So far in this series of blog articles, we have explored how to drive business objectives using gamification techniques which play on our inbuilt desire to complete tasks and our satisfaction we get from our effort being celebrated.
Today we’ll be taking a look at how to specifically target increased regularity of engagement on digital platforms such as apps and websites. It’s commonplace in the digital space to use gamification techniques to build positive habits around using products on a regular basis. In the case of the popular language learning app “Duolingo”, the technique of “streaks” is used to great effect to help its users remember to spend some time every day studying their language of choice.
We’ll be delving into the Duolingo case study to explore the methods behind their implementation of the “usage streak”, and looking at how the same principles can help to bring fans back to a digital sports product or service on a more regular basis.
For the purposes of this article, I’ll mostly refer to an ‘app’ as our target digital product, but the same methodology is fully applicable to a website or pretty much any digital service/platform.
Digital platforms often employ a variation of the “usage streaks” technique to help drive very frequent (daily or weekly) engagement with their product. The concept involves tracking and clearly visualising to the user how frequently they use the app or website. The aim for the user is to build up a “streak” of continued use for as long as possible without breaking the said streak. Most often, the desired engagement frequency is once per day, but the concept is somewhat flexible to other regular or well-defined intervals and can even be used over short periods of time perhaps for a one-off or a special event.
This technique can be easily adapted to accommodate a prize element, perhaps where users are rewarded with increasingly valued prizes for reaching a higher and uninterrupted streak.
Streaks are effective because they encourage users to put ever more time and effort into the app or website whilst building a usage habit.
The user doesn’t want to break the habit of using the product because doing so will forfeit all of the rewards which come in part from the effort which they have built up so far. This helps to ensure that the lure of potential prizes for reaching large unbroken streaks is always in the user’s mind when they pick up their phone. There is a fear of letting oneself down by forgetting to use the product one day, since it’s known to the user that doing so will result in them having to redo all of their hard effort to date to catch back up to the same point.
When paired with a well considered reward system, this technique can be very effective. There are two different types of reward to consider, both equally applicable. First is the rewarding of physical prizes at streak intervals. Pick streak thresholds at which to reward the user with a prize; these could increase in value as the streak gets higher. You can even set highly sought after “ultimate prizes” for extremely long usage streaks which could help with marketing campaigns and promotion.
Regardless of the actual prizes you pick, the key is to make the next prize always within reach… It may take 30 days to reach the prize you wanted, but if you are on day 23, you’ve only 7 days to go! Give up now, and you’ll be set back to day 1 again.
Second is to reward with prizes of personal and social value; essentially something with which to recognise and celebrate a user’s personal achievement. Ideally, such a reward should be easily shared with friends and peers. Typically this form of reward would be digital, meaning that it’s inexpensive and easy to distribute and as such can help to fill the gap between physical prize thresholds.
The key here is to (a) make the user feel proud of their achievement and (b) give them something which they can share with their peers to earn social respect. In existing products, this often takes the form of a personal “congratulations” screen, or a personalised shareable graphic which can be shared to social media, or even a badge which forever certifies the user’s achievement.
Case study: Duolingo
Duolingo is a very popular language-learning platform with a mobile app at the centre of its offering. Duolingo is monetised with adverts which appear after the conclusion of most lessons (lessons typically last between 5 and 15 minutes depending on format and ability). They also have a premium subscription service which offers some benefits in addition to removing the ads.
Duolingo incorporates a “Daily Streak” feature which clocks up the number of consecutive days in which a given user has completed a lesson. Upon completing the one required daily lesson, the user is shown a screen which confirms the advancement of their daily streak and congratulates them on getting so far. For reaching certain milestones, the user is also given a shareable graphic which they can post to social media or share via chat messages. Furthermore, there is an Achievement system which awards digital badges to the user’s profile for crossing big streak milestones for the first time.
Duolingo daily streak indicator. Screenshot of Duolingo on Android
Users keep track of their daily streak progress on the main app landing page, where it is clearly represented by a symbol of a flame with the number of current consecutive days streak. Users are also sent push notifications in the last few hours of the day to remind them to complete a lesson if they happen to forget, an effective backup prompt.
Whilst it is clear that the more frequently the app is used, the greater the opportunity for Duolingo to earn revenue through its ads, the streak technique serves to benefit the user as well. The streak makes you feel good about yourself as you do more practice, and the fear of losing the streak is enough to make you keep going. It helps to remind users to do their daily practice for their own personal benefit. With each day, you get closer and closer to beating your previous best and having something worthy to be proud of and show off to your friends.
It also helps to ensure that out of all the tools that language learners use, Duolingo is the least likely to be forgotten about or skipped, even on the busiest of days. As superficial as it might be to miss one single day of study, the feeling of being set back to the beginning or missing out on that next Achievement badge draws you back. You “may as well” just complete a lesson to ensure you keep on track.
This feature brilliantly combines the world of business and their corporate objectives with the key themes of self improvement which Duolingo’s users strive for, to build a product which satisfies both through engaging gamification.
Duolingo further plays on our emotions by making very good use of graphics and animations to further discourage users from forgetting to practice. If the user attempts to quit out of a lesson prematurely, they receive a graphic of the platform’s mascot, Duo – a green multilingual owl – on the verge of tears seemingly distraught that you could possibly neglect to study. In contrast, completing streak milestones depicts Duo with a broad smile, confetti and balloons. The mascot is represented throughout the user experience along with other characters to reinforce positive motivation and encourage you to not give up.
