Gamification is Nothing New to Marketing Research

Gamification has historically played an important role in marketing research.  Researchers have known for a very long time that participation is rarely motivated by altruism or the simple joy of answering our questions, and that something more is needed to gain respondents’ attention and engage them throughout the research process.  In the old days, research outside the ivory towers of academia was not as wide spread and certainly not as familiar to the general public as it is today.  Back then researchers could find all types of “virgin” respondents – consumers, business people, non-profit stakeholders, employees – many of whom really did believe in the idea that their participation was contributing to a larger good, who rallied to the research industry’s cry “Your Opinion Makes A Difference,” and who actually enjoyed the research experience.  Indeed, it doesn’t seem that long ago when a significant portion of a moderator’s introduction to a group discussion always required an explanation of what a focus group is.

The research landscape has increasingly changed over time.  For any number of reasons – growing awareness, abuse and cynicism derived from poorly designed studies – participation levels have dropped and researchers have had to develop, and continually refine, new design features that serve to attract and engage the sample population while producing meaningful, actionable research findings.  These features have most frequently involved some sort of monetary incentive or material prize (gift), given as direct “payment” to all participants or by way of a raffle or charitable contribution; and given for all completions or withholding payment until survey responses are validated.

But researchers are compelled to go beyond incentives and use other ploys to captivate participants.  In this respect, researchers are grateful for the online mode that enables them to devise interesting new ways to involve respondents, including Reward Points for panelists, survey progress bars, innovative rating scales (drag-and-drop, sliders), and inventive use of video and graphics in both qualitative and quantitative studies.

All of these design features are intended to “gamify” the research process.  Although some have questioned the appropriateness of gamification in marketing research, the fact is that it is already part and parcel of our research designs.  Marketing researchers have long understood that – as Gabe Zichermann states in the GoogleTechTalks “Fun is the Future: Mastering Gamification” – “intrinsic motivation is over” and has been over in the marketing research world for some time.  But unlike the earlier impediments to respondent engagement, researchers are now faced with the relatively new phenomenon of social media.   Zichermann rightly asserts that “our social media presence is omnipresent,” leaving him to wonder, “Is there an internal life for people?”   A diminished “internal life” should make us question “whether or not there is an intrinsic versus extrinsic reward system anymore at all.”

So what is a researcher to do?  If you are Elias Veris, you focus on building research communities where participants are rewarded with badges, points, and immediate feedback, along with team competition complete with leaderboard status.  Veris believes that researchers “must gamify the process of research [and] change the user experience [via] a gamified platform. “  If extrinsic reward is the only reward there is for our research participants then maybe highly-social, community-based designs are the way to go.  But is that good research?  What are the variables at play in such a design and how do we factor that into our interpretation and use of the research?

We have learned a lot over the years about the impact of incentives and how to best gamify marketing research designs.  The future will test our skills at determining the appropriateness of a whole host of new tactics and their effect on the validity and reliability of our designs.

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