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Words&Pictures (Commercial) Ltd, The Editorial Design Centre, Wharfebank House, Ilkley Road, Leeds LS21 3JP


Game on

Andy Holt • 21st November

Andy Holt, creative director of award-winning communications experts, Words&Pictures explains how a new twist on the old board game is proving a real innovation in the world of corporate communications.


When did you last play a game? I don’t mean a snappy game of Angry Birds during the daily commute, a secretive Candy Crush session at your desk or wiping out killer zombies on your Xbox. I mean a good old-fashioned board game. For most of us, with children, perhaps it’s not so long ago – or maybe it is in this digital age. For those not blessed with game-obsessed offspring perhaps it’s a distant childhood memory.

No doubt some have fond memories of festivities, post turkey blow-out, thrashing relatives at Monopoly, Cluedo and the like. Or perhaps the board game filled time during that depressing caravan holiday in Mablethorpe (insert your personal experience here) when it rained continuously?

Whatever your experiences, the traditional board game is, no doubt, stuffed away in memories like a long-lost friend, waiting for that call to meet up again and relive the good old days.

Much is made of ‘gamification’ in the workplace, particularly regarding digital communication. It’s a hot topic, with brands looking to create connections, build loyalty and attract increasingly younger and digitally savvy consumers.

Today, however, gamification is increasingly being taken up by internal and corporate communicators as a way to engage employees (aka ‘internal consumers’) on a diverse range of issues. These include using games to explain corporate strategy, vision and values, change initiatives, issue-based communications or the company’s CSR agenda.

At Words&Pictures, we’ve been advocates of the game mechanic for some time. Clients are finding that gaming can be both fun and, at the same time, an effective, interactive way to communicate complex information in simple, creative ways. Many say games are now proving to have an even wider appeal.

One recent example shows such widening interest. Words&Pictures delivered iCOP to Northern Gas Networks. iCOP is essentially a social issue app, masquerading as a film noir crime game. The app was aimed at university students with the goal of raising awareness of the dangers of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.

In the game, users become detectives, with a role of uncovering the cause of death in a student bedsit. The ‘silent killer’ proves not to be, as hinted, a knife-wielding maniac, nor a gun toting hood, but rather the CO leakage from a dodgy old gas fire in the corner of the room.

Within two days of launching, iCOP was downloaded by more than 1,200 people and, in less than a year, has had some 23,000 downloads.

The game and supporting campaign has won wide praise from industry regulators, CO awareness groups, universities and students themselves. Although not huge numbers, these are seen by industry commentators as significant statistics for a social issue app with a challenging subject.

But, back to my opening question, about the last time you played a game, and hence my reason for posing it. I raised it because at Words&Pictures we seem to have hit on something that helps contribute to solving a recurring corporate challenge: How can we best communicate with our people, bolster team-building and engage colleagues? And, more importantly, how can we encourage our people to make the right kind of behavioural changes we need at work? It appears that traditional board games, with a modern corporate twist, could make a difference here.

Working alongside easyJet’s internal communications team recently, a dedicated group of communications experts from Words&Pictures sought a novel interactive solution that would bring to life the airline’s complex, multi-layered ‘customer experience’.

This particular challenge required a dynamic, innovative way of delivering complex information to a diverse audience. Early discussions with the client suggested that the airline’s customer experience would best be developed within a linear narrative; but it would need to be one that would be flexible enough to take into account variables like disruptions, delays etc, as well as handle positive and negative customer reactions at various touch points within the company. And, in order to drive employee engagement, there needed to be an element of participation.

With this in mind, we decided that a useful way to tell the easyJet customer experience story might be through a traditional board game. Our team went ahead and designed an impressive, actual, oversized board game to solve the problem. The resulting game has provided flexibility, an element of competition, teamwork and, of course, it’s fun to play!

Initially, a batch of 20 games was produced for a few teams and offices. After having played the game recently, one colleague explained: “The game’s a real fast-paced journey through the easyJet customer experience and it genuinely helps people here see things through the customers’ eyes.

“Colleagues get to feel what it’s like at every stage of the journey without leaving their seat. It asks: How does your role fit into the big picture? And how satisfied will you be with the overall experience?”

The customer experience feedback has been impressive. When asked: ‘Did you feel that the customer experience board game enabled you to experience how customers might feel when travelling with easyJet?’ 87.7% answered that they did.

Of 164 people surveyed from the first event, 91% rated the game ‘Effective’, or Very effective’ in helping them understand the customer experience strategy. This seriously impressive level of engagement has been repeated at subsequent training events and recently contributed to easyJet winning the UK Customer Experience Awards 2014, Employee Engagement – Values and Behaviours Award. It also picked up an IoiC (Institute of Internal Communications) Award of Excellence.

A similar board game has also worked for Provident Financial where another game format designed by Words&Pictures played a key role in break-out sections at the company’s recent leadership conference. Here the game facilitated discussions, and encouraged the leadership group to explore the customer service experience through innovative scenarios and issues.

Following the conference, smaller versions of the game were distributed throughout the business for managers to play with their teams in a live cascade and engagement exercise. As Provident’s Internal Communications Business Partner Martin Green says: “We wanted a fun way to bring colleagues closer to customers and to bring our customer journey to life. It had to be relevant to leaders at the conference and their wider teams, as well as being fun, creative, and interactive. We were seeking something that would communicate key information, but more importantly spark conversation and debate around our customers needs and encourage people to put themselves in our customers’ shoes. Words&Pictures understood our brief from the start and delivered a brilliant concept and creative for a giant board game. Everyone at the conference had fun, they were engaged, and more importantly they were talking about our customers, sharing experiences and taking away plenty of food for thought in their day to day roles.”

Meanwhile, Anglian Water had a different take on gamification. As a water supply business, the company puts a lot of effort into minimising its own water waste, and invests in extending this behavioural change to customers and future generations through community engagement. One aim was to tap into (ahem… excuse the pun) the thoughts and feelings of young people. Together, we created learning materials for a workshop for 11-16 year olds designed to increase their knowledge of the water supply industry and inspire a behavioural change towards saving water.

A fast-paced, interactive learning experience, Liquid Assets is designed to slot into a timetabled lesson and be delivered in a classroom. At the heart of the sessions is a colourful, circular board game combined with a set of short, animated films that brief students on the task in hand. To introduce a level of espionage, the tasks are set as missions and are inspired by Bond films with supporting animations delivered by a character ‘M’ in style.

The game is designed to boost discussion between pupils, and encourage them to justify their opinions. Early evaluations show Liquid Assets has significantly increased students’ understanding of climate change, awareness of carbon footprint and the role of Anglian Water in the community. A company spokesman said that the most important development was pupils’ better understanding of floods, droughts and saving water.

Again, results are impressive. For example, awareness of personal impact on saving water at home increased by an average of 26% while pupils’ awareness of the effects of climate change increased by 79%. One 14-year-old pupil said: “I really enjoyed this game…it’s creative and it also showed us how our own actions can effect climate change.”

As these examples from corporate communications are demonstrating, perhaps now’s the time get those dusty old board games down from the corporate attic and put them to use in new settings. As employees can appear a little bored with some of the restrictions of digital gamification and communication, these roll-your-sleeves up team games are proving both fun and effective for employees and managers alike. 

01943 854 800

Words&Pictures (Commercial) Ltd
The Editorial Design Centre
Wharfebank House
Ilkley Road
LS21 3JP