Gamification: The Psychology of Patches, Badges and Achievements

Gamification: The Psychology of Patches, Badges and Achievements

Before we get too deep into the topic of Gamification, let's get some context by looking back in time to the American Civil War.

Legend has it, in the summer of 1862, the Army of the Potomac's Third Corps Commander, General Philip Kearny stumbled upon a group of Union officers lounging under a tree. Being a strict disciplinarian and assuming the men were part of his own regiment, he immediately started to chastise them for their laziness.

The men immediately jumped to attention, and after Kearny finished his rant, one of the men meekly raised his hand and pointed out that they were not actually part of his brigade.

Kearny immediately turned into the proper gentleman and apologised. He stated that he would take steps to ensure he could recognise his own men hereafter, coming up with a simple solution in having his soldiers place a piece of red cloth on the front of their caps.

This simple uniform augmentation became known as the "Kearny patch", and it proved such a successful tool for commanders that within the year, Major General Joseph Hooker ordered the entire eastern army to adopt it. 

The Tragedy of the Commons

The Tragedy of the Commons

The Tragedy of the Commons (or the Tragedy of the Unregulated Commons) is a mental model developed by Garrett Hardin, rooted in economic theory. The "tragedy" refers to a set of individuals who, acting rationally, independently and in their own self-interest can create a situation where they destroy the collective's long-term viability by depleting a common resource. 

The original example referred to individuals sharing a 'common' parcel of land for herding or fishing. If an individual utilised the common area more than their fair share, they may receive an individual benefit (a few more fatter animals or a larger catch), but if all individuals made this decision, the common land would be overgrazed or overfished ultimately leading to it's destruction.

The theory is often seen as an example of emergent behaviour, or the outcomes of individual interactions in complex adaptive systems.

In essence then, there is a failure to think long-term in favour of quick and immediate gains.

So what are some examples in Marketing & Advertising?

The Future of Transportation: From A to B in the Second Machine Age

The Future of Transportation: From A to B in the Second Machine Age

For thousands of years, humanity was on a very slow and gradual upward trajectory in terms of our human development. That all changed in the late eighteenth century with the advent of the Industrial Revolution (the First Machine age), which delivered unprecedented growth in human progress and population.

The most important technology underpinning this movement was one thing - the steam engine. This allowed humans to overcome the limitations of human and animal power to move things, and allowed us to generate useful energy when we needed it. Without it we wouldn't have factories and mass production, or have  been able to build railways and provide mass transportation. 

Our modern life has been built on the backs of this technology. But as we make continued progress with digital technologies and we can increasingly deliver software globally at scale, we are starting to see the emergence of a second shift (what Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee call the Second Machine Age).

Currently some large changes are happening on the transportation side of this equation. This has been driven by a re-imagining of how we move objects and people from A to B. 

Lean User Research: Perfectly Execute the Right Plan

Lean User Research: Perfectly Execute the Right Plan

I recently watched a keynote by Tomer Sharon, UX Researcher on Google Search at the Google I/O 2014 conference entitled 'Perfectly Executing the Wrong Plan'. This talk was so good I have decided to break out the topic and explore it as a framework in this post.

Tomer is at the forefront of what is being called 'Lean User Research', which applies agile methodologies to the existing techniques of User Experience (UX). With connectedness leading to greater and greater complexity, and the need to get products to market rapidly so we can generate insights, it makes sense that we need to start to re-evaluate some of the more traditional UX processes that can often eat up time and resources.

The keynote itself was centred around app development, but this can definitely be applied to any product. It also is more focused on startups, but definitely has applications in all organisations. I'll build the framework around this broader product categorisation.

Perfectly Executing the Wrong Plan

Why do a huge number of products fail in the market? One of the primary reasons can be the fact that the product being built isn't actually solving a problem for the customers, which means that they will ultimately not care about what is on offer.

This leads us to the most important concept - whoever was creating the product failed to fall in love with a problem, which means there was no opportunity.

Nike RE2PECT: The Power of Ritual

Nike RE2PECT: The Power of Ritual

I'm a huge sucker for well crafted, emotive advertising. When a brand creates powerful stories through their communications, they not only give themselves a better chance of engaging their audience, they have a much better chance of driving changes in behaviour.

Nike (via W+K) have just released a new star studded campaign 'RE2PECT'. The ad is a beautifully shot and scored celebration of the career of Derek Jeter as he moves towards retirement.

Beyond the aesthetics, the ad leverages the powerful marketing tactic of ritual.

As outlined by Douglas Van Praet in his book 'Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (and Inspire) Marketing':

"Rituals are some of the most powerful ways to brand because they often involve multiple sensory experiences and repetitive acts, driving information into the mind." 

Technology, Culture and Consumer Adoption: An Interview with Steve Stout, Ben Horowitz and Kanye West

Technology, Culture and Consumer Adoption: An Interview with Steve Stout, Ben Horowitz and Kanye West

During the Canne Festival of Creativity, Steve StouteBen Horowitz and Kanye West took the stage for a discussion titled 'Technology, Culture and Consumer Adoption: Learning to Read the Cultural Landscape'. 

