Capitalizing on the Golden Ticket: How to Gamify the Audience Experience

Note: This post is the third of four by guest blogger Alli Houseworth about the trends and strategy of gamification and how it can be applied to the arts. You can find part one here and part two here.

Gamification and the Golden Ticket
When was the last time you felt pleasantly surprised? Guilty? Rewarded? A sense of ownership? Accomplished? Like you were a winner? Like you had a calling?

And when was the last time you felt like that when you pumped gas? Bought shredded cheese? Boarded an airplane? Checked into a hotel? Opened a box of Cracker Jacks, or a bottle of Coca-Cola? How about when you purchased tickets to an arts event?

Audience engagement and marketing are not (cannot be!) two different things, if for no other reason than that higher levels of engagement lead to higher and/or repeat sales. Therefore, it is a disservice to your organization to separate the two — because without “marketing,” engagement levels cannot be trackable (at least in the metrics so many of our funders currently ask for), and without engagement, “marketing” (or “sales”) suffers.

So many of the examples of gaming in the arts field today are pitch-perfect when it comes to audience participation and the creation of participatory art. They sidle up to their video game brethren with offerings such as Nina Simon’s fabulous Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History , LoadingReadyRuns’s Desert Bus  — based on a Penn and Teller game — and the Brooklyn Museum’s Tag! You’re It!

Not surprisingly, we as a field seem to completely understand what it takes to put the human at the center of the experience — which is exactly where game designers begin. Always. Once the human is at the center, you can begin to layer on the game mechanics, a few of which were outlined in my last post.

Where I fail to see innovative thinking in the arts is in how to gamify the purchase process, as many of our for-profit cousins have done. Piggybacking off the experiences listed above, let’s see if we can identify ways in which for-profit organizations have gamified their sales:

  1. Pumping gas: With certain loyalty programs, consumers can save 5-10 cents per gallon by purchasing qualifying products. Incidentally, you can also earn two times the points when buying gas with your American Express card.
  2. Buying shredded cheese: Was a certain brand on sale when you used your Trader Joe’s VIC card, My Giant, or Safeway Club card loyalty card? Did you buy low-fat cheese and save some Weight Watchers points?
  3. Boarding an airplane: Did you go first because you were a “Preferred Passenger”? Did you know when you arrived at the airport that Preferred Passengers got to skip the long security line and board early?
  4. Checking into a hotel: Again, did you get to stand in a shorter line? Did you get a room upgrade? Free wi-fi? A coupon to a local business on your room card?
  5. Opening a box of Cracker Jacks or a bottle of Coca-Cola: These food-industry giants capitalize off the classic concept of a hidden surprise — you know you’re going to get something, but you never know what you’re going to get…

As you can see, most of the examples above are drawn from companies’ loyalty programs — perhaps the easiest thing in corporate culture to point to where a game layer is added. So ask yourself this: In my organization, are subscriptions primarily viewed as a loyalty program?

If the answer is yes, take a moment to list the benefits someone gets for subscribing to your theatre. Then put a star next to any perks that are available to the customer immediately rather than two or three months down the line. Also star any perks that reduce the price of your product or give it away for free before the audience member (customer) has to do anything besides write you a check.

Now, let’s pretend human resources weren’t an issue and you wanted to add a game layer to your subscription model. (And for the sake of argument, just pretend this is a new program because we all know that Lee and Bobby Sue Joe, who have been coming to your organization for 20 years, hate change… though probably because you trained them to be that way.) What modifications could you make to your existing subscription models that add a game layer? How could you incorporate just three or four of the mechanics listed here to turn your subscription into a game? And would it increase sales? Would it bring you a new audience?

I often think that arts marketers in general tend to function in a microcosm, in another land that exists separate from the socio-economics of the world in which we live (and where arts marketers live too!). Frankly, this is probably because the job of an arts marketer — any arts manager, for that matter — is so difficult.

But the rest of the world is moving — has moved — to gaming, and if the vast majority of humans have adopted these principles, then it is very much worthwhile for arts organizations to figure out how to layer in game strategy to their marketing tactics.

It may be easier than you think. Just remember, put the human at the center of everything, then layer in game mechanics.

In my next post, I’ll discuss the same concepts, but in terms of how they apply to fundraising as opposed to ticket sales. Finally, if your organization has begun to put a game layer over your purchase path, leave us a comment below. Let’s help each other learn!

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