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Making a game of it! How gamification gets people excited about taste panels.

“Arghh salad.”

Am I right?

That’s what a lot of people must have thought to themselves when I tried to get the employees of a major retailer to attend a salad taste testing session. Some said they had a meeting that clashed. Some were “too busy to leave their desks”. Some didn’t even bother with an excuse.

The same people didn’t seem to have trouble getting to the last session we conducted. Strange. Maybe we just got lucky last time – caught them all at a good time.

We didn’t.

I checked the last taste panel – chocolate cake. Ahh. Mystery solved. No one wanted to spend even a tiny portion of their day tasting salads. Cake, on the other hand. That was a whole different story. After all, who doesn’t have time for cake? Especially, chocolate. And better yet, free cake.

The salad problem

To the retailer, taste testing sessions like these are vital. They can assess and benchmark the quality of Private Label products. Ultimately allowing them to address any issues and refine recipes and packaging. Without these sessions, their Private Label products would be a lot less successful.

But the sessions are only valuable if enough people attend. So I was called in to improve attendance – to address the Salad Problem.

Feedback on salad or fruit smoothies is just as important as burgers, pizzas and chocolate cake. To participants though, what incentive do they have? They’re busy people – why would they spend precious time tasting something their parents used to have to force them to eat? Now they’re adults, they can just get chocolate cake without the torture of finishing those greens…

I looked further into the past at which tasting sessions had attracted healthy attendance (excuse the pun) and which had struggled. It became clear - obvious, even – that taste testers had no reason to help the retailer out by taking the time to taste arguably less exciting foods.

It all came down to motivation. Not necessarily incentive. I didn’t want to have to pay people to turn up. There must be a way of improving attendance on even the most undesirable of products without bribery.

A 21st century solution

This is when I heard something that surprised me, but then, at the same time, made complete sense. In this digital age, people like myself – the so-called Millennials or Generation-Y (although that makes us sound like a scientifically generated sub-species) – live life in a constant state of gamification. Already, we make up a quarter of the workforce in the United States, with this figure set to increase to 75% in the next ten years. And, apparently, over half of this sub-species see real-life as a video game.

Players in the game of life.

There we have it.

What if we were to turn taste testing sessions into a game?

The incentive to participate is no longer simply the opportunity to enjoy some free food. Now, it’s about winning. It’s all about the winning. Not necessarily prizes, but the competition. A simple and fun competition with your colleagues and your friends, which you can win simply from taking the time to get involved.

It all began to fall into place. As the self-assigned moderator I could also manipulate the game. I could assign points to each panel to attract and engage more of the right people.

You need five points to finally knock Bob from Accounting off the top of that leader board?

Lucky for you, the upcoming taste testing session with that delicious freshly ground carrot and broccoli smoothie is worth six points…

Is ‘Gamification’ even a word?

I rather nonchalantly introduced the word gamification in this blog as if it is something we all work with on a daily basis. Truth is, I don’t even know if it is a word. I’ll hold my hands up. It could just be another one of those phrases that seem to be cropping up all over the place – like ‘Ideation’.

But, does it really matter? What I do know is that it works. It engages people, keeping them interested in the competition, keeping them interested in salad.

Sometimes you’ve got to take a step back and look at challenges your business may be facing from a fresh angle. Dare to try a new approach. In the case of my salad story, my customer - the retailer - had to make a small investment in software and administrative support in order to implement my suggested gamification of taste testing sessions.

But the payback has been huge. Attendance has soared, and equipped with the high quality feedback gathered, the popularity and success of their Private Label products is increasing all the time.

Find out more about supplierENGAGE™ Panel Management, our online, collaborative tool for scheduling Product Panels and collating the results.

Tags: Customer experience, Product insights

Alex Fitchett

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