• 15 March 2023
  • 8 min read

Unlocking gamified brand experiences

  • 15 March 2023
  • 8 min read

Unlocking the four levels of gamified experience.

Did you know?

It takes 66 days (or about two months) to form a habit according to a social psychology study. So, when committing to new goals, the first two months are the hardest.

What’s behind gamification?

Brands benefit from customers creating a habit of interacting with them. We often see brands turn to subscription models in order to achieve integration into their customers’ lifestyles. While forming habits or changing behaviour doesn’t come easily, gamification can be a useful tool to help brands achieve this.

Before we get to that, let’s cover the basics.

In one widely researched theory of cognitive development, the best way to learn new skills or build habits is through play. I found this theory to be true in my own experience teaching three to six year-old kids how to swim.

What I learned was that doing swimming drills with my students had limited results, especially with those who had an intense fear of the water. However, infusing gameplay was key to a productive session. I would design the session as a game where the student, for example, would be tasked with collecting floating toys in the pool. They would fixate on the task, forget about their fear of the water, and were able to swim independently without noticing it! We were always left with fun memories at the pool and looking forward to the next session.

Games take us back to our childhood experiences. Unfortunately, as we grow up there are fewer opportunities to learn through games. Perhaps this is because games are seen as immature or adults are expected to know more and learn less. Nonetheless, gamification can still be applied to experiences without making them childish.

Let’s unpack this a little bit.

The Yerkes-Dodson Law shows that adults tend to give up on tasks that seem impossible but when tasks are too easy, they don’t feel adequately motivated. What gamification aims to do is find a balance between sufficient challenge and progress which gives a sense of flow.


What’s in it for brands?

At Saffron, we seek to make brands memorable. We can learn a lot from games and how they can help brands create experiences that enable desired behaviours and keep brands in the minds (and hearts!) of its customers.

Gamification comes in many forms.

We continue to see digital apps gain success in their product strategy by engaging users in a gamified experience.

Duolingo prompts interaction by encouraging consecutive days of practice and makes language learning fun through streaks, experience points (XP), and badges.


Strava is able to overcome churn and hook 1 million new users through challenges, leaderboards, a social feed that enables athletes to give kudos to other users, create challenges and compete with friends.

Gamification extends beyond the digital world.

We also see lifestyle brands apply gamification principles for marketing purposes.

During the 2022 holiday season, Starbucks drinkers in the Philippines could collect stickers to receive limited edition merchandise after purchasing food and drinks.


Gamification can also be applied in the workplace.

The ‘My Marriott Hotel’ social media game simulates the experience of running one of Marriott International Incorporated’s hotels and allows current and prospective employees to make choices including menus, operations, and staff.

OUR TAKEAWAY: Gamification is not just making a task fun but making it ‘fun-ctional’. It’s not about plugging points and badges into any experience but building on a strategic framework that forms habits and incites behaviours.

How can brands apply gamification to experiences?

If you’re looking to design brand experiences with gamification, then you’re in for a treat. We’ve synthesised our learnings into four levels below. Let’s start.

Level 1: Discovery

Offer something new and exciting.

Discovery is about driving natural human curiosity for finding out what happens next into making the experience more exciting. Gamifying an experience fosters a sense of challenge and novelty every time the user goes into that experience so that the user comes back wanting more.


Apple Fitness+ does this well. Beyond creating a cult following of individuals aiming to ‘close their rings,’ the brand turns a daily, repetitive task as working out into something exciting with limited-time challenges and badges tied to worldwide events such as a rabbit badge for Lunar New Year, or a heart badge for Valentine’s Day.

Now that you’ve got them hooked, it’s time to immerse them into a story.

Level 2: Story

Engage the user through a narrative in which they are the protagonist.

Stories help us make sense of the world around us. It is also a great way to understand a concept at a deeper level because stories help us empathise by putting ourselves in a person’s shoes. It’s important to consider the story that the brand is trying to tell and how the brand can invite customers to take an active role in it.

Saffron’s work for The Valuable 500 consists of a social business network that fosters dialogue and interaction between people with disabilities and companies. Through the platform, users can be part of the narrative: collaborate, create content and join the Valuable 500’s advocacy efforts, empowering them to contribute to a more inclusive society.

We’ve got the customer immersed in a story, but what’s in it for them?

Level 3: Accomplishment

Empower customers to reach personal goals through the experience.

Brands become truly relevant when interacting with them help users reach their personal goals. This can be achieved by designing experiences that spark customers’ internal drive for making progress, helping them find the deeper value of coming back to the brand.

Our work for Edvanza, a career advancement app, consisted of creating a gamification framework that is centred around the user’s career map towards their dream job. Depending on where they are along the journey, the user is nudged towards different modes such as upskilling, job hunting, or networking, and incentivised with XP for relevant actions completed on the platform that help them get to their next step.

By now, we’ve created a mutually beneficial relationship between brand and customer. 

How do we then grow the brand for the long term?

Level 4: Social

Foster connection with a community.

Creating a community around a brand is key to customer retention and increasing the lifetime value of customers. Gamification helps bring like-minded people together and foster a feeling of support (or even friendly competition) as a result. Ultimately, this becomes a way for brands to enable users to create ties with their communities, increase accountability, and eventually turn them into brand ambassadors.

Another core insight we found in our work with Edvanza was that community is a powerful tool to add value for users (in this case, individuals who are navigating their own careers). We worked on applying gamified mechanics to the community pillar of their brand that rewards the users with XP for upvotes on their posts and gaining status which in turn incentivises knowledge sharing within the Edvanza community.

Achievement unlocked! 

You’ve made it past four levels and have earned a better understanding of how to apply gamification to enhance brand experience.

The next time you’re designing a brand experience (whether for a digital product, marketing, or the workplace), take these principles of gamification into consideration. Through testing and learning, they can form the foundation of a brand experience that truly leaves a mark on people.

Judith San Juan