June 25, 2012

What ag can learn from online gaming

by Joy Parr Drach, Entira

Remember the old joke about selling someone the Brooklyn Bridge? It was funny because no one person, of course, has the title to this landmark, so it's nobody's bridge to sell. Well, some online entrepreneurs are taking this old joke one step further — by selling things that don't exist. And they're laughing all the way to the bank.

How have they achieved such success? By delivering what their audience wants. Without regard or judgment as to how their products mesh with our concept of reality. In an online gaming virtual universe unlike anything we've ever seen before.

It may all sound crazy. But the operating principles these online entrepreneurs use also can be applied in this real world most of us inhabit — if we open our minds to the possibilities they hold.

Principle 1: Meet your customers' needs/wants no matter what.

In this new Internet universe, there are many virtual worlds, like Dungeons and Dragons or the World of Warcraft.

In these worlds, players win "virtual loot" such as magical powers or swords. Then, they can sell these fictitious assets through what's called "virtual loot farming." But it's not like any farming we know. After all, when's the last time you sold a "cudgel of ferocity" for $800? Imagine fantasy football on serious steroids, and you're getting to the right ballpark.

In one online game alone — Second Life, kind of like Monopoly taken to the nth degree with an element of Clue thrown in — more than 900,000 players spend as much as $130 million a year in real US greenbacks. The game's "playership" grows by double digits every month.

With that much money floating around, it's no wonder some established, real-world companies are getting into the game. For instance, Starwood Hotels and Adidas have used these game sites to sell players hotel rooms and clothing for online game characters.

The moral of this story? You can sell anything, real or unreal, if you recognize a market for it and meet that market's need.

Principle 2: Don't hesitate to use unconventional means to communicate with (market to) your audience — if those unconventional means reach them.

In the virtual universe, phones are superfluous. Everything is done on the 'net. Why not? It's cheaper and faster. Plus, game players are online hours at a time, every night.

So, if anyone wants to reach this audience, the Internet is the best way to go. Former Governor of Virginia, Mark Warner, realized this fact and held a Q & A in Second Life. Starwood Hotels has tested new hotel chain concepts there. Other companies and politicians are sure to follow suit.

The moral? If you're using the same old methods of communication in a changing marketplace, the "right" people may never hear your message.

Principle 3: Viral marketing is an important tool for everybody.

When these virtual games went online, there wasn't any hoopla announcing their appearance. No press releases. No brochures. No TV or radio spots. Their creators simply posted the games and told their friends about them. Then, their friends told their friends who told their friends who told their friends and so on.

The games were "spread" from person to person much like a virus. That's why it's called viral marketing. It's a concept that's easy to implement. It's growing. And it's something all of us in the ag industry can, and should, be using.

For years, we've relied on "the coffee shop" — our customers talking to one another about our products and services — to get the word out about what we have to offer. But with viral marketing, we can take our coffee shop worldwide for everything from product development through to promotion, for free!

The moral? Our customers will "sell" our products for us — if we give them the forum(s) to do so.

If you'd like to find more about unconventional marketing methods designed to reach tomorrow's farm leaders in brand-new ways, contact Entira at info@entira.net.

This article appeared in the November 2006 issue of Strategic Agribusiness Review.