In-app graphic of Duo looking disappointed. Screenshot of Duolingo on Android
The streak feature makes it progressively harder to put the app down by building increased perceived value in your progress on their platform. So in summary, Duolingo is very effective at achieving daily retained users by engaging them through the key motivating factor which drove them to download Duolingo in the first place – their desire for self-improvement by learning a language… the embodiment of the notion that practice makes perfect. It creates a gamified value proposition to its users; “keep practising daily and we’ll celebrate your success with you”. Give up and you’ll lose out, not just in terms of progressing your linguistic skills; you’ll also have to start your streak over again.
Driving daily use among sports fans
The Usage Streak concept can be applied to any digital product. It doesn’t necessarily need to target daily engagement either.
In the case of digital products in the sports industry, the method can be targeted towards driving regular matchday behaviour.
Consider a team who wants to drive more frequent usage of their app or website. They can reward users who visit their digital platform every match day to check the scores by giving away merchandise or match tickets to users with the highest match day usage streaks. This can be presented in a fun, interactive way to users too, such as by collecting a digital stamp on their card for each successive matchday usage until they have enough to earn a prize.
This implementation provides clear indication to users about how to participate, which prizes are on offer, and how far they have progressed towards earning a prize. In doing so it keeps interest levels up and helps to show how tantalisingly close the next prize is. It doubles as a fun way for fans to track the matches they watch (either on TV or in the stadium), so that they can look back and recall their memories from throughout the season.
Streaks are not just applicable to matchday engagement, they are also a great way to run promotions or as part of a special event. For instance, a broadcast partner, club or league may be looking to increase the number of subscribers to their Premium Subscription or Video On Demand (VOD) service(s). In such a case, they are able to run a special content plan over the span of one or two weeks whereby a free piece of content (such as a video) is released on the platform for free every day during the promotional period. Users are encouraged to create a free account on the platform and come back every day to watch the new piece of freely released content. Users are able to see their current streak of days for which they have viewed the free piece of content, with each day being checked-off the list. If they come back every day during the promotional period, they can earn themselves a free one month subscription to the platform.
This approach not only gives the user added value in the form of a free piece of daily content, but it also gives them practical first-hand experience of the platform which may help them to make a decision to purchase a subscription once the promotion is over.
It serves both to drive increased usage numbers during the period of the promotion and beyond by demonstrating the value in the services offered, and gamify the process of earning a prize. The prize of 1 month’s free subscription further helps to build trust in the platform through giving users extended first-hand experiences, and can ultimately help to drive purchases.
Whether the user wins the free subscription or not, all participants will have had the opportunity to sample the benefits in one form or another. The platform may choose to expand this concept by introducing discounts for subscription purchases rewarded for reaching lesser daily streaks, further increasing the chance of a purchase.
Apply this to the context of a club shop or online store and you’ve got a way to encourage fans to purchase merchandise through rewarding them with discounts for daily interaction.
Variety is the spice of life, and the same is very much true for gamification. While a series of daily videos may be good, video content may get a little time consuming to produce.
An even better approach is to mix in different types of content for the user to engage with.
This could be articles, matchday previews, photo gallery, and more, and is highly advantageous since it puts less strain on the club’s video content team, spreading the load out, while making the experience for the fan more enjoyable (less monotonous). This is a technique commonly used throughout gamification and is described brilliantly in Nir Eyal’s book “Hooked – How to build habit-forming products” as being like a refrigerator which contains a single different random food item every time you open the door. The key is that the variety of possible products in the fridge always creates a surprise when the door is opened, which is a lot more engaging than if the product were always the same.
This applies to our selection of daily content in the same way – it varies randomly every day to make the experience more interesting. It helps users to appreciate each individual daily content piece much more since there’s no guarantee what tomorrow’s content will be, further heightening the perception of value in the services offered to them.
Increased Regularity of Use Leads to Increased Revenue
Of course, this process isn’t all about distributing prizes. The product stakeholders are ultimately looking to generate revenue from this. This technique gets users to open our app or website (and to interact in some specific way if desired).
The technique is designed to prompt the user to use the product every day and begin a usage journey. It’s then up to us as to how we choose to direct the user to the subsequent steps in that journey.
Once on the app, we can prompt users to participate in other features, such as to read articles, check scores, see the date of the next fixture and consider buying a ticket, or browse the online shop.
Regularity helps keep the product relevant in the minds of users by creating prompts to interact with it, leading to a greater likelihood that they will choose to use the app in situations where they might have time to use their mobile device or computer. In other words, we help the user to become more accustomed to our product in general by building trust through repeat usage with the intention of this leading to preferential consideration of our app/site over competing options.
With all this increased usage and relevancy, we can turn a digital product into a key driver of sales and revenue.
Consider how much more desirable an advertising spot on your website would be if users were coming back daily, or how much more likely a fan might be to purchase a subscription to your platform.
Streaks are a great way to keep fans coming back to a digital service, whether it be over a short period (such as a week or two, or even during a match day) or as a longer term proposition (to engage fans throughout the season).
In the next blog, we’ll explore how a variety of digital platforms successfully engage entire communities of fans. Ranging from viral videos to digital community projects and video games, we’ll uncover how to unite users together around your digital product to share a common goal and help drive the levels of usage that you desire.
Blog #1 – Delivering Great Digital Experiences with Gamification
Blog #2 – Driving Retention to Meet Business Objectives