The Rise of the Serendipitous

At SXSW in 2011, the recurring theme of the conference was Gamification (or as I call it, Toddlerization - the act of motivating adult behavior by using the same methods you'd use on a toddler).

Prompting behavior through psychological triggers that are regularly employed in games isn't new. (How many of us added recommendations to our LinkedIn profiles after being told "you're 80% complete"?) But our digital habits have made gamification an increasingly important mindset to have - particularly if you're a brand looking for a deeper interaction with your audience.

I bring up 2011 because I think the recurring theme of SXSW 2012 was in direct reaction to 2011. Gamification makes sense, but it's also limiting. There are only so many game mechanics you can employ. And as soon as every brand is doing "the right thing" it is no longer right. Gamification lacks surprise. It lacks interactions that are remarkable.

It lacks Serendipity.

At SXSW 2012, the theme of Serendipity was inescapable. (The word even appeared on hotel keys.) Why?

Once upon a time, the web was truly exploratory. Sites would have a Links section, sending us off to wonderful destinations we'd have never found otherwise. And those destinations had links to even more far-flung destinations.

Today, we use the web far more purposefully. We carefully curate our news sources and social media feeds to fit our worldviews. We count on artificial intelligence engines to recommend our music, clothing, and friends. Our Google searches are more detailed because we want to find EXACTLY what we're looking for.

In short, we've vastly reduced the chance for serendipity.

Today, we're surrounded by (and guilty of creating) marketing efforts that are perfectly logical. We know our audiences better, we know what they're doing, who they're doing it with, and why they're behaving as they are.

But marketing that's perfectly logical is dangerous. It's Placebo Marketing - the kind of marketing clients and agencies think is helping a brand, when in fact it's not.

People don't remember the logical. We remember the surprising. We notice things that are out of the ordinary. We appreciate experiences or information that gives us something to talk about or tweet about or what have you.

We're only going to become more predictive. Our knowledge of audiences will increase. Our ability to duplicate who's doing it well will increase.

What that means is, the value of a serendipitous experience will also increase.

I don't know about you, but I'm buying stock in Serendipity.

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