Making everything as easy as possible for users isn’t always the best way to get their attention. Gamification puts just enough distance between you and your customers to encourage long-term engagement without causing user frustration.

When we talk about engagement, most of the interactions that we’re referring to are brief, fleeting encounters with a brand. These strategies build a brand identity in consumers’ minds and, if executed correctly, make the target audience more likely to consider the company in future buying decisions.

But while any kind of exposure to your company is good, these kinds of interactions usually don’t bring you much actual value. In most cases, the user sees the sponsored content as an obstacle to something else they want, like discounts or online content unrelated to the brand.

Even if they download an app, most users are likely to uninstall it as soon as they’ve extracted the value wanted from it — that is, unless you give them a reason to keep looking for more.

When you challenge users to execute tasks, solve problems, or take more responsibility for the service they want, you’re inserting some elements of gaming into your brand experience. This raises the stakes of their engagement, giving them more than enough reason to sustain a continued relationship with your brand — gamification is exactly that reason.

Giving Customers Control

While gamified apps may have less success with users who weren’t already interested in your product to begin with, where it’s really effective is converting casual users into dedicated ones.

Domino’s, for instance, is seen by many as just one of a few major pizza delivery chains, and to the casual user, it might not matter which one of them they choose to call on a Friday night. But as ThoughtWorks reports, the company began prompting customers to create their own pizza with an app called Pizza Mogul, which offered an incredible degree of customization.

The ability to control their final product gave customers a reason to consistently choose Domino’s over competitors like Pizza Hut and Papa John’s.

What’s more, the app encouraged users to promote the pizzas they created to others via social media, and even offered a significant percentage of each sale when others purchased their creations.

Pizza Mogul’s success shows that customers not only feel more loyalty to brands that ask for engagement, but those that offer incentives to share and compare that engagement with others.

Friendly Competition

Almost every successful app either explicitly or implicitly asks users to compare their experience or performance on their app to those of others. The “likes” or “favorites” you get on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts have very little use other than to invite comparison to other posts from other users.

By implying the need for comparison, these services are engaging users’ natural instinct to compete with one another.

That is to say that gamification can be more cunning than actually asking users to play a game and compare their scores. It’s no coincidence, for example, that many users report that Tinder starts to feel like playing a game.

After putting in all the time of swiping either left or right, you eventually earn some “matches” that act as a reward for your engagement — it’s no wonder that many Tinder users spend hours on the app without ever messaging someone they match with.

A gamified app may take up more of the user’s time, but if it’s creative, competitive, and subtle, it’s almost guaranteed to make more of an impact on users than a brief ad or one-time discount. It might be time to stop asking how many customers you can interact with, and start asking how many customers you can get to interact with you.