The Rise of Gamification in Marketing

Sidharth Suresh IPM 2018-23 BATCH

“Games are the only force in the known universe that can get people to take actions against their self-interest, in a predictable way, without using force.” ― Gabe Zichermann.


The history of gamification is a long and storied one. From the millennium-old Gurukul system prevailing in India to the advent of movements such as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, various forms of gamification ranging from group tasks to performance badges have enabled its beneficiaries to utilise reward-based systems. Jobs once thought to be tedious, time-consuming and straight-up boring could now be split into smaller tasks with incremental benefits to the performer. This would also have the dual benefit of aiding an increase in retention rate and recall. Defined as ‘the application of typical elements of game playing in a non-game environment to encourage engagement with a product or service’, gamification is rapidly changing the way we interact, engage and think.


Gamification and game-based systems utilise biological mechanisms to hijack and reformulate the way individuals perceive the experience of carrying out different tasks. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter of the central nervous system produced in an area widely known as the brain's reward centre. The reward centre is part of an evolutionary mechanism developed to ensure the survival of our species by satisfying basic needs like food, shelter and reproduction. The increased dopamine production is directly linked to the perception of feelings like pleasure and satisfaction in the brain, encouraging us to repeat the behaviours that created these feelings. Gamification takes advantage of this process and retargets it towards the product, information or service being gamified, generating a spike in the interest levels and attention span towards that experience. Therefore, the question naturally arises - Are we being biologically hacked as a result of gamification? The short but not-so-subtle answer - Yes.


Gamification is increasingly being used as a powerful marketing tool that can potentially sway interests and increase consumer loyalty at the same time. The discipline of gamified marketing is a fast-growing one with organisations, irrespective of size and brand equity, attempting to capture a chunk of the attention economy that constitutes the world today. Unlike traditional marketing, games cannot unexpectedly pop up in users’ feeds and attempt to divert their attention. Instead, users are given the option to try the game through an incentive. This means that all engagements from the opt-in point forth will arrive proactively from the user - they are given control of how they choose to interact with the brand or organisation.


Omni-channel marketing campaigns of some of the world’s leading brands with components of gamification continue to linger in our minds a long time ( in today’s attention span terms) after they took place. One of the most famous ones, The ‘My Starbucks’ Reward programme, is notable for revolutionising the beverage industry's brand-customer experience. With its transaction-based reward system gamified with different tiers and personalised offers catering to birthdays and special events in their consumers’ lives, Starbucks attained a previously unreachable level of customer connection. This success prompted Starbucks to launch an integrated rewards system with its mobile application and Starbucks cards to essentially create its own payment ecosystem. The aforementioned gamified marketing strategy ended up helping Starbucks receive deposits of more than 1.5 Billion USD by its customers worldwide at effectively zero percent interest. To put this figure into perspective, Starbucks was ranked sixth in the list of United States financial institutions holding consumer cash! Other major brands such as Nike, Coca Cola and even the United States Army soon followed up with their own gamified offerings with considerable success, capitalising on an increasingly online audience.


Gamification strategies have also helped social networking giants like Snapchat (with their streaks feature) and Facebook (still remember FB friendship anniversaries? xD) make their products more attractive to a diverse userbase, increasing their earned media. Streaming giants like Netflix have taken this concept to another level with titles like ‘Black Mirror: Bandersnatch’, where consumers had the opportunity to make choices that affect the movie's storyline. When almost every major brand in the world attempts to gamify its offerings, it is reasonable to conclude that it is working for them.


Gamification, therefore, has invigorated the brand-customer relationship and interactions with the onus on marketers to think out of the box to gather intelligent insights and generate additional incentives like never before. It is a limitless well of unending riches and customer loyalty. However, the future of gamification will depend on what brands choose to do with the increased connectivity and data. Will they attempt to generate newer games to attract larger audiences? Or will they be used to personalise the consumer experience further? Let us wait and watch.


