A Behavioral Engagement Path: Combining Nudge and Gamification

As an online user, you have noticed some special features designed to encourage you to take actions: a timer for a limited offer, a comparison with other users’ performance, points to be earned to get a reward… many of which are labelled by some as “game mechanics”, and by others as “digital nudges”.   


Behavioral economics and gamification are in fact two domains that have prospered independently, before joining the design & UX toolbox. Both have come up with solutions to facilitate behavior change using engineered design. And both have built their legitimacy on the results of behavioral experiments, either academic or empirical. Today they are uniting in the broader space of so called “behavioral design” and “behavioral sciences”.

Although the two overlap, they have each developed their own domains of excellence when applied to business:

  • Gamification, as an application of game mechanics to solve real-life problems in non-game situations, is particularly effective for increasing people’s engagement, motivation, or improving learning. Gamified features transform the user journey into a long-lasting adventure. They enhance the experience as well as change the nature of the relationship (from a boring task into a playful or meaningful one).
  • The Nudge, or gentle incitation, is based on the knowledge of behavioral biases and the drivers of influence. A Nudge is a small change in an existing touch point that is facilitating choices, increasing conversion, or unlocking bottlenecks. Nudges help to remove barriers, make things easy, and are often sought after for their ROI, as well as for increasing marketing efficiencies.

Towards a unified framework for business:

To embrace the learnings of both fields in a single methodology, we reorganized the existing knowledge of bias and the drivers of influence along 4 key steps of a behavioral engagement path:

1. Prepare the context that creates the favorable conditions

2. Engage the psychological magnets that trigger early connections

3. Facilitate the features that make choices quick and easy

4. Encourage the feedback and social signaling that reinforce and diffuse the behavior

In this first picture, you can see the underlying behavioral science concepts driving these 4 steps:

Behind each phase, we identified attentional and motivational levers to consider in order to build a seamless engagement plan. Each of the 12 sections in the following illustration cover a key question that marketers, UX designers, and/or leaders should consider to nudge people in the right direction. The sequence may apply at each moment of truth along the journey.

To expand the tool, we later selected and organized the 12 most useful game mechanics with proven success in the business world, as possible contributors to enhance your engagement plan. These would bring dimensions that are not always covered by nudge theory, like storytelling or goal framing to turn actions into a challenge. But you can also find virtual incentives like points or surprises to sustain interest, or badges used as rewards as well as social proofs.


Underlying behavioral science concepts driving four key steps of a behavioral engagement path
The 12 most useful game mechanics with proven success in the business world

But the toolbox is not the architect!

The efficiency of an engagement plan does not depend on the number of tools in the toolbox, but first on the designer’s ability to correctly decode user’s mental models. You cannot choose the right game mechanic or nudge unless you tackle the right problem. And there is no miracle: none will compensate for a poorly designed service or one that does not meet a customer’s need. Hence cutting/pasting existing game features or nudges has often no more effect than decorating a x-mas tree, only there for decoration.

That is why any engagement plan should start with a business question that is converted into a behavioral challenge. Then understanding what governs user’s behavior is the condition to succeed in using these powerful tools to efficiently change behaviors. In that sense, we consider behavioral science as a foundational knowledge before any design work is started.

Interested in facilitating behavior change using engineered design? Get in touch.