with the mechanics of collaboration, progression and reward showing their worth as a compelling method of inspiring brand devotion. The biggest successes and perhaps the easiest introduction currently will be sites where people are already interacting with each other in an easily measureable manner.

Sites that encourage fundraising, comments and purchases for example will be areas where gamification can really take off. One thing that is for sure is gamification is here to stay, and it will be interesting to see how it develops.