Skip to Content Skip to Footer
Just Playing Around: Why “Gamifying” an Innovation Can Boost the Bottom Line

Just Playing Around: Why “Gamifying” an Innovation Can Boost the Bottom Line

Lance A. Bettencourt

Businessman using a phone

Scholarly Insights: AMA’s digest of the latest findings from marketing’s top researchers​​

If you were Ford Motor Company, would you give serious consideration to a new way of presenting information about a vehicle innovation if it could generate an additional $235 million in annual sales?

What a silly question, right?

Well, consider this: An experiment reported in the paper “Gamified Information Presentation and Consumer Adoption of Product Innovations,” to be published in the Journal of Marketing, demonstrates that this scenario is entirely plausible. 


The Power of a Game

The research team of Jessica Müller-Stewens, Tobias Schlager, Gerald Häubl, and Andreas Herrmann, all affiliated with the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland, found that presenting a new automobile innovation – “a multi-feature assistance system package that automates tasks that drivers would otherwise have to perform themselves (e.g., automatic distance regulation with the vehicle in front and automatic assistance in maintaining the lane)” – as part of a game led to a 65% higher adoption of the innovation compared with those who learned about the innovation by simply reading about it.

After that, it’s some simple math. Customers in the game condition spent, on average, 219 euros more – about $235 at a current exchange rate. Ford sells about 1 million trucks each year. So if the innovation being considered were introduced as an option on all new truck sales, the higher rate of spending is about $235 million in annual sales. Worth serious consideration, right?

There are a couple of impressive things about the study reported in the paper. First, the experiment was done with an actual innovation in cooperation with a large European automobile manufacturer. We are not talking about students in a classroom here. Second, the approach to “gamifying” the innovation information was not particularly strong. In this case, a random sample of visitors to the manufacturer’s website were asked if they’d like to play a quiz game in which they tried to correctly answer three questions in as few attempts as possible. The quiz questions were related to elements of the multifeature assist innovation.

While results may vary, the findings of this study are impressive indeed.

​​Why Gamification Works

But the research team didn’t stop there. In other studies, they determined that “gamifying the presentation of product information” led to higher adoption intent and behaviors for other product categories, such as bicycle accessories and tennis balls. 

In addition, they showed that experiencing the benefits of an innovation via the playing of a video game led to desired adoption intent and behaviors. For example, in one experiment, participants (who were unaware that they were even participating in an experiment) “played a game in which they rode a bicycle at night.” The goal was to ride as far as possible in a set amount of time. In the game, the innovation (a real product) made it easier for riders to detect obstacles that could lead to a wreck.

The researchers also explored why gamifying information about a new product innovation works. In a series of studies, they found that gamification led to higher curiosity about the innovation and a stronger belief in the relative advantage of the innovation. The key driver of higher curiosity was an increased level of consumer playfulness, and the key driver of higher perceived advantage was an increased perception of information vividness.​

Making Gamification Work for Your Innovation

The implications of this research transcend just gamification. More broadly, they make it clear that any efforts to make new product information more vivid (i.e., enabling the customer to better visualize features and benefits) or playful (i.e., making learning fun and exploratory) should have a positive impact on innovation adoption.

Of course, it perhaps goes without saying that playing a game that incorporates information about a product innovation is a great way to achieve these two objectives.

If you’re anything like me, your first inclination is to simply list the benefits of your innovation. It’s a great innovation, after all, so that should be enough, right? Well, no doubt that a great innovation will get a certain amount of traction from taking just such an approach. But the point of this research is that even greater traction can be gained if we are willing to step outside the typical way of doing things to explore new ways of presenting information about an innovation.

Yes, it takes more mental energy to adopt such an approach. Yes, it takes more creativity as well. And, yes, it will also take more time and money to gamify a new product innovation. But the research makes it clear that the rewards are likely to be well worth the extra cost and effort 

Ford Motor Company can no doubt come up with a list of reasons for not pursuing gamification. I’m sure your company can as well. But I have 235 million reasons why Ford should pursue it. It may be less for your company, but I am confident it is still a pretty substantial number.

Lance A. Bettencourt is Associate Professor of Professional Practice in Marketing at the Neeley School of Business at Texas Christian University, and author of Service Innovation: How to Go from Customer Needs to Breakthrough Services.