The talk itself was a rather rambling affair (Kanye as usual got lost off on various tangents of thought) but there was definitely some interesting ideas put forward. I have provided the video and my take on the whole thing below.

On Technology and Culture

Technology is now so prevalent in consumer hands. It has democratised the technology products themselves, and it has democratised our entertainment. It now plays a huge role in everybody's life.

The flip side to this is it has created incredible complexity and noise. We have created a fast food mentality with our information, treating culture as disposable.

Looking to the future, we will start to see a much stronger focus on culture playing a bigger part within technology and marketing. The Beats acquisition by Apple is a classic example - two innovators (Iovine and Dre) with creative force and cultural relevancy were essentially brought on to bridge the culture gap for the company. Apple will build upon their true core, to be a truly aspirational brand. 

On Achieving Relevancy

Bridging cultures is all about creating shared values. What is authentically you (the brand), and what is authentically us (the consumer). And what is mutually beneficial for us both. Bring them together - that's the basis of a relationship.   

The Product Design Sprint from Google Ventures

The Product Design Sprint from Google Ventures

If you have come from a digital agency background, or work within a digital marketing department responsible for online platforms, you will no doubt have come into contact with all manner of UX/design sprints and ideation processes to develop or improve your owned assets.

Jake Knapp, Design Partner at Google Ventures has outlined a technique used on a variety of their client problems that synthesises this down. It's called the Product Design Sprint. While this mainly applies to startups, it has a lot of relevance to any business that is interested in moving fast to market, and driving faster feedback loops.

This post will explore the Design Sprint process in more detail - I'm doing a lot of paraphrasing (my stab at the Feynman Technique), so check out the original article if interested.


Knapp writes that the Design Sprint process was developed out of a frustration of group brainstorming. He tended to find that while good ideas were thought up in this environment, they tended to not end up progressing; successful ideas ultimately come from individuals, not groups.

Paired Metrics

Paired Metrics

There is no question that information is flowing at exceeding rapid rates. This increased complexity is often creating uncertainty, and in extreme cases paralysis for organisations.

We often look for shortcuts or simplifications in this environment, and this is especially true of the data that is being generated as part of doing business. As a result, both business leaders and agencies often try and simplify data into a single key metric to measure goals and performance.

As pointed out by Avinash Kaushik, the danger of this approach is that single metrics can often hide valuable insights, and even worse drive bad behaviour. 

The solution he proposes is to always ensure you partner up your 'golden metric' that is important for the business with a paired metric (in essence acting as a backup and sense check to the data). The goal here is to ensure the partner metric is immediately adjacent or offers contextual value - it should add further insight into the specific primary goal you are focused on. 

Below I'll go through several key paired metrics Avinash outlines as examples. Remember, all businesses are very different, and have largely differing goals, so use these as inspiration.

The Pareto Principle and the 1% Rule of Internet Culture

The Pareto Principle and the 1% Rule of Internet Culture

The following article outlines two interesting mental models - the Pareto Principle and the 1% Rule of Internet Culture. Both of these have connections with each other, and are of interest to anyone in Marketing & Advertising.

The Pareto Principle 

This model (often called the 80/20 rule) is designed to help you realise that the majority of results come from a minority of inputs. In other words, most things in life are not distributed evenly.

It's called the 80/20 for that specific reason - 80% of the effects of something come from 20% of the inputs or causes. 

For a business manager or entrepreneur, this principle can appear in a range of forms. Examples include:

  • 80% of a companies profits come from 20% of its customers
  • 80% of complaints come from 20% of the customers 
  • 80% of crashes come from 20% of bugs
  • 80% of results are contributed by 20% of workers

Adapting to this knowledge involves uncovering this 20% and focusing on it. For example, if 20% or workers contribute 80% of results, focus on rewarding these employees. Or if 20% of customers contribute 80% of revenue, focus on satisfying their needs.

The Marketing Genius of Jimmy Iovine

The Marketing Genius of Jimmy Iovine

I've been thinking a lot this week (as I'm sure a lot of people have) about the Apple acquisition of Beats. When you begin to read between the lines on this one, it really does start to look like this acquisition was less about the Beats brand itself (both the Streaming service and the Headphones), and more about the acquisitions of the individuals driving it.

Specifically I'm not talking about acquisition of the perceived cool of Dre (although considering his record, it definitely is a big factor), but more about the quieter 'behind the scenes' cool of Jimmy Iovine.

Over the years Iovine has shown himself to be one of the smartest and most savvy music execs in the business. The main point I want to make is Iovine has also proven himself to be a marketing genius, which is why Apple have decided to bring him into the fold so aggressively.

To get a better understanding of Iovine, I wanted to refer back to a few stories outlined by Steve Stoute in his book "The Tanning of America; How Hip Hop Created a Culture that Rewrote the Rules of the New Economy".

To set the stage, this story begins in mid-1992 at Interscope records. Two guys named Marion and Andre - otherwise knows as Suge Knight and Dr. Dre - were looking for distribution for their label Death Row Records and the album The Chronic, featuring vocals by Cordozar Calvin Broadus (now Snoop Dogg).