Will game mechanics be the new marketing?

What is marketing, if it is not a total experience –between buyer and seller, service provider and end-user? When I hear someone dismissively saying that marketing is a game, it often means one of three things:

  • Marketing companies have ‘fixed’ the system in a way that you have to abide by their rules. In other words, you are some sort of a victim
  • Marketing is a pretend activity where they make it seem that you get some value, and you pretend that you love the brand. The transaction is not exactly mutually respectful
  • Marketing is a product of a bigger manufacturing and industrial gaming complex. One has to hack the game in order to gain an upper hand. As in jail-breaking an iPhone, being persistent about getting your rebates etc.

You probably have a few more variations of this.

But when I like to think of marketing as a game, I like to think of it in a good sense. Market situations are very fluid. Demand and supply, customer loyalty and brand choices are a product of many other dynamic situations -climate, timeliness, scarcity, local needs etc.

In this situation, game mechanics in marketing might be a clue to the future of marketing, now that games are being seen as not just a down-time experience. Game Zicherman, writing for Mashable pointed to five trends in game mechanics, where he predicts health –“Gamified health” –could incorporate more ‘fun’ elements, with apps that tie in to achievement levels.

Games could be also considered scenarios, and do not need to be called, or look like games. I just had a conversation with someone who’s using scenario-based experiences in financial planning. We talked about systems thinking, and how marketing could become a collaborative discussion with dynamic scenarios built-in. Similar approaches — scenario-based methods in law enforcement, for instance -have been attempted.

“In scenario-based learning, the situation is always dynamic. The officer is interacting with live role-players, who react to what the officer says and does. That is why scenarios are such an excellent training tool.”

But with the advent of games such as FourSquare and Gowalla, and the increasing role of a smart phone as a market navigation tool, marketing will surely begin to embed game mechanics this year. In 2010, Gartner noted that games were the No. 1 application, identifying mobile shopping, social networking, and productivity tools as big growth areas.

Maybe your next marketing effort will incorporate systems thinking, where your customers will be able to say that marketing is a game in which the odds are not stacked up against them.

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