Marketers looking to reach a teen audience should take cues from the makers of Minecraft and focus on harnessing the incredible passion and devotion that teens have for this and other digital games. For those who don’t know, Minecraft is the incredibly successful 3-D game developed by Swedish developer Mojang that allows players to choose either the “survival” mode or the “creative” mode to build an entire fantasy world. According to a recent New York Times article, Nitasha Tiku, co-editor of Valleywag, noted that Minecraft has 100 million registered users and has essentially cornered the market for both boys and girls.
Brands and companies should get into the action because gaming provides a level of interaction that is missing in traditional marketing outreach. Most marketing initiatives are passive with the brand talking at the consumer. By contrast, gaming offers an in-depth conversation – an exploration of ideas, techniques, images and messaging – that puts your target audience in the center and, most importantly, in control. Marketers that understand this can capture the magic in their own outreach and deliver important messages in a powerful and captivating way.
There are intrinsic rewards to gaming – mastery, autonomy, purpose, expectation of success and a social connection – all of which are appealing to teens who are seeking greater independence, social acceptance, and a way to apply new skills. We all know that teens are digital natives; so computer-based gaming is already in a language and format that is natural to a young mind.
Some industries are already using gaming to tap a future workforce. My Marriott Hotel, offers a virtual glimpse into what happens in the hotel kitchen to attract those looking for a career in hospitality. Gamers set up their facility by selecting equipment and ingredients, planning a menu, and ultimately preparing the orders for waiting guests. The “chef” watches for guest satisfaction (by way of a clean and green returned plate) while simultaneously balancing the restaurant manager mood as the restaurant gets busier. The objective: Serve a lot of meals to happy customers and the manager smiles – but if the manager has to deal with disappointed guests, not so many smiles.
The truth is, any marketer seeking to reach a teen audience with a technical or complicated message – whether it’s behavior change or career development – can benefit from using a strategy that incorporates gaming. Studies have shown that those who learned new skills via gaming gained more factual information and retained this information for longer. Gaming was even used to make a major medical breakthrough in AIDS research. (Online gamers played Foldit, collaborating and competing in predicting the structure of protein molecules. The configuration of this enzyme had scientists puzzled for over a decade.)
When looking to engage teens, here are some things to keep in mind:
1. It’s all about the process of discovery.
2. Allow for challenge. (We learn through our mistakes.)
3. Make it fun. (This seems obvious, but must be stated!)
4. Build in a goal, rules/restrictions, and feedback.
5. Make it social.
What successful gaming initiatives aimed at teens are you aware of? Please share them with me in the comments below.