Credit unions use a variety of marketing techniques to encourage members to adopt certain products or services and act in financially positive ways. One popular strategy involves using stimuli typically associated with games — such as points, levels, and leaderboards. Such “gamification” is different from other types of promotion because it isn’t about selling a product, it’s about encouraging an action. For this reason, financial education, credit score improvement, and debt reduction are all ideal areas to incorporate gamification strategies.
According to Callahan & Associates’ Peer-to-Peer Analytics, share certificate, money market, and IRA/Keogh activity hasn’t returned to pre-recession levels. Gamification can be one way to encourage savers to move to higher return options, which are better for the credit union and the member than standard deposits.
Here are four gamificaiton tips that will encourage members to make small, positive changes and break bad habits.
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Offer Real-World Benefits Through High-Tech Games
Websites and mobile apps are the quickest, most effective way to reach a large number of people, but they must be streamlined and direct. According to technology research firm Gartner, 80% of gamified applications will fail because of poor game design, such as emphasizing meaningless points, badges, or rewards that have no benefit.
“In many cases, organizations are simply counting points, slapping meaningless badges on activities, and creating gamified applications that are simply not engaging for the target audience,”Gartner’s research vice president, Brian Burke, said in a release. Instead, Burke encourages companies to focus on subtle-yet-crucial elements like “balancing competition and collaboration or defining a meaningful game economy.”
Gamified credit union apps must provide a tangible benefit — such as reduced rates, discounts, prizes, or stronger credit scores — if they are going to be popular and viable for the long term. They also need enough participants to create a social, competitive atmosphere, as reaching the top of the leader board doesn’t mean much if you’re the only one playing.
Gamification strategies appeal to a diverse market audience. Women make up 45% of the gaming population and the average age of game players is 30, according to the Entertainment Software Association. In a credit union trial of the gamified online program SaveUp, a full 71% of users were female and more than half of users were older than 45, indicating it’s not just the younger demographics that respond to gamification.
Adoption rates with the SaveUp trial ranged from 0.72% of online banking users to 6.41%, according to the Filene Research Institute. However, 54.9% of those who participated were motivated to take action to support their financial well-being (i.e., pay down debt or save more money) and 41% developed a better opinion of their credit union.
Incorporate The Real World
Credit unions have used real world events to encourage positive saving behaviors for years. Applying gamification elements such as points, competitions, trials, and eliminations can enhance the exposure and impact of these events.
As part of Money Makeover 2013, four VyStar Credit Union ($4.9B, Jacksonville, FL) families are competing to increase savings, decrease debt, and improve their general financial situation. The winner will receive an $8,000 prize. The families have access to a wealth of resources, including personalized coaching by credit union employees, and two local news stations are documenting the families’ successes and tribulations during the competition.
Likewise, Wright-Patt Credit Union ($2.6B, Fairborn, OH) used local news segments, social media, and a dedicated microsite to chronicle the fifth installment of its Savings Race, in which five high school students and their families had to get their finances in order before attending an institution of higher learning. The winner won a $10,000 scholarship, the other four participants received a $2,000 scholarship, and each of the teams improved their net worth by an average of $26,000, according to the credit union.
But the benefits of these competitions reach beyond the participants. Research into mirror neurons — which some scientists believe to be the root of empathy — indicate that watching others in competition can have the same effect on our bodies and minds as if we were competing ourselves. When broadcast via television, online, and mobile channels, these campaigns generate benefits by influencing the behaviors of the audiences who tune in.
Think Outside The Box But Inside The Rules
From a regulatory standpoint, some gamification options that work for other industries are off the table for credit unions. For example, prized-linked savings (PLS) contests present legal challenges due to the requirement that depositors forfeit their interest, which is typically pooled and given away as the prize, or are required to make other purchases to qualify.
But regulatory hurdles shouldn’t stop credit unions from exploring alternatives and creating options that are suited for the non-profit financial industry. For example, sweepstakes, in which the cooperative or a third party provides the prize money and there is no charge for participation, are an alternative to PLS contests and are legal in every state, according to the Washington DC-based think tank The Heritage Foundation.