Think about your audience and objective with Kevin Allen | Episode 085

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Kevin Allen has had a 35-year career in the global ad industry where he was key to the transformation of powerhouses McCann Worldgroup, the Interpublic Group and Lowe Worldwide. Kevin worked with brands like MasterCard—developing the famous “Priceless” campaign, brought in $1 billion in revenues and was part of the mayor’s advisory team that prepared the way for the successful New York City renaissance. Kevin is the best selling author of The Hidden Agenda: A Proven Way to Win Business and Create a Following.

Kevin then became a founder and chairman of E.I. Games, creators of award-winning emotional intelligence-based Business Training Games (which counts Cisco, Duke University and Arizona State among its clients). He is also a Fellow at Ball State University, an Adjunct Professor of Marketing at Florida Atlantic University, and a visiting lecturer at Columbia University and the Harvard School of Design.

Kevin says that looking back at what he’s achieved it might seem like everything was lined up and really planned… but for him it is actually chaos! Creating and building something can be that way and it’s ok. A day might start in the morning talking to a colleague who manages the tech side from London and end with those who develop their characters. In the middle he might be pitching a prospect, doing a demo, working on the latest game (currently or placing the priority on their customers and end users. He has a sign that says “remember, it is about them!”

His favorite failure was early on. They were using inanimate characters (like phones and others) and they didn’t get any positive feedback when it all started. The creative team was thinking of ignoring, “they don’t know what they want”, while others were cautious and looking for what was actually going on that they got such feedback. The lesson for Kevin was that no matter how much tech is involved, it is always a human game – a game for humans. In this case, they realized the game was not connecting so they decided to start over. His constant reminder now is “it is about them and it is emotional!” It really highlights the importance of playtesting.

One of his favorite successes was related to the challenge of ensuring that the game experience is grounded in what the users care about. This is something he feels needs to be asked constantly. An example of this is the work they’ve done in collaboration with Ball State University and has resulted in the, which is about dealing with (and minimizing) the difficulty of college dropout.

Kevin’s process, more than a process would be an approach. It comes from his ad background, it is all about “who are you talking to?”, “what are you going to say?” and “how are you going to say it?” and they have to be done in order! We cannot start with the execution (or the how.) It starts with getting to understand the who deeply, where we are going to find them, what is their emotional state and what are their needs and want. Then the what is the content, the experience itself, which needs to be shaped by the who. Only then should we sit down and figure out the how!

A best practice for Kevin would certainly be to consider the emotional motivation! He also mentioned that it is important to keep in mind that we are using storytelling, and we have been doing this since forever. His favorite game would be his own game, the Student Success Game. Kevin has realized that games can be a business of impact, which is what gets him out of bed in the morning.

He would love to listen to Brian Burke, whom he met some time ago since their books where published by the same house. He would recommend reading Letter to my Daughter by Maya Angelou. Kevin’s superpower would be empathy! The random question this time is related to the future of gamification… Listen to it in the episode!

His final advice would be to follow your instinct, because you will always hear “conventional wisdom” telling you it won’t work. The only person who can tell you if something you are doing is not going to work, is you! In fact, he confessed that is how the “priceless” campaign came into being.

We can find Kevin Allen at and we can write to him on email at Kevin [at] eigames [dot] com


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