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Serious games deliver market research insights and advertising results

By Nancy Chou, GM-Knowsy, The Innovation Games Co.

Nancy Chou

What do your customers want? It’s not a new question, and companies have long sought the answer, using a gamut of techniques and technologies that each promise to be better than the last. Our access to instant data through social media, Web interactions and mobile usage, as well as the willingness of individuals to share more and more about themselves online, means that our quest for deeper customer insights is limited only by our imagination and creativity. But how can we be sure that the information we’re gleaning is truly what we need?

Many companies turn to online survey tools or audience engagement techniques like gamification.  Each technique has its strengths, working by promising a reward—Win an iPad!—or by entertaining prospects to get them to share the preferences or priorities that most directly impact their decision to buy.

Neither is a perfect solution. Survey effectiveness is dependent on asking the right questions in the right sequence to drive the right insights. Post-processing of complex surveys often requires additional resources. Gamification, while useful, is also limited. Adding points and levels to reward behavior will only drive consumer engagement as long as the game holds their interest. When the novelty of winning badges wears off, so will engagement.

But what if your solution to understanding what your customer wants is a game? Not the trappings and bells and whistles of a game, but an actual game that produces rich and deep preference data. Serious games provide a new market research technique that can drive deeper customer insights and produce faster unbiased results than traditional techniques.

Games are collaborative, not solitary. Surveys give you a static view into an individual’s preferences—the what, but not the why behind his or her choices.  Choice-modeling games like The Innovation Games Company’s Knowsy or Buy a Feature are played in a group, online or in person. The resulting collaboration and negotiation give you insight into preferences that you wouldn’t be able to gain in other ways.

Games are fun. And because game play is fun, the results are more likely to be accurate. Question bias and the desire to provide the correct answer have been eliminated through the psychology of playing the game. Players want to know how their choices compare to others. They want to win the game because they best understand the preferences of the other players

Games are cost effective. Traditional choice-modeling techniques are often quite expensive, with just respondent recruitment and incentive fees typically exceeding $200 per respondent. Online games capture market research data instantly, without incremental per respondent cost. The results can be integrated into an organization's analytics repository.

Games aren’t just for gathering customer insight. They engage customers in a way that traditional online advertising can’t. The direct interaction model of Knowsy, for example, means that players directly interact with a brand through playing the game. Which kind of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream do you like the most? Rank in order the most important criteria in selecting an ERP system.

A banner ad or paid search link is often ignored or seen as an annoyance. Brand engagement by game play is fun—and thus more effective than a traditional ad. Next time you want to try something different, give serious games a try. Seriously.

Nancy Chou is general manager of Knowsy at The Innovation Games Co. and also serves as president of the NorCal chapter of the BMA. She and her team brought Knowsy gamification strategies to the leadership meetings held before the 2013 Global BMA Conference in Chicago. You can reach her at or 408-666-9230.

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