Gamification: The Sustainability Middleman

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Gamification: The Sustainability Middleman

Last year, Simple Energy’s customer engagement platform helped utility customers in the Biggest Energy Saver program save an average of more than 20 percent on their energy consumption. Since then, we’ve continued to hear strong results from using game elements, like competition and rewards, to engage customers and employees in energy efficiency and sustainability initiatives. We’ve also heard discussions of the mechanics behind the success: Context and competition are key, and peer support, as well as pressure, is a strong motivator for sustainable behavior change. But gamification has a deeper cultural relevancy, too, that deals with changing cultural values – and helps companies and utilities navigate them.

In a recent article for Sustainable Brands, Steven Johnson posited that our consumer culture is shifting from a focus on objects to a focus on experiences. Johnson describes the resulting shift in effective marketing from “communicating messages” to “designing experiences” (an app or a neighborhood recycling challenge, for example). Part of the value of experience is that it keeps on giving: As you share it with other people, you re-live it together. The very act of telling is an experience in itself. And both experiences become part of your self-narrative, a way of making meaning out of the facts of your life.

Think of the carefully chosen pictures and posts shared with friends on a Facebook profile. We all do that in some way, whether online or in person. But renewed interest in community (virtual and physical) is starting to balance out our strong cultural focus on individuality.

When companies or utilities apply game elements to sustainability/EE marketing, they can create experiences that their customers will absorb into their personal narratives by doing, enjoying (the action or the results) and sharing. Companies aren’t the sole voice in “designed experiences” like apps, competitions and engagement platforms – but neither is the individual customer.

These kinds of social storytelling experience differ from simply tweeting or responding to Facebook posts; the interaction between company and customer is not only continuously available, but it’s also totally centered on the customer’s everyday actions. They’re the protagonists. Talk about empowering: As they see the story of their behaviors or energy use unfolding, they can choose how to change it. In the vein of our own Do 5 Things platform, you can add targeted messaging, like tips and positive reinforcement, that helps customers create meaning from the start for actions that otherwise might not hold much for them (like washing clothes in cold water).

By creating ways for individuals to share their stories, you can become part of the personal narrative and the community experience. But you can make the community and your part in it more tangible. Simple Energy, for instance, partners with utilities to run community competitions benefiting local schools. From our latest Utility Pulse™, we know there’s a lot of potential for community interaction, including neighborhood energy-consumption reduction challenges.

Apps, online platforms and direct competitions are poised to make good use of that potential, from customers’ perspectives and yours, because they navigate between messaging and experience, individual and community. Even if you’re not ready for an app or to sponsor an actual event, keep those balances in mind to create fresh, culturally relevant sustainability or EE communications platforms that can appeal to consumers who may not otherwise care if sustainable behaviors (or brands) are a part of their lives.

About the Author

Meghan McDonald

Meghan concepts and writes copy for clients and also reviews creative deliverables for clarity, grammar and brand alignment. She brings an interdisciplinary background in environmental studies and journalism to our team. If you want to know the name of a tree or flower, she’s the one to ask.

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