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Walt McGraw


What Gamers Can Teach Marketers About Succeeding In A Disrupted Marketplace

It may seem counterintuitive to look at virtual worlds to solve very real-world issues, but marketers may be able to learn a thing or two from one of the biggest demographics in the marketplace: gamers. No, this isn’t video game logic. Disruption has always posed challenges to marketers, but the speed at which disruptive events are occurring lately is unprecedented, so why not pick up a few tips and tricks from the population that invented the “tips & tricks” genre? Who knows, maybe you’ll end up single-handedly saving the world from certain doom.

Gamers have long been a commanding group of consumers, but over the past few months, gaming has seen even greater growth thanks to those staying at home to stay safe. A recent survey showed that a third of all Americans have been spending more time playing video games since the pandemic began. According to, “Sales are certainly spiking as a result of the virus outbreak." Activision Blizzard’s latest Call of Duty release, which launched in early March, had 30 million players in just over a week according to CNBC Verizon found that U.S. video gaming increased by 75% when quarantines first went into effect.

Instead of chalking up all these hours as "wasted," what if time spent glued to an Xbox, PlayStation, smartphone or Nintendo Switch could provide marketers valuable lessons that might help us level up our own games? From strategic planning to logic, problem-solving to leadership, there's more to be gained from this entertaining pastime than meets the eye (or thumbs) - including the ability to see and seize on opportunities that others fail to notice. 

Take the mini-map for example. To the uninitiated, a mini-map is just that, a miniature map - often down in the corner of the screen - with handy info like player position, allies, enemies and surrounding terrain. Some day in the not too distant future, we may all have heads-up displays in our Augmented Reality contact lenses. In the meantime, we’ll have to rely on clunky metaphors. And the mini-map is a good one for anyone hoping to break away from the pack.

Situational awareness is what sets great gamers apart from okay gamers. The ability to process not just what’s directly in front of you – and possibly shooting at you – but to simultaneously process your condition, context and competitors, can help gamers and marketers prevail in their next “battle royale.” It’s how you find ideas hiding in plain sight and how you keep track of your true north.

Shifting perspective in order to combine the “first person view” with the “map view” does require effort. In 2003, Jim Hake was inspired by a National Geographic documentary about the bonds forged between U.S. Special Forces and Afghan tribes in the area they operated. A gift of baseball equipment, and the games that followed, forged bonds between troops and kids in the region. Tribal elders learned to trust Americans and the village became a stable haven in a war zone. Hake had the vision to understand the power of that single example and turn it into a model. He founded Spirit of America which has since delivered ceremonial swords, landmine detectors, motorcycles, and even musical instruments all over the world building relationships that save American and local lives.

Sarah Kauss, founder and CEO of S'well, a company that makes reusable water bottles with a sleek design and countless colors also harnessed the power of kaleidoscopic perspective.

In 2009, Kauss had a well-paying job in real estate development, but a yen to do something different. On a hike in Arizona with her mother, she saw more than the desert flora and fauna. She saw an idea for a new business while drinking warm water from a clunky metal thermos. Water bottles were already ubiquitous, but she asked, why not design a sustainable bottle that not only kept cold things cold and hot things hot, but was also beautiful to look at? "Every other thermos looked like a camping accessory," she said in an interview with Guy Raz, moderator of the podcast How I Built This. "They didn't look like something I wanted to take into a business meeting or carry with me around the city." The shelves in front of her were full of competitors, but the mini-map had highlighted a new perspective, a different path.

S'well launched in 2010 after Kauss invested $30,000 of her own money. Her big break came in 2011, when an editor at O, The Oprah Magazine, saw the enormous opportunity for, as Kauss called it, "a fashionable hydration accessory." Just six years after its launch, S'well posted $100 million in sales. Today, Kauss is focused on how the brand can ramp up its efforts to help eliminate plastic waste around the world. Sustainability continues to be a major part of the S'well brand, with a goal to help eliminate 100 million plastic bottles by the end of 2020. 

As in gaming, a critical key to success is being the first to spot opportunities. This requires not just looking in the obvious places, but having the peripheral vision to look at a category from multiple angles. And, as in gaming, taking notice is just the first step to winning. You must know how to leverage the idea, how to make it work strategically, and how to execute with brilliance. Jim Hake brought a human touch to geo-politics, and, on that fortuitous hike in the desert, Sarah Kauss saw something hiding in plain sight. Rather than let those ideas pass, they seized on them and followed all the necessary rules to play them forward to a very successful endgame – and quite possibly save the earth from certain doom in the process.

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