All Work and No Play? The Impact of Gamification on ‘Traditional’ Industries

What do filling out insurance forms, applying for a mortgage, registering for healthcare benefits, completing data entry, or working with thousands of lines of code have in common with playing video games? Perhaps more than you’d think, thanks to a hot trend called “gamification.”

First introduced by software development companies like Microsoft, who originally adopted the concept to motivate employees, gamification is simply defined as “the application of game-like elements to encourage engagement with a product or service,” says Michael R. Solomon, Ph.D., Professor of Marketing at Saint Joseph’s University.

“Software companies created competitions between regional offices to motivate employees completing repetitive, detail-oriented tasks, like catching errors in lines of code,” says Solomon. But the concept has spread since then. In recent years, says Solomon, companies in a variety of industries have used gamification as both a management tool to engage employees and a marketing strategy to retain customers.

“Businesses that require attention to detail, repeated tasks, or ‘boring’ activities, have an interest in making these processes more palatable, and are drawn to these gamification concepts,” says Solomon.

“There is a lot of interest in the health and wellness area,” he says. “Both by the healthcare and insurance industries to capture the attention of patients, as well as by companies looking to promote wellness among employees.” Some common strategies include points systems for healthy activities or choices, incentive programs with gyms or healthclubs, or online modules that offer rewards for completing required forms.

Another benefit to these strategies is the recruitment of a younger generation of customers and employees. “Millennials are a segment of the population often called ‘digital natives,’” says Solomon. “Their way of processing information and interacting is new for many traditional companies, like mortgage brokerages or banks.”

“This generation is used to receiving direct and immediate feedback when completing tasks, and often has multiple media competing for their attention at once,” he adds.

In a special topics course Solomon taught this past semester, he challenged his students to create a gamification approach to the mortgage application process that could be targeted to millennial customers.

“Though they had little to no experience with the mortgage application process prior to the class,” says Solomon, “their understanding of the millennial mindset and of the elements of gamification led to some creative solutions.”

Proposed strategies included rewards systems, coupon and gift card offers, or other incentives for submitting required forms, and online modules mimicking driving or home-building video games.

Solomon’s primary research interests include consumer behavior and lifestyle issues, branding strategy, the symbolic aspects of products, the psychology of fashion, decoration, and image, services marketing and the development of visually oriented online research methodologies. He has published numerous articles on these and related topics in academic journals, and he has delivered invited lectures on these subjects in the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, Australia, Asia, and Latin America.