• Patrick Schober

What Minecraft Teaches Us About Marketing Strategy

OK, OK, OK. I'm late to the Minecraft craze. I get it. But bear with me for a moment, because there are a lot of marketing strategies buried underneath the surface of this game.

My dive into Minecraft started a few weeks ago when a friend, who'd been dog-sitting, accidentally left her Xbox 360 version behind. A few minutes after my wife and I gave it a curious whirl, we were hooked.

I immediately understood that to get to the good stuff—the coal, the iron ore, the diamonds, the gold, etc.—you needed to dig.

So dig I did. I would build as many torches and iron pickaxes as I could, and then I'd dig stairs all the way down to bedrock. Once there, I'd set up my torches and expand my reach outward, looking for all the precious stones buried deep under the earth.

The first real challenge I encountered was trying to get obsidian. If you haven't played, obsidian is formed when lava and water meet. According to the game's tip pop-ups, obsidian can be used to create portals (I haven't gotten there yet!).

This alone isn't too big a challenge. You find water. You find lava. You can carry either one in a bucket, so you can even mix them at your convenience if you so choose.

But I found a golden opportunity in my game. There, deep under the earth, was an enormous cavern. On one side was a natural spring, with a seemingly endless supply of water. On the other side was a sea of boiling hot lava.

I knocked down a few natural barriers, and—presto—the physics in the game started making obsidian when the water merged with the lava.

But there was a problem.

Though I was cutting through the obsidian as well as I could with my diamond-tipped pickax, the obsidian was disappearing.

See, the obsidian was forming on top of a sea of lava. After I would clear a block of obsidian, gravity would pull it straight down into the lava below.

I stared at the screen and scratched my head. How was I going to get around this one? I didn't have any buckets with me (nor did I have the materials to make one handy), so carrying large quantities of water and lava was out of the question.

The best option would be to find a way to get the water and lava to mix somewhere the obsidian wouldn't exist over a sea of lava.

So I looked around. Off to the left, where the water and lava met, there was a stone wall. I dug straight into it and, after confirming it sat on solid rock, dug stairs down into the earth. With a flight of stairs built, I let the water into the chamber, and then I dug a hole in the wall to let the lava through.

A few moments later, I had obsidian sitting on a staircase made of solid rock.

So, What the Heck Does Minecraft Have to Do With Marketing?

It's been a few days since my obsidian revelation, but I can't shake it from my head. I believe the reason it keeps coming back up is because it held so many similarities to what we face on a regular basis in marketing.

You have to dig deep for results.

If you want to advance in Minecraft, you need those precious stones—but you won't find them on the surface. You need to dig deep, exhausting as many seams as possible to enrich yourself.

It's the same deal in the real world. We celebrate ourselves as creative types in marketing, but the best of us aren't just artists. We're analysts. We pore over data to help us tweak campaigns and make better marketing decisions.

You have to remain vigilant.

The first time I found diamonds in Minecraft, I walked right by them. In fact, I was so focused on building my stone staircase to capture obsidian, I completely missed them. When I turned around and climbed back up to the top, I found the blue diamonds sitting right above the staircase landing.

In marketing, it's easy to get hyperfocused on a single project, but it's important to take in all the information coming to us. An idea for our next great campaign may be buried in the work we're doing for our current campaign.

What's obvious isn't always best.

Here's another tunnel-digging strategy I've employed: I'll load up on pickaxes and ladders, then dig straight down to the bedrock. This has sometimes gotten me into the habit of digging on the surface right under me.

As I soon learned, this was a bad strategy for collecting obsidian. One of the first times I tried collecting it, I fell down into the lava after breaking through the obsidian and had to retreat back to the water to stop the fire from killing my character.

No matter how I went about it, I couldn't protect the obsidian from the lava.

To finally get the obsidian, I had to literally think outside the box. I had to go outside the cave and create a different passageway to connect the ingredients necessary for the precious rock.

In marketing, it's easy for us to stick with the best practices. But, as the founder of Unthinkable Media, Jay Acunzo, points out: a best practice is just the best average.

We must constantly push ahead in order to find strategies that are better than average.

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