Wordle strikes a delicate balance between being just difficult enough to release a dose of dopamine when you get it right, but not too tricky to prevent you from trying again tomorrow. Word games are nothing new – they’ve been around for centuries, but Wordle’s simplicity and shareability have managed to entice entire generations from Gen Z to Boomers. By giving every single player across the world the same one word to crack, Wordle has initiated a global competition on an equal playing field. From work colleagues to families to Twitter followers, these 6 rows of boxes have become one big, shared gaming experience. And that breeds competition – online and off. We’ve all been there, discussing each other’s first-word techniques, go-to vowels and consonant strategies while smugly sharing our 30-day streaks and green boxes. It’s harmless fun – with just enough edge to want to win.
There’s nothing worse than sending a Spotify playlist to someone who uses Apple Music, recommending a TV show to someone without Amazon Prime or having to wait months before a new game is available on your console. It’s the curse of the 21st century: When things don’t fall into place instantly, we don’t want them. That’s why Wordle’s shareability is so genius: complete your daily game and your shared link will auto-fill your results with grey, yellow, and green emoji squares – to be posted to your medium of choice in just one click. No log-in, no subscription, no download, no membership required. To other players, it’s a spoiler-free way of showing off your result, while those not in the loop can be intrigued by a cryptic Twitter feed filled with green squares.
The emoji squares tick so many of our basic marketing boxes: how to tell a story without words, how to be universally accessible and minimise frustration, how to keep people coming back for more. Frustratingly genius.
Heardle, Quordle, Nerdle and beyond
But why now? What is it about these bite-sized, 5-minute games that have taken the world by storm in 2022? Are they simply a post-Covid version of water cooler chat or is there more to it? Once Wordle exploded on the scene, copycats were quick to follow. From Taylor Swift-themed Taylordle to film-guessing game Moviedle, it wasn’t just word-themed challenges that were taking up our tea break. Anything that grabbed our attention and rewarded us with that instant gratification was added to the list. It became community-building.
Playing games is in our nature. It’s how we learn, it’s how we communicate, it’s how we make connections. A lot of it comes back to the likes of dopamine release, emotional memory, flow, etc – but we’ll leave that one to the folks at Psychology Today. It does make sense, then, that after our two years of lockdown and quarantines, we have found a new joy in the shared experience of play, enjoying relief in those brief pockets of time we spend exercising our brains together.
Like so many common marketing strategies, gamification is just another tool based on our human behaviour. It gives consumers agency. By completing a gamified step at some point in the marketing funnel, buyers become active participants instead of passive pawns. And because it results in a pay-off, they keep coming back for more. This tactic works online and IRL – you only have to look at McDonald’s Monopoly, Doritos Roulette, Starbucks’ Rewards or Headspace’s app design to see gamification put into action.
Let’s talk about money
So back we go to question number 1: How can brands make this work for them? First things first: Wordle was never designed to be monetised. It was simply a game Josh Wardle created for his girlfriend to keep her entertained throughout lockdown. She loved it, so he shared it with his friends and followers to give it a go themselves. No banner ads, no pop-ups, no data exchange – and no income. It wasn’t until the New York Times got involved that Josh was able to take advantage of his viral sensation – eventually selling it for a hefty 1 million dollars. You would too.
But even with the New York Times sticking their URL in front of the game, it’s still free. So – where’s the money coming from? And where is it going? In all likelihood, the New York Times will start monetising Wordle through gated access, the same way they’ve done with their Crossword and other games. Either that or we’ll start to see ads appear whenever we refresh our tab. One thing’s for sure – with millions of daily users, the New York Times have cracked the code to boosting site traffic.
The premise works. As consumers, we’re so used to being bombarded with money-grabbing strategies across our apps and searches that it’s noticeably different when a brand does the exact opposite. Take Patagonia’s infamous ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’ campaign in 2011, for example. Their aim was to be “the only retailer in the country asking people to buy less on Black Friday.” The result? A 30% growth in revenue by 2012. (More on that here.) Or what about Tesla – who famously don’t spend any money on traditional advertising? Sure, it helps when you have Elon Musk at your helm, who himself is a walking advertisement for the brand, but the idea’s the same: when you stop pushing your product onto people, they start pulling.
This also explains why the Freemium business model has become so popular. The online graphic design platform Canva has over 60 million active monthly users taking advantage of its free suite of tools. But upgrading to their Pro model is just a few clicks away – and with countless devoted fans on board, Canva was just valued at $40 billion USD. Like Wordle, Canva follows a simple rule: Give, without asking back. In return, your customers will reward you with loyalty.
Let’s put our learnings to work
One thing’s for certain: Wordle is undoubtably a success. So, let’s take a look at how you can activate our learnings and put them to work:
- Start free – then monetise
Follow the likes of Canva and Duolingo to create a freemium model of your product or service. Audiences are much more likely to start paying once they’ve had a proper taste of what you’re offering.
- Leave them wanting more
As discussed, one of the reasons we keep returning to Wordle is because it only lets us do so once a day. There’s an air of exclusivity around it. Try placing certain limitations on your audience to give them a regular routine and keep them coming back for more. Caffe Nero’s partnership with Vitality Health does this well. Vitality members get one free coffee a week – with notification reminders every Thursday to cash in. Simple, affordable and – most importantly – habit-forming.
- Make sharing fool-proof
We don’t know about you but having to constantly remember our usernames and passwords across all our platforms is, quite frankly, a faff. When creating new content, make sure it’s easily shareable. And we mean one-click shareable. From Face Unlock to auto-filled forms, there are some easy ways to get started. It’s all about a simple, clean interface. The easier you make it to share what you’re doing, the more people you’ll reach. And maybe even generate free UGC on the way!
- Gamify, gamify, gamify
Take a look at all aspects of your marketing strategy and pinpoint areas that can be spiced up with a bit of fun. Try creating a way for people to interact with your brand or product that challenges them (just enough) to get a sense of satisfaction from completion. There are so many activities that release dopamine – maybe you can find a way of incorporating one or two in your funnel.
- Provide bragging rights
Whether you’re running a loyalty programme or trying to attract new customers, simple updates like badges, prizes or scores can act as visual status symbols to incite healthy competition. Little benefits and loyalty tokens allow for easy comparison so your customers can show each other who’s best. Swedish e-scooter company Voi uses a clear tier-system to reward customers for their “Voialty” – so the more you ride, the more money you get off.
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