Justin Rubner

Brand Engagement, Career Evangelism: A Look at Plantville and B2B Games

In marketing strategy, public relations on 06/08/2011 at 3:13 pm

Could an online game raise visibility for a global company, be fun to play and help recruit a future generation of engineers?

Siemens Industry thinks so.

Plantville

Plantville is a creative way to raise corporate visibility and spark interest in engineering careers.

The German-based industrial technology giant, which makes everything from electric motors to solar cells, has been operating an online game called Plantville for two months and has plans to expand it in the near future.

The game puts you, the factory manager, in charge of running three plants–Beewell Vitamin Co., Quenchco Bottling Co. and Hopon Train Co.

It’s a bit like FarmVille, the wildly popular game on Facebook and iPhone developed by Zynga. Only instead of earning Experience Points (XP) and growing tomatoes, you’re improving Key Performance Indicators (KPI) and hiring assembly workers.

Tom Varney, head of marketing communications for Siemens Industry, recently sat down with me and talked about Plantville. He said the game already has 12,000 active players, operates in 136 countries, and is in use at 500 universities and schools worldwide. As for metrics, the average user is on the Plantville website for 14 minutes, he says.

Think a whitepaper could engage that many people for that long?

Goals for the game include:

  1. Company awareness. Every product you order as a plant manager–from surveillance systems to conveyor systems–are made by Siemens Industry.
  2. Lead generation. The game provides Siemens Industry with a list of viable prospects.
  3. Internal education. This might come more of a surprise as the above two goals, but given Siemens Industry’s enormous size and product breadth, employees have learned about solutions they previously didn’t know about.
  4. Career evangelism. Getting kids more interested in industrial engineering could be Siemens Industry’s most important goal for Plantville.

After playing the game, I most definitely see this as a tool that could help in the career evangelism role. As you might know, American manufacturers are expecting a critical shortage of engineering talent in the coming years. The fear the nuclear industry has is well documented.

“Kids in high school no longer say ‘I want to work in a factory as an engineer,’” Varney says. “There are stigmas that it’s dirty, sweaty, dangerous or boring. One of our goals is reversing these stigmas. We really do hope we can help inspire the next generation of engineers and factory workers.”

Due to outsourcing and an overall shift in American culture and ethos, this talent shortage is widespread. Fixing the problem starts at college, high school and even sooner.

Companies such as Siemens Industry and Bell Helicopter know this.

“There’s a shortage of math, science and engineering skills, and global competition is only intensifying,” Bell Helicopter CEO John Garrison Jr. recently warned students at Texas Christian University, which was quoted in this story.

Recalling how many horrible exercises I had in school, I can see Plantville being popular with kids. Just recently, Varney was pleasantly surprised to see a large number of users at a South Georgia high school logging in to play the game.

“There’s a real fight for talent and it’s only getting worse,” Varney says. “This is one of many things Siemens can do to raise its profile in the education system.”

Engagement is Better Than ‘Any ROI Calculator’

Many large B2B companies have launched games to promote brand engagement. IBM, GM and Microsoft come to mind right away.

One Forrester analyst has high praise for IBM’s CityOne game. He says games such as these do a lot more than just grab your attention. They explain “where a company’s products and services fit into the machinery of the real world.” He adds that “someone might quibble with the details, but if they’re quibbling, they’re engaged. And if they’re engaged, you’re communicating your value proposition more effectively than any ROI calculator.”

How Do I Get My CEO to OK a Game?

Getting approval for a project like this likely takes some perseverance. But mostly, it’s about data.

Varney credits his CEO and CFO for having the vision to spend money on a year-long development project. He says the data was just too persuasive to pass up. That data showed alarmingly positive trends in social media, mobile apps, B2B games and more.

“We had to get the higher-ups to latch on,” Varney says. “Without hesitation, they saw it as an innovative approach. There are always a lot of proposals, and they could have killed this one, but they had guts and gave us a green light.”

Unlike companies such as Google and many mobile-app developers, Siemens Industry wanted the game to be as slick and bug-free as possible–right away.

Utopia

Remember Utopia?

Plantville is, in fact, slick, bug-free (for me, at least) and enjoyable to play. While it’s certainly similar to FarmVille, naysayers should be reminded of a popular Intellivision game in the 80s called Utopia that had players in charge of their own islands. In the 90s, it was SimCity, only the thing you were in charge of was cities.

Speaking of mobile apps, that is most definitely on the table. Varney says the company is seriously considering adding the game to mobile platforms

I hope Siemens Industry releases Plantville on Android. Nothing against Angry Birds, but a mobile Plantville game would actually teach you something.

-Justin Rubner

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