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SMBs Use Gamification To Convert Fans Into Cash

Here's how two SMBs are using simple games to produce profits from online prospects.

How Starbucks Taps 7 Tech Trends
How Starbucks Taps 7 Tech Trends
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Gamification might be the buzzword du jour, but some small businesses are putting it to a clear-cut test: Can it spur actual sales?

Orb Networks, a digital media startup based in Oakland, Calif., recently added a game widget to its consumer website to find out. Orb sells devices to stream digital content to stereos, TVs, and other home entertainment gear. David Lubinsky, the company's VP of marketing, found the tactic appealing because he sees a link between his consumer profile and people who play video games.

"I think there's a really high crossover between my customer and prospective customer and their affinity toward gaming," Lubinsky said in an interview.

Lubinsky is an early client of Fanplayr, a fellow startup. Its first product, launched earlier this month, is an application called Social Game Coupons & Offers. It does pretty much exactly what it sounds like: Using a small bit of code, marketers can add a game to their website, email campaign, Facebook Page, mobile site, or online ad.

[ Can games motivate employees? See Bunchball Throws Personalization Into Gamification. ]

Fanplayr describes its particular slice of the gamification trend as--brace yourself for keyword overload--"social consumer game marketing." The goal is to turn all those modern marketing metrics--traffic, fans, followers, connections, and the like--into actual paying customers. The means to that end: A mix of games and social sharing with a dose of the daily-deals mindset.

In Orb's case, the "game" is mind-numbingly simple--no need for cheat codes or advice from the whiz-kid down the street. When I visited the Orb homepage recently, I saw an orange button in the top left: "Play to Win - It's Free!" Clicking it brought up another message, "Win an Instant Discount! Get your coupon, share, & win more!", and a Play button. The game itself is a rudimentary slot machine; match three wheels and win the discount shown. Lo and behold, on the second spin I hit the jackpot--sort of. I won 15% off a purchase of Orb gear. (On another visit, the third spin was the charm.) I could have the coupon sent to me via Facebook or email; I opted for email and was offered the requisite chance to share the same discount with my Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and email contacts. The coupon code was displayed on the final screen, too.

That was it. There was none of the chest-thumping satisfaction that I recall from conquering Super Mario Bros. on the original 8-bit NES. And yet it appears to be working. "So far, it has been performing quite well," Lubinsky said. He declined to share detailed numbers, but said Orb has captured around 200 email addresses and issued a corresponding number of coupons in roughly a four-week period. A "decent" number of those have been redeemed for purchases. "It has translated to sales," Lubinsky said. He plans to try similar tactics with the company's social sites and email list in the near future.

Another small business recently gave Fanplayr a spin, though it doesn't share Orb's natural fit with the games. Sew Is Your Baby makes eco-friendly cloth diapers, but that didn't stop it from incorporating a game link into a recent Facebook Ad. The 48-hour campaign generated more than one million impressions at around $0.14 CPM, or cost per thousand views, and a record number of unique visitors to the Sew Is Your Baby website. Those impressions translated to 147,000 unique Facebook users; 166 of them clicked on the "Play&Win Diapers & More!" link; 66 actually collected a coupon, and around a quarter of those shared the offer on Facebook or Twitter. Another number had owner Michelle Watts declaring the game a winner: Three new-customer sales.

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