How Homebeat app used gamification and mobile to incentivize customers to adopt new habits

Gamification—one of the most used words in the learning industry. And now it’s being used to help save the planet.

Bidgely, a California energy analytics company, teamed up with United Energy in Melbourne, Australia, to create an app that incentivized customers to reduce energy use at peak times. Habits and behaviors are familiar targets if you’re in the learning industry, but they are surprisingly difficult to change. So how did this app get customers to reduce energy by 30%, and what can we learn from it?

How the app works

The HomeBeat app uses gamification techniques to incentivize customers to reduce their energy consumption at peak times. Gamification is the technique of using game elements in the learning environment to increase motivation, aid retention, and drive behavior change. The techniques this app uses are personalized targets, timescales, rewards, and competition—as it pits customers against their neighbors. But it wasn’t until the app went mobile that it really attracted the crowds and got widespread results.

Here’s a snapshot of how it works; we’ve called out the key features.

homebeat-app1

The app managed to reduce energy consumption at peak times by 30%. That’s a huge drop. So what does this app do well that helped change people’s behavior and sustain it?

Let’s look at four key elements—leaderboards, rewards, personalization, and mobility—and explain why they work and how you can best use them.

1. Using leaderboards—why they work

The HomeBeat app incentivizes customers with some friendly competition; they can compare how they’re doing against their neighbors. Leaderboards are a great way to provide motivation, and we see people opting to use them in popular fitness apps such as FitBit and Strava.

Why do they work?

Competition is a tried and tested way to motivate people and is a common feature in gaming. It’s what psychologists call an “extrinsic motivator.” But the use of leaderboards goes beyond competition; we’re actually a bit sheeplike and like to follow the crowd.

Psychology and neuroscience studies show that even though we might like to think we’re different, for the most part, we like to be part of the crowd—this is called “social-proofing.” In Neuroscience for Learning and Development, Stella Collins describes how rather than being motivated by negative crowd signals, such as a doctor’s office putting up a sign displaying how many people missed appointments, we are much more motivated by the crowd’s positive behaviors. The doctor’s office announcing how many people attended their appointments had a much bigger effect on driving attendance. In the HomeBeat app, seeing that neighbors are saving energy and money incentivizes others to join in.

We’ve made social polling a standard feature in Elucidat, because of the learning benefits it brings. Learners can compare their views to those of other learners, as shown by this Open University example:

open-university-example

Or compare to those of experts, as shown in this Utility Warehouse example:

utility-warehouse

What the crowd thinks and what the crowd is doing can help shape learners’ thoughts and behaviors. Bring in the views of respected experts and make the examples positive, and you’ll increase that influence further.

2. Rewards—why they work best when they’re accumulative

Rewards are everywhere in games and gamified learning. The HomeBeat app rewards customers for reducing their energy use, but its designers found an interesting snag:

“Customers would make a very enthusiastic effort at the start of the event but…we’d see a huge increase [in energy use] right after the end of an event.” (Lawrence Law, Product Manager for United Energy)

After receiving a reward, customers’ efforts to cut energy dropped. So to sustain positive behaviors, the energy companies introduced a tiered reward system that required consistent reductions to get the full reward.

Why do tiered rewards work?

Rewards are another form of extrinsic (external) motivator. A prize is dangled in front of us like a carrot, and we work to get it. But because it’s an extrinsic motivator, not intrinsic, like a deep belief in taking action, as soon as the carrot disappears, many people stop. So extrinsic rewards work only as long as they continue to be dangled in front of us. Here’s how.

Accumulative: If you’re looking to build rewards into your learning, make them accumulative, so learners earn them over time, much like we see in Duolingo and as used in this course, built in Elucidat for Pepsico, by Learning Evolution.

pepsi-example

Weighted: Consider making achievements weighted, so certain ones earn learners more points than others.

Let’s say learners need 300 points to qualify. You could provide some quizzes or tasks that are quick and easy to complete but which only earn learners 2 points. Then there might be some in-depth branching scenarios or complex challenges that take longer and require more concentration but which can earn learners a max of 40 points.

We use a score-weighting system in Elucidat to allow some achievements or question options to carry more weight than others and to add motivation where it counts most.

When someone achieves only part of the total score available, it drives them to try again.

Of course, another way to build long-term behavior change is to provide intrinsic motivators as well as extrinsic ones. Make sure you provide those motivating hooks that appeal to hearts and minds.

3. Personalization—why it works

The HomeBeat app targets individuals with personal goals. The app uses what it knows about an individual’s energy consumption to provide stretching but achievable goals just for them.

Why does personalization work?

What would you rather have, relevant, tailored learning content that adapts to your abilities and needs or something generic? Achievable challenges at just the right level of stretch or a challenge that’s too easy or too hard?

Personalization is about targeting content to an individual’s needs to make the learning experience relevant, efficient, and more effective.

Personalization is not only sensible but is expected, as modern learners are used to finding just what they want online and being recommended good alternatives when they can’t.

Interested in personalizing your learning? Here are some examples to help you get started:

  • Address learners by name, as demoed in this cash register training.
  • Build in a filtering system up front, so learners see content or challenges that are relevant for their role only.
  • Use rules to create bespoke filters—such as a rule enabling learners to select relevant needs or set their own targets from a given menu and filtering the content and challenges they receive as a result.
  • Use branching to provide adaptive learning journeys that respond to how a learner answers a question—stepping up or down the complexity or changing the outcome within a scenario as a result.

4. Going mobile—how it increased audience participation x10

The HomeBeat app started as a pilot scheme with just 30 customers. It got great results but needed to attract more people to the program. Its designers realized that the pilot had leaned toward older residents, and they needed to attract younger customers to grow the program.

How do you attract a more diverse audience? And voluntarily too? By going mobile. Making the app a multidevice app took the designers from 30 to 300 customers.

Why does going mobile work?

Not only are smartphones everywhere, they are now second nature; the average person checks his or her smartphone nine times an hour. So of course, making content multidevice makes sense if you want to tap into wider markets. In terms of L&D, 67% use mobile devices to access learning, a stat that’s predicted to rise.

Related: How to give legacy content a mobile lease on life

Final thoughts

We love hearing how technology enables change—and by using the gamification techniques of leaderboards, rewards, and personalized targets, this story shows technology’s power to change behaviors.

Going mobile helped take this app to the next level and attract a wider audience. Modern learners want the convenience and flexibility of mobile content.

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