by Rachel Wolery, Aimia | May 05, 2014
In today’s competitive, changing business landscape, where smaller budgets reign and loyalty is harder and harder to come by, it’s no surprise that CEOs, marketing executives, and sales leaders want to figure out how to maximize their investments in building real, personal channel partner relationships that thrive over the long-term.

To increase channel partner engagement and loyalty while keeping expenses on a tight leash, many are looking to an important trend, ‘gamification,’ as a possible option. According to consultant Tom Ruesink, a frequent speaker and workshop leader, gamification is the “process of using game thinking and game mechanics to solve problems and engage audiences.” Examples can include virtual badges, points, achievement levels and progress bars. 

In fact, research leader Gartner has predicted that by 2015, 70 percent of Global 2000 organizations will use gamification in some way, whether it is for employee learning, marketing, customer retention or website usage behavior. Top companies such as Google and Astra Zeneca to SAP and Deloitte have implemented gamification techniques to increase engagement. 

But is gamification just a fad? No. Can it really boost channel loyalty and build the kind of real, personal relationships for which you’re looking? At Aimia, we believe the answer is an unequivocal ‘yes.’ Paul Sage, product management director at Aimia, explains: “Incorporating game mechanics into an incentive program makes that activity challenging and fun. In turn, the participant wants to work harder and is more motivated to accomplish the set goals.”

Beyond Traditional Incentives
As an alternative to long-term traditional sales incentives and rewards where sales people or channel partners work towards travel, merchandise or commission checks, gamification grabs onto that intrinsic motivation and brings it front and center with recognition and rewards. Game mechanics can motivate channel partners to interact with a sales platform regularly, even daily, leading to more consistent motivation and higher sales returns. 

Also, today’s companies know that getting the right ROI on channel programs isn’t easy - engaging an up-and-coming workforce of game-savvy, social-media-steeped Millennials requires out-of-the-box thinking. According to gamification consultant Tom Ruesink, the average 21-year-old has spent over 10,000 hours gaming. So gamification, particularly in a business context, is something young employees or channel partners can certainly relate to - and is something every company can consider, if they implement it in the right way. 

Best Practices: The Four Ps of Gamification
Good program design is a gamification must. In order to successfully integrate game mechanics into a channel loyalty initiative, the program must address the user journey, tie in properly to an organization’s objectives and be communicated when/where/how the user wants. If it does not, a gamification effort will, at best, be just a throwaway activity that doesn’t actually drive measurable results. 

For the best outcome when designing a gamification program, focus on these four important best practice “Ps” of gamification design: 

1. Progress. In a gamification effort, mechanics are designed to show a participant’s progress through the system - so a player is crystal-clear when he has succeeded. These progress markers could include badges, points, levels, status, progress bars, bonus pars, or leaderboards. However, it’s essential that the player or team fully understands how the scoring mechanisms work, with clear calls-to-action.
2. Player Customization. Today’s users are accustomed to expressing themselves and sharing experiences through social media, so gamified systems usually encourage that - through avatars, messaging, status updates, photo uploads and ‘likes.’
3. Platform. A gamified platform is typically set up to drive and guide the participant on a journey with clear calls-to-action for sign-on, onboarding and returns; using compelling designs, newsfeeds, sounds, etc. to draw users in and encourage them to come back. 
4. Prize/Award Strategy. An essential part of gamification is the reward, whether that is an actual prize, a virtual good, or simply recognition. The most important element is to recognize or reward the user for progress in a way that is meaningful to him or her. Weaving principles of scarcity, surprise/delight and a variable reward structure into the prize/award strategy can also increase participation and results.
Competitive Game Play Equals Real ROI 
When properly designed, adding gamification techniques to a channel sales program can yield tangible results: The paragraph below showcases an example of a tier-one automotive finance client that needed an incentive tool to boost finance contract sales. The client’s goal was one million contract sales before the end of the fiscal year. This was a lofty goal, since that amount had never before been attained. 

An online ‘Spin & Win’ game was developed, which offered randomized merchandise and individual award payouts for a specific number of contracts sold above a minimum objective, ranging from $50 to $10,000. The program ran over nine weeks, with 1,200 managers and selling teams participating in competitive groups. The more finance contracts were sold, the more game plays each group earned. 

The company communicated about the program through a print announcement brochure and nine follow-up emails. A customized website featured program enrollment, game playing, participant bank accounts, an awards catalog/ordering and management reporting functions.

The program generated an ROI of more than 220 percent. The participants, as a whole, exceeded their sales objective by 8,000 contracts. 

Maximize Motivation With Gamification
You can build channel loyalty by engaging, inspiring, and motivating partners to be successful. With the right gamification techniques, you can encourage them to sell more, learn about your products more deeply and close deals faster. 

The right gamified design can help you reach your specific goals and objectives when it comes to boosting channel partner loyalty and engagement -- and continue to grow your mutually-beneficial, profitable relationship. 

Rachel Wolery is a product marketing manager at Aimia, specializing in employee and channel loyalty solutions. 

Aimia Inc. is a global leader in loyalty management. Employing more than 4,300 people in 20 countries worldwide, Aimia offers clients, partners and members proven expertise in launching and managing coalition loyalty programs, delivering proprietary loyalty services, creating value through loyalty analytics and driving innovation in the emerging digital, mobile and social communications spaces. Aimia owns and operates Aeroplan, Canada's premier coalition loyalty program, Nectar, the United Kingdom's largest coalition loyalty program, Nectar Italia, and Smart Button, a leading provider of SaaS loyalty solutions. In addition, Aimia owns stakes in Air Miles Middle East, Mexico's leading coalition loyalty program Club Premier, Brazil's Prismah Fidelidade, China Rewards - the first coalition loyalty program in China that enables members to earn and redeem a common currency, and i2c, a joint venture with Sainsbury's offering insight and data analytics services in the UK to retailers and suppliers. Aimia also holds minority positions in Cardlytics, a US-based private company operating in card-linked marketing for electronic banking and Think Big, the owner and operator of BIG - AirAsia and Tune Group's loyalty program. Aimia is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX: AIM). For more information, visit