As serious marketing and insights professionals, we tend to take ourselves very seriously. Data-driven solutions. Statistically projectable sample sizes. Methodologically sound research design. This is serious stuff. And, it should be. With large investments and high risk on the line, it is critical to have your i’s dotted and your t’s crossed when it comes to insight recommendations and go/no go decisions.

But before you get to all of that … before you make the call on the next big product launch or ad spend … before you get ALL serious … ask yourself what is the value in knowing who your customer is and what they really need and want. And, then ask yourself what are the best ways to get there.

If you really want to learn about your customer … if you truly want to understand who they are, how they express themselves and what makes them tick … I suggest you stop being so serious and start having fun. Want to learn about someone? Play a game with them.


“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

–Richard Lingard


Before I try to convince you that game play in our marketing and insights work is the best thing since, well, Netflix started streaming their own content, let me get serious for a moment and throw down some facts. Did you know …

  Over 5 million people play games an average of 45 hours per week*

Over 5 million people play games an average of 45 hours per week*

  Revenue from game and game content is up and on par with the movie industry at $24 billion a year*

Revenue from game and game content is up and on par with the movie industry at $24 billion a year*

  62% of all “gamers” in the U.S. are adults*    *  Source   : bigfishgame.com

62% of all “gamers” in the U.S. are adults*

Source: bigfishgame.com


Ok, so gaming is a big deal. People like games! Now, let’s get back to why it should matter to you.


I’d like to talk about the curse of too much data and not enough time. The scourge of endless choices and not enough intuition. What about the challenge of how to make all that data you have not only understood among your layers of stakeholders BUT how to make it all stick so you can get some traction and get things done. Let’s face it, numbers can only get you so far. How do you get your stakeholders, your team, and your boss to buy in, say yes, and feel it in their gut? Daniel Pink, in his book “A Whole New Mind” wrote about the tenants of how to win in today’s economy. His ‘must have’s’ to win are design, story, symphony, empathy, meaning, and PLAY.

We know that interactivity or hands-on involvement is the cornerstone of adult learning and retention. We retain the least – about 10% -- of what we hear in a lecture or what we read in a book. As the level of interaction increases, so does our learning. Practice by doing and teaching others yields 75% to 90% retention.

 Practice by doing and teaching yields 75-90% retention.

Practice by doing and teaching yields 75-90% retention.

No more boring lectures and stuffy pre-reads. I’m calling a moratorium on endless reams of spreadsheets. And, let’s not always leave it up to a single moderator to stand up there and ask all the questions in the focus group while we sit in the backroom of a research facility stuffing our faces with M&Ms and responding to email. The best learning and the quickest way to YES comes from engaging people together – brand teams AND their customers -- in an active session where they work out a problem, build something, or participate in a lively exchange of thoughts and ideas OR play a game together!


All of this sounds well and good, right? But how do I legitimately bring play into my next insights effort and/or business challenge?


Well, we’ve done it a number of ways on projects both large and small. Here are some ideas to get your started

1. Play the Game of Life

 Playing Lifeology™ helps you tap into who your customers are and what matters most to them.

Playing Lifeology™ helps you tap into who your customers are and what matters most to them.

Did you ever play this game as a kid? What path do you choose? Career? Family? What to do next? We took a similar approach in a board game we developed, called Lifeology™. Our client teams play one-on-one or in pairs with a customer and take turns moving around a game board landing on topics such as Values, Entertainment, Shopping, and Health. For each topic, you pick from a stack of question cards and each person must answer the question. Questions are designed to get beyond yes, no and delve more deeply into motivations, aspirations, fears, and worries. If you play, one question you might ask and answer is: “What advice would you give your younger self to help you better prepare for the future?” Some deep stuff. The best part, you get what you give. The more our clients open up and share, the more their customers do too. Before you know it, you have tapped into who they are and what matters most to them. Then we debrief on the experience and capture all that great learning. It’s a great way to kick-off a large learning program and get the team involved.

2. Co-Create Together

  Co-creating products with your consumers brings insights alive in a playful atmosphere.     

Co-creating products with your consumers brings insights alive in a playful atmosphere.  

Innovation feeds on divergent thought and starts with lots of unfiltered ideas. You may have some opportunity areas and ideas but now it’s time to bring in the consumer and build out the possibilities. Resist the urge to do traditional focus groups. Instead, consider getting in the room with your consumers and using different themed stations with idea-inspiring stimulus to prompt dialogue on needs, occasions, barriers, and delivery. Consumers rotate from station to station and then pair up with members of the brand team to create their own ideal version of product X or service Y. Ideas feed off each other and spark new and divergent solutions, sometimes to problems you never even knew existed. Sessions like these have yielded new product ideas and communication strategies for software engineers, food scientists, and financial services marketers.

3. Play a Game with Yourself to Broaden Your Perspective.

 Go a little deeper and challenge yourself with Elevation™ card play.

Go a little deeper and challenge yourself with Elevation™ card play.

Stuck in a rut? Need to break out of your usual routine or sharpen your observation or listening skills? Play a game. We developed Elevation™ cards to help broaden your perspective . A deck of 52 cards contain small challenges and ideas to stretch your brain in new and different ways. We’ve had clients use Elevation™ cards as a team building activity. And, a few brave souls have taken the 30-day detox challenge picking a new card each day for 30 days and jotting down their experience. You may be surprised by what you learn about the world around you and about yourself. Here’s a freebie card challenge to try: “Yes, and?” is an improve tool used to keep a skit moving forward. Try it with anyone you engage with in conversation today (e.g. “Yes, and how are you feeling about that?”)

Game play within teams and between teams and their customers isn’t all just fun and games. We played games as children and the act of play actually allows us to tap into those latent experiences, memories, and feelings. We are also all hardwired to compete. A session of play allows that competitive nature to come out such that people really engage and don’t just check out. Now, I’m not saying a game is the silver bullet to fix all your problems. A game will not get your expense reports in on time or tell you how much lift your last 15 second TV spot obtained. But, the outcome of playing a game with your customers [and with yourself] can lead to big aha moments, a sense of achievement, and blissful productivity. It’s optimistic and it’s fun and you really do learn.


Don't take yourself too seriously and remember to play. Lately, when I'm in need of some play-spiration, I like Cards Against Humanity and the virtual reality game, Fruit Ninja. What games are you playing these days...?

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