Himani Narain PGP 2020-22 BATCH

If only we could gauge the colossal horizons of Marketing, we’d know that it is seemingly impossible to confine it into any particular channel known to mankind. It has always been an art which tests one’s limits of creativity as one understands human perception and behaviour. As long as the 8 billion people on the planet don’t share the exact same ideology, there is no way Marketing can be mechanical. So, not anytime soon!

But Marketing in itself, is not a stand-along entity. The strategies that a marketer fabricates do not come out of the blue. Rather, they are based on a heavily studied, researched, refined, and filtered data, that is a result of the hundreds of iteration of the source figures. The source? People. This process of collecting data, so as to eventually fabricate a relevant and appropriate marketing strategy is called Market Research. The backbone of the entire concept of marketing, it provides the companies the means to achieve their desired goals. Through a one-on-one interaction with the target audience, the company understands the deeper sub-conscious sentimentality among the customers.

Utsaha, through its very name and purpose, captures this relationship between the companies and their target group. It believes in the power of data, and hence in the strength of research. It acts as a bridge between companies and their not-so-easily approachable rural market; all this whilst celebrating the intricacies of Indian carnival in the form of our very own ‘mela’. Commenced in the year 2003-04, Utsaha has been spreading its wings as it provides crucial insights into the consumer perception about the brand to its corporate partners. Its vision is to constantly provide a reliable, thorough, and ready-to-use set of market data to its corporate partners. This data is collected in real-time in a disguised manner, through gamified surveys. Hence, indicates the current and future trends in the consumer behaviour towards the brand, while also highlighting the psychological aspects which generally remain hidden in the face of biases, otherwise very common in direct market research. 

Utsaha is 3-day long carnival. The process of problem-solving, however, is not restricted within these days. The process begins with bringing in relevant research objectives/projects from corporate giants, and construct a methodology that will be appropriate for the particular problem statement. This is followed by an extensively iterated round of preparing questionnaire and the gamified surveys, the objective of which is to collect the necessary data without revealing this objective to the respondent. The data collected in the span of the three days at Janapav Kutti is then treated and refined through various research tools and techniques. A descriptive statistical analysis is performed which highlights the trends and patterns in a visual manner. This helps in creating a coherent report, with clear insights and recommendations, which is then submitted to the company. 

All through its 12 editions, Utsaha has successfully achieved the desired objectives on behalf of the company, and has only came out with flying colors.  However, the event does not just end here. Alongside the rigorous tasks of conducting the ground market study by our Projects team, we host a plethora of events which make it even more vibrant, and informative. This includes the much-coveted Marketing and Leadership speaker series led by industry experts, the workshops primarily aimed at educating the participants on trending subjects, panel discussions on important yet debatable topics, etc. Between all this, Utsaha also does its part in giving back to the society, through its social initiative’s arm, ‘Ummeed’. Ummeed, with a mission to uplift the rural society, undertakes initiatives aimed at eventually improving the quality of life of the rural population. All through its past activities, it has impacted the lives of over 500 underprivileged students by conducting computer training workshops, art & crafts workshop, carrier counselling sessions, and clean water facility workshop. The team works in and around Janapav Kutti, and also expanded its operations in Harsola and other villages. 

The year 2020 brought about a huge change as we moved on completely digital platform. This year was also marked by the first edition of Urban Utsaha, where the research for projects was conducted essentially through the urban population. This posed a lot of challenges as the conventional disguised surveys were now digitally gamified to create the same environment and receive unbiased results. All events were held on a virtual platform, but nonetheless, the participation and appreciation we received was completely overwhelming. 

This year, we are all the more determined to take Utsaha to new heights as we explore new and unconventional ideas in the field of Marketing Research. Our quest for bigger and better events is on full swing, and one thing is for sure, it will be a lot more fun!




Anjali Mishra PGP 2020-22 BATCH

The pandemic of 2020 changed the world in ways only the Simpsons could have predicted. As the ways of living and communication changed, the standards of marketing altered; right from research to advertising. This became an era where the one who adapts, survives. So we adapted, for the better!

