Executive Interview: Aaron Carr, CEO and founder, Friendefi

Airlines are beginning to understand that gamification provides a set of tools that compliment their existing loyalty practices, says Aaron Carr, CEO and founder, Friendefi.

There really are many options for using gamification to create fun, interactive ways of obtaining educating customers, capturing customer data, driving transactions, and more.

Airlines are trying to incorporate gamification into routine features of a loyalty program. Be it for social activity, for instance, rewarding for completing valuable social sharing activities, or flying on specific routes, such initiatives need to fulfil a certain objective.

And rather than just focusing on the tactical aspect, airlines need to augment the overall experience via gamification, Carr told Ai Correspondent Ritesh Gupta.

Ai: How do you indulge in gamification yourself?

Carr: I do indulge in gamification from time-to-time…The practice isn’t that widespread yet - we’re working on changing that, but a recent airline example that I really enjoyed was Air Canada’s Earn Your Wings. This promotion encouraged Air Canada’s frequent flyers to ‘race’ and out-fly one-another over a two-month period. Although it mainly appealed to very frequent flyers, I thought it proved to be innovative from the standpoint of bringing competition and goal achievement (earning “Wings” and destination badges) to a very ‘business-centric’ customer group.

Ai: If you were to highlight areas that signify progress of gamification in the arena of loyalty, what would these be? What are the concrete benefits that gamification is offering to strengthen loyalty?

Carr: Most of the advancements around incorporating gamification into the program experience have largely been tactical – only used on a promotional basis.

But increasingly we’re seeing programs incorporate some aspects of gamification – such as recognition for achieving objectives through badging – as part of the core experience. While the benefits of tactical gamification can be very impressive, we believe that weaving these practices into the fabric of the program can yield even greater benefits.

Gamification – done well – creates activity and engagement loops where participants repeat a behavior, becoming better and better at it (think about levels within a video game). And, of course, encouraging repeat behaviour is a core objective of loyalty programs.

Ai: What is the most attractive part of social gamification for airlines today?

Carr:Gamification can be attractive to airlines for several reasons. But at the top of my list are two in particular: the ability to engage customers to learn about their frequent flyer offering and the ability to drive short (and potentially long)-term flight behaviour. 

Ai: Any campaign that you would like to highlight?

Carr:The American Airlines AAdvantage Passport Challenge, which we launched with AA last year stands out as a very strong case study – both for its scale and its results.

AA had three broad objectives:

(1) loyalty program education and partner awareness;

(2) social channel use and engagement; and

(3) drive short-term flight behaviour.

The promotion consisted of a digital “passport” and members could sign-in using their Facebook credentials and by entering their AAdvantage number. For each activity and game participants’ completed, they earned the accompanying passport stamp (like a badge) and AAdvantage miles. The games proved very popular and effective at improving participants’ awareness of partners. In fact, we saw a double-digit increase in mileage accumulation (spending) by members who played the partner games at those same partners. The social actions were also popular – participants dramatically increased their social channel engagement with AA as a result of the promotion and even helped the promotion achieve a greater reach by sharing with their social network friends. Finally, we saw an incredible lift in flight behaviour – mostly attributable to the personal goal we assigned to every participant. The goal was based on your actual historical flight behaviour and pro-rated to the 60-day duration of the promotion. A significant number of participants hit their goal resulting in a dramatic increase in pre / during flying on AA.

Ai: How should airlines approach social gamification?  

There isn’t one approach for how airlines can use gamification. A gamification initiative should always start from the airline’s business objectives and target audience.

When designing a gamification initiative you should also always ask the question: “What actions do I want my target audience to take?” Literally – think about what exact actions you want the target audience to perform and then consider the game mechanics that can be used to motivate those actions. And if your initiative includes purchases (e.g. Booking a flight), then consider how that information will be communicated from the airline’s reservation system or loyalty system to the gamification platform. Gamification works best when information flows in near real-time. I do something and see the result instantaneously or pretty quickly thereafter. So, in my book, the only do’s and don’ts have to do with designing your initiative based on a good assessment of your objectives, target audience, and desired actions / behaviors.

Ai: From your experience, who generally forms the core target audience for gamification? What are the strengths and limitations of gamification when it comes to targeting a specific audience?

Carr: Actually, I would flip this question on its head. Gamification is a broad tool-set and its appeal isn’t limited to a specific audience. Rather, the game mechanics and narrative should be determined based on the group a company wishes to influence. This should be judged based on behaviour characteristics. Using the Air Canada example, we know that most frequent flyers are traveling for business. Many business executives, by nature, are competitive and achievement-oriented. So a race to out-do others works. But this wouldn’t be the case for a less competitive subset of their customer base. Although these characteristics are not always known (as they’re not often measured by companies), they can often be inferred and tested. 

Ai: Considering the utility of mobile devices, how social gamification offers a bigger opportunity?

Carr: So much of the traveler journey remains untapped. Airplanes contain captive audiences for hours at a time. As an alternative to watching last month’s Hollywood films, imagine being able to play educational games about the airline, its products and services, its loyalty program and its loyalty program partners while earning miles. Or playing games that challenge you to create your dream travel itineraries so that the airline can understand your future potential travel intentions…Or creating in-airport challenges or global travel challenges.

There really are many options for using gamification to create fun, interactive ways of obtaining educating customers, capturing customer data, driving transactions, and more.

Ai: Can you share metrics associated with social gamification that help in meeting different campaign objectives?

Carr: In addition to the traditional metrics for any marketing campaign or program, gamification provides another layer of data capture and information. For example, when we ran the AAdvantage Passport Challenge, we not only measured how many people participated in the campaign, but how many completed each game and action. In addition to this, if the game involved trivia, we measured how many questions they answered correctly. In my view, this is a really compelling aspect of gamification, because we could tell AA not just how many customers played a specific game, but how many actually absorbed the marketing message promoted within that game. This is why, we believe, we saw such impressive increases in mileage earning at partners during the promotion. We didn’t offer bonus miles for shopping at those partners. Rather, we enticed customers to learn about those partners by playing games and trivia and only rewarded them for answering correctly. This had the effect of really increasing awareness and understanding.

Similarly, gamification can be a really effective tool for encouraging people to provide their purchase or travel intentions. Within the AAdvantage Passport Challenge, we had a couple of ‘create your own story’ or ‘dream getaway’ activities, where we asked customers to select their dream trip, hotel property, and activities at destination. From the customers’ standpoint, they were simply taking a minute to day dream about an ideal trip they would like to take. But, from our standpoint, they were providing valuable interest and intention data that could be used later to target highly relevant offers.

Ai: One factor that seems to be annoying a lot of customers these days is the availability of the lowest cost award tickets.  Is there any way gamification can help in making perception of FFPs better?

Carr: Having been responsible for flight rewards when I worked at Aeroplan, I understand the issue of seat availability very well. While many complaints about seat availability are valid, at Aeroplan we recognized that most program members didn’t understand how to maximize their chances of getting a seat using their miles.

For example, booking window, departure and destination airport, time of year, day of departure…etc, all impact the likelihood of getting a seat. Having seen the effectiveness of gamification as an educational approach, I would say that this could definitely be applied to educating program members about seat availability and the various options they have (e.g. departing on a Tuesday instead of a Saturday) for improving their chances of getting a seat.

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us and Checkout our events at: www.AiConnects.us