What has five letters, two of them green, one yellow, and two gray?
One of the 10.657 words accepted as guesses on Wordle, the little word game that took the world by storm.
You might have heard about it on Twitter, seen brands react to it on other social media platforms, or even be an avid Wordle player yourself.
But what is it about Wordle that gets us hooked so easily?
In terms of a game, Wordle is not particularly innovative. There are tons of other word games out there; they’re nothing new. Even The New York Times, which recently bought Wordle from its creator, already had other word games under its wing, like its famous Crossword, launched in 1942.
So why did it go after Wordle? How did the game become such a worldwide phenomenon in so little time? What can it teach us about marketing?
And more importantly, what can this little word game teach us about the power of gamification in marketing and how you can apply those learnings to your strategy?
Let’s dive in.
The Wordle Success Story
Wordle didn’t achieve global fame for posing users a tough challenge with a complicated set of rules. Quite the contrary — it’s a simple game where you get six tries at guessing a five-letter word and get clues along the way on whether you got a letter right. The gaming interface is as straightforward as possible, with a blank page that presents the grid where the words go in and a keyboard underneath.
Even after being purchased by The New York Times, the game requires no registration or login credentials, and players can only play once a day. At midnight local time, Wordle resets, and you get a new guess at a word.
These features contributed to Wordle’s popularity, but they’re not the only reason for the word game’s success.
Tailor-Made for its Audience
Wordle’s origin story plays a big role in its rise to fame. Josh Wardle, the mastermind behind it, created it especially for his partner who loves word games. Keeping her taste in mind, he made Wordle simple, enjoyable, and filled with easily recognizable words.
In doing so, and focusing on the gamer’s preference for word games, Josh built a game with a clean interface and unpretentious rules to minimize frustration and make it as pleasant an experience as possible.
I learned about Wordle on Twitter, when tweets with a combination of differently-colored squares and numbers started popping up.
Intrigued, I searched for “Wordle,” realized it was a word game, gave it a shot, and never looked back.
The sharing feature was built into Wordle after Josh also noticed users on Twitter sharing color-coded emojis that represented their guesses. Here, too, he kept things simple. The only things you can share are your daily results, the pattern that reflects your tries, and how you did at each of them (green for correctly placed letters, yellow for correct yet misplaced ones.) There’s not even a link trying to redirect other people to the game — it owes its popularity to people who, like me, purposely searched for it.
The shareability of results contributed to two further things. First, it made the Wordle brand easily recognizable, making it easier for other brands and businesses to participate in the Wordle craze.
Second, it adds to the feeling of participating in a global competition.
The Competing Factor
When I started playing Wordle, I didn’t know we were all searching for the same word each day. I thought that every time you opened the game, it generated a new word.
The fact that we are, though, makes the game that much more compelling. We’re all participating in one big, shared gaming experience. The competition is wider — virtually the whole world — making a good result feel like a true accomplishment.
Additionally, we’re not just playing against each other, but against ourselves, too. At the end of each game, you can see your accumulated results and your streak, driving you to push harder and get the word right in the least amount of tries each time. Because it requires no login, your Wordle results are browser-dependent, so make sure you play on the same browser every day for the best game history.
A Word a Day
I already mentioned the fact that you only get one Wordle guess per day. It might sound counterintuitive from a gaming perspective. Shouldn’t you want users to spend the whole day interacting with your game?
If you could spend the whole day playing Wordle, you’d probably be tired of it by now. On the other hand, giving users a limited daily usage makes them want to come back the next day for more. As is described in this article, there’s “no infinite scrolling. No incentive to play with new words or improve your score. No freemium model to speed up your wait for the next word.” Wordle is, in a word, refreshing.
But what does it have to do with, and what can it teach us about, marketing?
Gamification in Marketing
The gaming industry is one of the fastest growing around the globe.
Last year alone, the estimated number of gamers across the globe was 3.24 billion. The number has been growing steadily over the past decade, as well as the gaming industry’s value, which is expected to get to 256.97 billion dollars by 2025.
In North America, the gaming industry has already become more valuable than the movies and sports industries combined.
The numbers are impressive, but what’s the explanation behind them?
Well, when it comes to why people enjoy playing games, there are a number of reasons. They’re fun, they can be a communal activity when played in a group, they allow people to be transported to alternate realities and different worlds, among many others factors. But what sets gaming apart from other forms of entertainment like movies or TV shows is that they allow people to participate in the activity, instead of simply sitting and watching.
Gaming makes for a more immersive experience, and it’s usually one that lasts, with gamers wanting to unlock new levels or reach higher scores as they go, keeping them entertained — and hooked — for longer.
It’s no surprise, then, that using gamification in marketing can do wonders for your business.
I’m not just talking about jumping on the pop culture bandwagon and commenting on what’s happening in the world — like a lot of brands are doing with Wordle — though that can also help your brand stay relevant and make it feel more relatable to people.
More than that, it’s about creating a proper gaming experience as part of your marketing strategy.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, gamification is “the process of incorporating game-design elements and game mechanics into existing experiences and platforms to drive user engagement.” Basically, adding some elements typically found in traditional games or gaming environments to your marketing strategy. This could be creating a game on its own for your customers to interact with but also hosting any sort of competition or creating a rewards or points system.
