Any brand that has ever tried to advertise in a mobile game knows there’s a fine line between engaging and annoying the gamer. Most opt for standard banner ads that users promptly brush away. Others try to get creative and integrate themselves into the actual game. Brian Wong thinks they’re all doing it wrong.
"Every advertiser wants you to show them you want to engage with them in some way, whether that’s watching a video or filling out a form," the CEO of mobile rewards platform Kiip tells Co.Create. But when you ask users to stray from their normal behavior, Wong says, brand engagement flops because there’s no incentive to stop playing your game or using your app.
Kiip takes a different approach. It uses brand partners to reward users of more than 400 Kiip-enabled apps with free products and discounts for their in-app achievements. So when you unlock a level or set a new high score in a game that supports Kiip, you might see a message pop up saying you’ve earned a $5 discount on your next Best Buy purchase. But Kiip doesn’t assume users always want those rewards just because brands are giving away free stuff, even when those brands are Kraft, Pepsi, Disney, and American Apparel. That’s why every time you unlock a reward on a Kiip-enabled app, it requires you to manually say you want to redeem it.
"Our whole model has always been about choice," Wong says. "You’re being instantly gratified, but only if you want it."
It didn’t take long for Wong and the Kiip team to notice that, as the network expanded, more users were beginning to explicitly seek out Kiip-supported games for the rewards. (It doles out five rewards each second.) Kiip also noticed that the more users earned, the more they had to keep track of. So today, the nearly two-year-old company is launching the Kiip App, affectionately called "Kiipsake," where its 40 million users can house and track all their rewards in one place. It also lists all the apps that currently enable Kiip rewards, so users don’t have to go looking for them. Haven’t earned any Kiip rewards yet? The uninitiated can play a mini-game in the app that explains what the company does, and will earn a $5 Starbucks gift card that will appear right in the app.
But Kiip doesn’t just work as a rewards system for games, in which "moments" of achievement are an inherent part of the experience. A few months ago, Wong started thinking about other verticals, not just games, in which Kiip could reward people for the small things they accomplish every day. Finishing a great workout, checking items off your To-Do list, or even thumbing up songs on Pandora are all reward-worthy moments in Wong’s eyes.
In March, Kiip began experimenting with rewards for MapMyRUN users. Secret deodorant, for example, rewarded female runners using the app. But instead of an unsexy deodorant sample, Secret rewarded runners with a free song to add to their workout playlists.
"Kiip is able to help certain brands create a kind of affinity with users through methods they wouldn’t be able to use through their product alone," Wong says. "We want to help brands use whatever they can to build that affinity that’s appropriate for the setting it’s in." In other words, Secret first won over the user through music, a common passion point. In the future, it can include other, more product-specific promotions, but the song acts as the initial entry point.
Other brands are following suit. Wong says Kiip is constantly approached by brands who have dreamt up their own rewards for just about anything imaginable, from a free magazine subscription for a reader who finishes a certain number of pages to 1-800-Flowers credits for people using a couples app to keep in touch. And as Kiip expands, it gets increasingly richer insight into where people spend their time and what types of rewards they’re redeeming, which then helps its partner brands decide what they should offer next.
Users also help brands determine their next moves by voluntarily offering up valuable demographic data, because they want to unlock more relevant rewards. To that end, Wong is currently testing ways to gather bits of useful information about Kiip users’ preferences without coming off as intrusive. One place he’s testing this is the small window between when a user authorizes a Kiip-enabled app to redeem a reward and when the authorization completes. During those few seconds, Kiip inserts a couple of fast questions about your preferences. (Do you travel a lot? Are you a Coke or a Pepsi drinker?) In early tests, he’s seen about 57% engagement. Wong is convinced that number is so high because the questions are fast, interesting, easy to tap away, and don’t force you to act any differently than you were.
"If you happen to be where people are already, on their own terms, you have advertising that becomes almost omnipresent in the least daunting way," he says.