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Using gamification in your marketing strategy - examples and ideas for promotions gamification

May 4, 2018

The psychology and brain patterns responsible for successful gamification in online promotions and digital marketing explained.

In this post we will explore the psychology and use cases of gamification for your digital marketing strategy. 

You will learn:

  • What gamification is.
  • Some examples of gamification from top players on the market. 
  • Psychology behind gamification – Novelty Effect, Urgency and Windfall Gains
  • Many use cases and inspirations for your marketing strategy.
  • Some tips on how to get started.

There’s a lot to uncover here, so let’s spin this wheel. 

Update: Voucherify now supports the new promotion type – giveaways. If you are interested in learning more, visit our support article.

Using gamification in your marketing strategy

Gamification is defined as “the process of using game mechanics and game thinking in non-gaming contexts to engage users and solve problems.”

Marketing techniques based on gamification seek to take advantage of people’s natural drives for competition, socialization and fun. There are a number of possible uses of gamification in your marketing strategy with the most common being the use of rewards for customers who perform certain tasks.

Marketing gamification strategies operate on several levels:

  • Points or other virtual currency.
  • Leaderboards (increases competition, but make sure to keep customers private data secure).
  • Challenges.
  • Onboarding.
  • Re-engagement actions.
  • Visual and textual cohesion.

Since the very beginnings of gamification a decade ago, it has grown into a great business area with a constantly increasing market value. Real examples of gamified online promotions are all around including promotion strategies from the biggest e-commerce giants.

Examples of gamification

Strabucks Rewards - an example of gamification

Starbucks uses gamification to boost sales and deepen customer loyalty. After signing up to the app, active Starbucks clients earn Stars which are later exchanged for free products and discounts. Available rewards depend on a customer’s “level” reflecting their tier of user loyalty.

McDonald's Monopoly example of campaign gamification

McDonald’s used the classic game of Monopoly to maximize customer engagement and again, boost sales. Users play to collect “pieces” with unique codes for McDonald’s products. In 2010 alone, this game increased McDonald’s sales by nearly 6% (USA).

How gamification can help your marketing campaign?

  • Encourage customer engagement and interaction.
  • Use contests to encourage specific customer behaviors to achieve your business goals
  • Increase social media following
  • Create positive emotional attachment and nurture brand loyalty.

What makes gamified promotions work so well? Let’s find out.

If we start to dig deeper, you’ll see that gamification is, in fact, a combination of well-known marketing tactics like the Novelty Effect, Sense of Urgency and finally, Windfall Gains.

Looking for a thrill - The Novelty Effect

Researchers claim that only entirely novel ideas stimulate the structures of the brain responsible for new, unique experiences. Specific brain reactions explain why we feel so good about new things. For marketers, the novelty effect creates a need to constantly provide customers with new creatives to keep their interest.

The Novelty effect - marketing psychology and gamification

Gamified promotions (at least those done in the right way) are a rare and unexpected experience for users visiting an online store. The first surprise is the game itself, and later, by using multi-level game structure revealing new creatives all the time, brands can keep customers' engagement in the long run.

How can you use it in your marketing strategy?

  • A spinning wheel with different promotions which allows customers to spin the wheel and get a random reward. 
  • Running a loyalty program with weekly events during which customers can receive extra points. 
  • Ask your followers a few quick questions – and then, based on their answers, offer them a carefully-chosen promo code. For example, you could offer bigger discounts to customers who are more familiar with your brand.
  • Run a photo contest for your social media followers. 

Windfall Gains - Driving users into a spending mood

Windfall Gains are benefits which are not 100% expected by the customer. Journal of Marketing Research published a study exploring the impact of Windfall Gains on the propensity to buy. Researchers offered surprise coupons to customers shopping in one of the Stanford stores and tested how they affected buying decisions. The results showed that offering the unexpected incentive to visitors significantly increases the number of unplanned purchases, also driving up the average spend value and basket size.

Windfall Gains - marketing psychology and gamification
Windfall Gains - marketing psychology and gamification

The efficiency of Windfall Gains suggests that value of a discount is subjective and dependent on the kind of experience it invokes. You can compare it to eating a meal in a restaurant; the experience is shaped not only by the taste but also by the way the meal is served. This phenomenon results in better conversion amongst customers who “won” prizes during the game when compared to offering the open discount to every visitor who signs up.

Gamification enables marketers to offer Windfall Gains to customers as many times as they interact or get to the required stage of the game. Thanks to unexpected savings at their fingertips, customers are more likely to get into a spending mood and utilize the reward.

How can you use it in your marketing strategy?

  • Mystery Coupons – let customers draw one deal out of three to add a bit of spiciness to your business.
  • Make the discount codes a part of the contest – launch a 100$ discount codes that will be randomly given to customers who signed up for a newsletter in May.
  • Add an element of surprise by awarding codes at random with a discount code randomly popping up on your website.
  • If you are running an offline marketing campaign, you can offer scratches to in-store customers with 3 levels of discounts – 5%,10% and 15% discounts. 

The sense of urgency - the icing on the cake

One of the most frequent phenomena associated with shopping behavior is a desire to avoid anticipated regrets. It is already proven that consumers find deals much more attractive when incentives are limited in time or available amount.

Sense of Urgency - marketing psychology and gamification

In the picture, you can see two variants of the same online promotion. Adding a simple banner with a promotion time limit enabled the store to increase conversion to 300% when compared to the variant with no banner.

Similarly, you can see a sense of urgency in the McDonald’s monopoly game which despite years since first launching, still drives up new acquisitions and sales. From the very beginning, the game has been limited to short time periods waking up enthusiastic reactions amongst customers each time it starts again.

How can you use it in your marketing strategy?

  • Place a 40% coupon code on your landing page and enable customers to get a discount for the next 12 hours.
  • Offer loyalty credits with a short expiry date to push customers to redeem loyalty rewards.
  • Launch three discounts simultaneously and display them in a row allowing only the first 50 people to click to use the codes creating a sense or urgency and competition.

What you need to keep in mind before implementing gamification into your marketing strategy.

As any new marketing tactic, gamification should be conducted in the spirit of your brand and your unique processes. 

Here are some tips on how to make this process as simple as possible:

  • Use gamification to achieve given business goals – implementing a new strategy just because is not the best approach as it won’t be easy to measure. Select your goal (e.g. more conversions) and start tracking. Spray and pray tactic won’t work well with gamification nor with any other marketing strategy.
  • Base your gamification strategy on customer data and customer preferences - I know that launching a fun app can be very tempting but if your customer base tends to be a little older and seeks more exclusive/luxurious shopping experiences maybe consider other strategy aimed at more mature audience. 
  • Keep it Simple Stupid – games should be easy and fun. If you place 300 rules and 6-pages long Terms and Conditions on top of that, your gamification strategy will be a flop. Choose simple and often cheaper solutions over complex gamified systems. 


Gamified promotions when done in the right way, are a powerful source of new customers, long-time engagement, and conversion growth. The question is, how can you know if you’re running the right gamified promotion? Because gamification is a complex experience shaped by many factors, it is extremely important to track every interaction between your customers and a promotion.

Only with comprehensive real-time tracking can you capture reliable feedback from your audience and schedule respective improvements. Modern e-commerce comes with many tracking features such as unique codes used as rewards and tracking tools used by McDonald’s monopoly. Their example proves that tracking gamified promotions can be nice and easy without the need for extra effort or software built into a game.

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