Ever since its inception in 2009 in the lively land of Janapav kutti, the Utsaha family is growing with innovative modifications every year. 42000+ respondents became a part of Utsaha and more than 1000 participants attended the marketing workshop in 2019, portraying the ever-increasing connections. As exciting is the path that lays ahead, there’s no better time than this to pause and reminisce how a team made one fest grow into a community.

Utsaha started with an idea of helping the corporate understand the consumer patterns of the rural section, in light of the saturation of the urban market and a large untapped consumer segment in India’s unurbanized areas. Using disguised market research with the help of gamified surveys, the actual consumer trends, and how they understand brands and products could be tested. However, what started as an application of Marketing 101 for the students of IIM Indore turned eventually into environs of growth. Eventually, the paradigm of the surveys taken by Utsaha in collaboration with popular brands diversified so did the process of collecting and collating the data. The process has modified across the years to five major steps, deciding on the primary and secondary research objective, designing the game concepts and surveys for the research, conducting the survey, analyzing collected data using relevant methodologies, and ultimately integrating the findings into a report. Currently, the skillset of Utsaha varies from rural marketing to brand management and retail management strategy.

 As the family grew, the team felt a responsibility to give back to the community, which was onset for “Ummeed”, an initiative wherein projects related to rural education and provision of basic amenities were undertaken. With an underlying motive of bringing about positive change in society, the team has impacted the lives of more than 500 students by various sessions on career counseling, education in addition to proffering pure water facilities. 2017 saw the opening of a public library for the students of Janapav. In 2019, Ummeed visited five primary schools around Indore and conducted computer training sessions and counseling sessions, contributing their significant part to make them industry-ready.

This year marks a huge change in the history of Utsaha. In the decade of exponential growth in digitalization, Utsaha is embarking on a new venture of shifting its research on an online platform, allowing access to a larger audience. Though the methods have changed, the gusto instilled in each participant who makes Utsaha ’20 a reality is as high as it’s been for the past years.



Saurabh Singh PGP 2020-22 BATCH

Let’s face it. Customers don’t do what they say they’ll do. A respondent who knows the brand being surveyed may alter his or her responses as per the brand. For instance, if Mondeleys asks you to choose between Bournville and Lindt, there’s a high chance you’ll choose the former if you love Dairy Milk, or the latter if you’re sick of them. Why? Bias. The way humans respond is always pertaining to one bias or another. However, this is just one of the reasons why disguised market research has become the talk of the Marketing town in recent years.

Allow us to list why should you give this concept your attention and not leave the article midway to switch to Instagram.

Why is surveying so tricky?

We told you before, there’s no escaping to the fact that the traditional surveys consumers do are not exactly accurate. The responses change on the basis of past experiences, word of mouth, and self-confirmation bias. This deviation between responses and actual behavior can be detrimental to brands when they plan their product launches and marketing strategies around these results. Don’t believe us?  Consumers said that would never buy Sony’s Walkman cassette player that didn’t have the capacity to record in market surveys, and users would be irritated by the use of earphones. The Walkman went on to sell 330 million units. What if Sony had believed the research? Starbuck’s mazagran failed inspite of focusing on things which consumers wanted,  a cold, lightly carbonated coffee drink. Although Starbucks recovered by modifying the product into one of their best product innovations-the frappucino, your organization might not be that fortunate.

Don’t question your integrity yet, biases are natural and difficult to overcome

What is the solution?

It’s pretty simple, you collect their responses in a way they don’t get to know they are being surveyed.  That is exactly what disguised market research, or disguised observation is. The surveys are gamified to make it more engaging and creative. The questions are more open ended to allow respondents to think and answer without anchoring themselves. This form of research has specially gained buzz ever since the growth of internet and social media, where people want more engaging content all the time. “The Game Experiments” to Jon Puleston and Deborah Sleep highlights how this form of observation is more effective in terms of data quality in terms of traditional surveying.

However, the idea of indirect surveys can backfire if the goals of surveys are not clearly set. A proper mapping of these surveys and the goals you seek to achieve with the data should be in place before you take your survey out to the audience.

So the next time you think about floating a survey, try and go sneaky with your questions, let the audience out their thinking cap on.