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QSRs find right ingredients for loyalty in Web-based mobile games

Quick-service restaurants' enthusiasm for making gamification a part of their mobile loyalty strategies suggests that Web-based games are easier to stomach ? unless a brand already boasts the massive affinity needed to justify a standalone application.

More QSRs are finding valuable branding opportunities and methods of driving customer engagement on mobile by rolling out easy-to-play games coinciding with new menu items or promotions. However, the debate of leveraging Web-based games versus app-based ones frequently causes marketers to become divided on the best solution to tap.

?For small games tied to promotions, Web-based delivery is likely the ideal choice,? said Bill Magnuson, co-founder and chief technology officer at Appboy Inc., New York. ?In addition to being faster and easier to develop, they also do not require an app store download and can be more seamlessly distributed via social channels, email and pre-existing Web traffic.

?However, for games that are part of a long-lived app representing the brand, an investment in the app distribution channel is worthwhile. The ability to use targeted push and in-app notifications and drive consumers to find value in adjacent features of the app gives brands more opportunities to find ROI in their game development efforts.?

Easy consumer connections
Brands must first determine the size of their active mobile audience when deciding whether to introduce a game on a mobile site or within a standalone app. One benefit to Web-based games is that consumers can simply enter the site into their search bar and circumvent any downloads or further commitment to relinquishing prime real estate on mobile.

?Determining between Web-based or mobile apps is based on how you want to connect with your clients,? said Nadine Spuls, director of business development at Atimi, Vancouver, Canada. ?An easy starting point is whether you believe your users would enjoy push notifications in relation to the games.

?By choosing to build a mobile app you have more ways to connect directly to your users without relying on them to check back into your mobile site. An app allows you to reach out to your user base any time you need to.?

Several chains have successfully leveraged mobile sites to entice consumers to play with branded content and subsequently receive a sweepstakes entry or reward for playing.

For a summer marketing campaign highlighting differences between Chipotle?s ingredients and those commonly used by other fast food brands, Chipotle Mexican Grill brought an educational twist to a mobile Web-based game and sweepstakes that enabled entrants to receive a buy one, get one free offer redeemable only on smartphones (see story).

Meanwhile, in February, Dunkin? Donuts offering mobile fans the opportunity to play a Valentine?s Day-themed instant win game with a myriad of prizes and drove enrollment in its DD Perks loyalty program with a sweepstakes option featuring a grand prize of two JetBlue flight vouchers (see story).

Restaurant and entertainment complex chain Dave & Buster?s opted to tap three new gaming apps to drive customer engagement in-store and offsite while offering prizes redeemable at its locations (see story).

Mobile users are likely to engage with bite-sized content that can be used to pass the time while commuting, waiting in lines or on-the-go, which lends more support to the no-download-necessary factor of Web-based games.

?Gaming is not a pastime of all of your clients,? Ms. Spuls said. ?Mobile gaming will have to be just one of the ways a brand chooses to engage their customers as part of a larger marketing initiative.?

Ultimately, if major brands with the national reach of a Dunkin? Donuts or Chipotle wish to develop a standalone app for gaming, they will likely have a base amount of customers who will be willing to download the app. It will, however, require periodic updates and maintenance to ensure that it does not become stagnant on users? phones.

One new game a month could be introduced to these app users, with exclusive discounts or prizes targeted to them.

Conversely, Dunkin? Donuts and Chipotle have both been tapping microsites for their loyalty gaming initiatives, and seeing considerable customer traffic on them.

Offering incentives
After a brand has selected a Web-based or app-based strategy, it must pinpoint what types of incentives its customers will respond best to. Special offers are paramount for attracting new consumers as well as rewarding existing ones.

?Incentives can be extremely beneficial when driving app downloads especially for consumers who are unaware or new to the brand,? said Andrea Wilson, account director at Sq1, Dallas, TX. ?It may not be particularly necessary if a consumer is already extremely passionate about a retailer or QSR chain because they already have the brand affinity and loyalty. 

?Incentive or not though, the game must be fun and engaging for the specific target audience to truly drive and retain the download of the app.?

Video would also be a smart component to include in the game.

According to a BrightRoll Research report, customers who frequent QSRs are often the same target groups who consume the largest amount of video on mobile, suggesting that many food and beverage brands are missing a crucial marketing opportunity if they are not leveraging video advertising to engage this audience (see story).

Most importantly, QSRs must understand that mobile gaming is a crucial piece to the loyalty puzzle, but cannot be expected to support the foundation without several other tie-ins.

?One key challenge is having the mobile game be the only loyalty solution,? Ms. Wilson said. ?Loyalty programs work best when you are able to engage and communicate with your consumers on a regular basis with new content and information. 

?This should be through news about new products/menu items/promotions, announcements of exclusive special deals and coupons, as well as entertainment that will engage like mobile gaming,? she said. ?In addition, the type or theme of the mobile game can be very specific to a segment of a brand?s audience, running the risk of alienating some of the other audience segments. 

?Games that a busy mom would play can be much different than games a teenage boy would play.  Consumers want customization in a loyalty program so consideration of the type of mobile game and the possibility of customized games is critical.?

Final Take
Alex Samuely is an editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York