How Gamification and Big Data are Driving Business Today

gamificationWhen people hear the word “gamification,” they often just hear the word “game” and then immediately think of a distracted, unproductive workforce seeking entertainment – or at best, some random, fuzzy benefit. At Dreamforce 2013, attendees learned that this is not the case.  In fact, one of the biggest takeaways from Dreamforce this year was that gamification is the new secret weapon for successful businesses. In addition to the keynote featuring gamification, more than 15 different sessions spotlighted how companies are using gamification to motivate workforces and drive meaningful business results, such as:

Many of these presentations reflected some long-held tenets on which gamification is built, chief among which is the value of employee engagement and loyalty. In 2008, Harvard Business Review OnPoint published an article titled, Putting the Service-Profit Chain to Work that clearly articulates this value. I’ll adapt it slightly here: 

  • Employee engagement drives employee satisfaction
  • Employee satisfaction drives loyalty
  • Employee loyalty drives productivity
  • Employee productivity drives value
  • Value drives customer satisfaction
  • Customer satisfaction drives customer loyalty
  • Customer loyalty drives profitability and growth

According to this logic, the key to profitability and growth is employee engagement – and by extension, employees are the most important asset to drive business results.

 Which makes the following statement all the more shocking: Netflix, Amazon and Facebook all know more about your employees than you do. How? By tracking every interaction they have with your employees and then using that big data on user activity to create a more engaging experience and drive business value.

By capturing the big data on user activity and using this data to create a more engaging experience, businesses can better engage and motivate employees. As many at Dreamforce 2013 learned, combining big data with gamification is a powerful tool for motivating better performance, driving business results, and generating a competitive advantage.

Companies such as NetApp, Caesars Entertainment and Thomson Reuters are doing this, and they’re seeing impressive results, including:

  • +9% sales
  • +10% service
  • +81% collaboration
  • +373% learning

When combined with a decrease in employee onboarding time and in employee churn, these improvements lead to an average per-employee revenue increase of 11%. Meaningful results, no?

This isn’t a game

As I discussed in my Dreamforce 2013 session, Revolutionizing Customer and Employee Engagement with Big Data & Gamification, gamification is about taking the big data that your employees are generating as they interact with your systems and using that data to motivate better performance and drive a hard ROI.

At  its core, gamification boils down to one simple thing: motivating people through data. So why the name “gamification”? Because the techniques used to motivate people through data were honed and refined in the world of video games. From Pong in the 1970s to Call of Duty today, video games immerse players in a digital world where every single thing they’re doing throws off data. It was video game designers who first had access to this incredibly rich set of user activity data, so it makes sense that they were the ones who first figured out how to leverage and utilize that data to their advantage. First by keeping score, then by enabling players to level up, giving them goals to accomplish, badges to indicate achievement, fast feedback so they could learn and evolve strategy, and more. All with the goal of engaging players and motivating peak performance.

For a long time, that rich data set was limited to the digital world of video games, so that was the only place these mechanics could be effectively used. But in the last few years, our “real life” has become more and more digital. Almost everything we do is mediated by technology and is throwing off quantities of user activity data that rival that of video games.

So if you’re trying to learn how to motivate people using this data, where would you turn? You’d look to the 40+ years of experience from the video game industry, and you'd pull the best practices and ideas from there and use them in this new hybrid real/digital world that we're all living in. And that’s exactly what gamification does.

Motivating more than employees 

Most of the focus on gamification at Dreamforce 2013 was on its use for motivating employees and partners, but gamification applies just as meaningfully to the Internet of Customers. With every action they take, customers are raising their hands and telling you something about their interests, their activity, and even how they brush their teeth. Smart companies can use this activity data to motivate customers to engage, contribute, participate, share, purchase, and be more loyal. Coca-Cola is doing exactly that with its new My Coke Rewards (read more about it here), as is Electronic Arts with its FIFA Fan Rewards program, and then there’s Urban Outfitters, who is combining gamification, social, mobile and e-commerce in its new Urban On app.

The list goes on, but the stories all share a similar arc: After defining a specific business objective, companies create gamified experiences that leverage the big data generated by their user base and motivate those users in ways that drive their business. If you were fortunate enough to attend some of the many gamification sessions at Dreamforce 2013, you’d would have heard that story from NetApp, Caesars Entertainment and others. And you’d understand why analyst firm M2 Research forecasts the market for gamification solutions will increase by more than 11-fold over four years, from $242 million in 2012 to $2.8 billion by 2016.

In the Salesforce1 platform keynote, Geoffrey Moore’s talk, and elsewhere there was a lot of discussion about the evolution of platforms like Salesforce from being “systems of record” to being “systems of engagement.” This is exactly what gamification enables. So whether you’re using Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud,, Salesforce Communities, Chatter,, ExactTarget, or any other Salesforce product, ask yourself – am I using the data that my customers, partners and employees are generating as they interact with my systems to engage them, motivate them, and drive better business performance? Because the companies that do are going to be the ones that win in their markets, and the ones that don’t are going to get left behind.


Rajat Paharia is the founder and Chief Product Officer at Bunchball, the leader in gamification and creators of the award-winning application Nitro for Salesforce. He is also the author of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller Loyalty 3.0: How to Revolutionize Customer and Employee Engagement with Big Data and Gamification.