Whether you're leading a charge against a locust horde in "Gears of War" or knocking over a pile of mean pigs in "Angry Birds," you feel the thrill of every success. What you don't feel is time passing by as you get sucked deeper and deeper into the action.

Well-constructed games can engage audiences on an emotional level. The biggest brands and top marketers have taken note, and over the past few years, gamification has shown incredible promise in connecting customers with brands in new and exciting ways.

Simply put, gamification is the application of game theory and mechanics to non-game environments. Schools, hospitals, and companies are eagerly adopting the gaming concepts of competition, rewards, status, achievement, socialization, and learning to create deeper engagement with their target audiences.

Consider Gamification for Your Brand

You might find that your audience would be very open to a virtual reality experience that has them traveling through space and collecting points, or you may simply need a more engaging way to entice them into tracking their rewards to redeem free shipping.

Gamification will enable your brand to incorporate the natural emotional connections that customers have with gaming to achieve your marketing objectives. You can use gamification tactics to educate, engage, and increase the loyalty of your customers.

1. Engage Your Audience

Bring fun to your brand to engage your target audience. You can introduce gaming into your rewards-based promotions so that users gain more benefits for interacting more often and sharing with friends.

Magnum Pleasure Hunt is a great example of a fully interactive gamification solution. It places users in a virtual world where they can complete puzzles and collect Magnum ice cream bars. By creating a game that was inherently fun and interesting to play, Magnum garnered more than 20 million plays, generated major buzz, and kept its products at the center of the action.

2. Educate Your Customers

There's no reason that learning can't be fun. For example, turn the instructions that explain how to use your product into a quick game that allows users to virtually experience how taking these steps will lead to the actions they desire.

One of our most successful campaigns was for the Singapore Tourism Board. Our client wanted to encourage the members of MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions/Conferences, andExhibitions/Events) to host more events in Singapore.

To that end, we created a gamified "tour" of Singapore, which ran through all of its best attractions and highlighted the island nation's natural beauty through imagery and video. Our game resulted in more than 5,000 sessions and more than 300 game completions in just two months.

3. Use Gamification to Increase Loyalty

Starbucks' mobile loyalty app, My Starbucks Rewards, uses progress bars, levels, and rewards to encourage more customer visits and payments through the app. Customers receive special privileges and even custom Foursquare badges for using the app and checking in at various Starbucks locations. In 2011, Starbucks reported that one in four people used the app when purchasing a drink.

Virtually any company can incorporate gamification techniques into its promotion strategies to better engage and educate customers. Look at past underperforming campaigns or at marketing objectives you're struggling to meet, and ask yourself whether gamification could help. Specifically, if you notice weak activity stats, low conversion rates, low rates of customer return, and/or low referrals, then you need to find a better way to engage your customers.

Take a deep look at your target audience to determine which gamification tactics make sense for your brand, and get to work!

This article is co-authored by Angel Merz, account manager at Gravity.