by Leo Jakobson | September 30, 2013
Every year, Incentive gathers a group of experienced professionals from every sector of motivation, engagement, and incentives to talk about the state of the industry. On June 20, 12 participants gathered at the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, FL, for some sun, sand, and serious conversation. Topics this year ranged from government regulation and return on investment to gamification and the return of luxury. 

What follows is a more detailed and extended version of that discussion regarding gamification and incentives.

INCENTIVE: Gamification seems to be a big issue, particularly with Millennials. What are you seeing?

MICHAEL DOMINGUEZ, Senior Vice President, Corporate Hotel Sales, MGM Resorts International; Chair, Meeting Professionals International; and Executive Committee Member, U.S. Travel Association: Actually, the largest demographic playing games is 34- to 54-year-old women. They make decisions in buying. What’s fascinating is that they’re going to spend an hour and a half a day playing games. Last year, more people went on the Internet to play games than anything else. It’s interesting that this is part of their lives; it’s part of their behavior now. So, how do you factor that into a year-long program as you’re building up to it?

JOE KELLER, President and COO, MotivAction: We’re building gamification into probably half of our [incentive programs’ websites] right now. It’s interesting that gamification and engagement seem to be the new terms, because they’ve been around forever — sweepstakes, sports-themed programs, and fulfillment houses used to do them all the time. It’s just gone electronic. The thing about gamification is that it adds a lot of fun to the program and people want to have fun. When you’re doing the work of one-and-a-half people or two people, compared to what it used to be, adding a little bit of fun is really important. And it’s simple; it’s not rocket science. There’s not a new idea out there for gaming. And it’s critical for engagement. 

IAN O’BRIEN, President and CEO, We have a customer who is driving us in a different direction with regard to gamification. What they’ve challenged us to do is to apply gamification in a slightly different context, to create a competitive environment inside the organization. To them, it’s not about having fun. Yes, you’re going to play games, but they want tocreate an environment where it’s competitive. They’re earning awards for participating in different programs, and they’re earning recognition for that, and that recognition becomes a visible, competitive leader board.

KELLER: We just finished a six-month program for a top-five bank in the country. It was to educate a big department about regulatory compliance. They had a question of the day for six straight months, and a leaderboard was created around those questions. It’s creating a competition, yet you’re talking about regulatory compliance. The questions aren’t always around regulatory compliance. For example, tomorrow or the next day, we’re going to find out who the NBA champion is, so we might seed that question in, just for fun. But then they would come back to the compliance questions. It’s education and gamification all wrapped into one, and itbrought to them where they’re at. 

MIKE MAY, President, Spear One, and Trustee, Incentive Research Foundation: I think the challenge in gamification for [incentive providers] is not just adding a game into a contest, but gamifying a part of their work experience. If you’re launching a new product, instead of a communication about it, how do you insert the new product information into a game? On the back-end of training, instead of the training reinforcement quiz, how can you make that quiz into a game so that they play and it adds a fun element?

DOMINGUEZ: Volvo in Sweden put together experiments trying to prove that making things fun can change behavior — and that is the goal of incentive, travel, and motivation programs. It’s about behavior. [Volvo] took a subway in Sweden, watched it for a day, and saw everybody taking the escalator because there’s something like 80 stairs. Overnight, they made the stairs into a piano — it makes sounds as you’re walking on it, and it lights up. The next day, 66 percent of the traffic took the stairs. 

MAY: The key word is behavior. I think that’s a big trend that we’re seeing within the incentive programs we’re operating, because sales cycles have become so complex. So, we’re breaking down the incentive contests into smaller steps. Maybe the first step is you just go through a training program or a learning exercise, or you get certified, then maybe you’re rewarding a proposal or a deal about registration. Instead of a 12-month program, it’s about baby-stepping people through behaviors.

ANNMARIE MOLINELLI, Vice President, Marketing Manager, M&T Securities, Inc: It’s all about behaviors, 100 percent. It’s almost like everybody forgot the basics of the business. Now it’s, how do we get people back on track? It’s behavior-driven activities that we use as part of our programs, and it’s working.