If you’re wondering if any game works, the answer is not really. Although it might be tempting to create an over-the-top gaming experience, with realistic graphics and complex rules, if you have the means and resources for that, it’s not what works best.
And here is where Wordle comes in to teach us all a lesson in game design applied to marketing.
Gamification Lessons from Wordle
All the reasons that contribute to Wordle’s success are also things to keep in mind when developing a gamification marketing strategy.
First, the game you develop should be aimed at your specific audience and be aligned with your brand. That’s not to say, for example, that you can’t create a Wordle version of your own. It is, after all, very easy to clone.
However, it should make sense among your audience and have something to do with your line of business. For example, If you’re a gelato brand, have the guesses be five-letter ice-cream flavors.
Then, there’s the shareability factor. Of course, a game could be just a fun experience provided to your customers, but if the results they get while playing are easy to share, it’s another way you can get the word out there about your product and possibly acquire more customers.
Just as with Wordle, being able to easily share results can additionally contribute to the “competition” factor of the game, making users want to keep coming back to improve their results and be the winners of the game.
Finally, and probably the most important lesson Wordle teaches us about games, is to keep it simple. Again, there’s no need for a game to be extremely complex for it to be engaging. What it does need is to provide a good user experience and a chance for an easy win, which in turn creates a positive emotion related to the game and an instant reward, making users want to come back.
Why Does Gamification Work?
Generally speaking, as human beings, we are attracted to adventure and achievement. While we might not get that thrill from the routine of our our everyday lives, games steps in as a way to provide that feeling, along with instant gratification from winning at something.
That’s why, in some cases, gamification works better as a marketing strategy than traditional marketing efforts.
Let’s have a look at some of the benefits gamification can bring.
A game requires users to take specific actions, often repeatedly. That means that, as a first step, a game will cause a user to interact with your brand much more than if they were to just click on an ad or like an Instagram post.
What’s more, playing a game is a more fun and interactive experience than other marketing initiatives provide, which also makes it a more engaging one for customers. And as we know, engagement is vital when it comes to building a relationship with a person and eventually turning them into a paying customer.
Customer Education on Product/Service
In addition, while users are engaging with your game, this is a great opportunity to display messages about your product or service.
These messages can be presented as simple text on the game page, but the game itself can be used to provide the information you want and educate customers on what you’re selling or update them on any novelty.
As so often happens, a customer is much more likely to choose one brand over another if that brand, in some way, stood out from its competitors.
As it happens, a gaming experience is a great way to stand out. Gamification is not a ubiquitous strategy among marketing plans, so resorting to it is still a good tactic to present customers with a fun moment that will likely stick with them for a while.
Not just that, if they become fans of the game, they can just as well become emotionally attached to the brand behind it — just like those of us who only play the original Wordle — and become or turn into loyal customers in the process.
Increased Conversion Rates
As fun as they are, games in marketing serve a bigger purpose — to attract and convert more people into customers.
A gamified element such as a proper game or an interactive quiz is likely to work better in converting customers than a simple CTA in the form of a banner. From a user perspective, it’s a completely different experience clicking on an ad than engaging in a gaming activity that, in the end, offers a discount on a purchase, for example. Since the user has already engaged with the brand in some way, they’re more likely to be willing to buy.
Gamification in Marketing Examples
Now that we know why and how gamification works, it’s time to see it in action.
In 2010, M&Ms launched a new, pretzel-flavored version of its famous candy. To promote its sales, the brand later created an “eye-spy” game where users had to find a pretzel among a sea of M&Ms.
Similar to Wordle, the game was very simple — it consisted of an image of M&Ms with a single pretzel hidden somewhere in the middle of them that users needed to find.
The company could just as easily have promoted the new flavor without the game, yet in doing so, they saw great results. The campaign yielded 25.000 new likes on the M&Ms Facebook page, 6.000 shares, and 10.000 comments, a big boost in spreading the word about pretzel M&Ms.
Another good gamification example comes from Starbucks and its “Flip a Cup” campaign.
The global coffee chain came up with a digital version of the flip-a-cup game to encourage customers to play to receive a voucher at the end of the game, according to their score. The game consisted of flipping a Starbucks cup onto a platform, and players got a score based on how successful they were at the task. Score enough points, and you get a voucher.
Like Wordle, the premise of the Starbucks game is really simple, and the scores were easily shareable on social media, which gave users that extra enjoyable feeling of winning at something — and bragging about it.
Gamification works in B2B marketing, too.
At Landbot, we’re no strangers to gamification, having incorporated it into our strategy as well. Back in 2020, when we launched a set of new features, we could have just hit customers with a newsletter letting them know what was coming to our product. Instead, we created a chatbot escape room that showcased the novelties while users were playing, offering them discounts to try Landbot along the way.
The escape room proved to be an excellent and more engaging way of communicating the potential of the new features to customers and what can be achieved with the Landbot builder overall.
To Sum it Up
Wordle is a grand example of how a game, even the simplest one, can greatly impact people’s behavior and provoke worldwide engagement.
So, if you’re thinking about using games as part of your marketing strategy, you don’t need to overthink it or come up with something extra complex. Keep it simple, offer users a great experience, and you’ll be good to go.