Social Gaming Emerging as Next Frontier

Social networking games are the latest phenomenon in the gaming industry. In fact, one out of every five Americans over the age of six has played a social network game at least once. That’s over 60 million Americans in total, and an average of 10 percent spent an astounding $2.2 billion in 2009 and the market is anticipated to grow to over $6 billion in 2013.

Social games have made an incredible impact on social network revenue streams — a welcome addition to somewhat meager ad dollars. Facebook, for instance, is valued at $50 billion but saw only $1.86 billion in ad revenue. Virtual goods and social gaming have potential to bridge the revenue / value gap and reduce social network’s reliance on VC funding.

The selling point for social networking game developers is the return users. As we can see from World of Warcraft and other online games that require payments for continued or an enhanced user experience, games encourage users to come back and get more. The best social games saw 41 percent of their paid users repeating their purchases and an average user spends $74 every four months.

Very much how the Wii brought non-traditional gamers into the fold, social games are also bucking the traditional gamer demographic. The majority, or 53 percent, of all online social network gamers are older women, around 43 years old. Of that particular social gaming demographic, 83 percent have played roughly six social networking games.

So what games are leading the online social gaming trend? One of the hottest stars is Zynga’s Farmville. The Facebook social game has 65 million worldwide users and 20 million play on a daily basis. EA recently acquired the social gaming company, Playfish, for up to $400 million to gain some share of the emerging market. Playfish’s Pet Society sells a reported 90 million virtual goods daily — for a total of 32.85 billion virtual goods annually.

Social gaming is a cottage industry in its infancy. As social gaming becomes more pervasive, revenue from virtual goods and advertising within the games is expected to skyrocket. So much so, even if Facebook were to capture half of the expected $6 billion in social gaming revenue in 2013, it would rival its traditional display advertising. The emerging industry also presents an opportunity for brands and entrepreneurs to develop, promote and sell games to a growing game-hungry social media audience.

2011 Market Trends: Brilliant Blend

“I wish I could find a healthy alternative to Captain Crunch.” “I wish I could try that watch on before I spend $120.” Oh, the plight of the consumer. Entrepreneurs are merging the digital and real worlds to find creative and innovative solutions to these problems. From digital dressing rooms, to augmented reality watches to digital piggy banks, innovative entrepreneurs are developing products that create a more intuitive user experience:

Digital Dressing Room — Not sure if you want to buy that watch without trying it on? Nuevo Watches might have an answer for you. The Canadian watch maker’s new iPhone app leverages the phone’s camera to let users to try on watches before purchasing them. It’s a simple, but brilliant form of augmented reality that blends real and virtual worlds to help consumers make more informed purchasing decisions. Let’s see if major retailers catch on so you don’t have to return that unexpectedly hideous shirt you bought online.

Healthy Alternative — Barcode scanning is nothing new with iPhone users. NeoReader, RedLaser are just a few apps that enable users to compare prices and check out brand websites while in store. The UK Fooducate iPhone app uses scanning technology to allow consumers to retrieve nutrition info in the search to find the healthy alternatives to their favorite foods. The app blends the sometimes overwhelming grocery shopping experience with mobile tech to offer customers healthy alternative to their favorite, unhealthy foods.

3D Gifts —  Virtual gifts are nothing new. You might even have a couple from your Facebook friends. But a 2D digital badge espousing how you’re a “Friend for Life” makes you say “eh” when compared to the Little World Gifts iPhone app. The app provides 3D boutique gifts such as bowler hats, chili peppers, balloon dogs and a series of other fun trinkets for your digital bookshelf. Brands have even jumped in the digital gift giving mix. The Tate museum partnered with Little World to promote its “Picasso: Peace and Freedom” exhibit with 3D versions of the artist’s “Monument to the Spaniards who Died for France.”

The Digital Piggy Bank — The piggy bank has long-been the standard for parental instruction on savings. Ekomini is dusting off the old piggy bank and giving it a digital makeover. The digital, coin-reading piggy connects to a computer to track children’s’ savings over time while teaching them about financial responsibility. The software incorporates planning, goal-setting and price comparisons — all helpful tools for a healthy financial future. Ekomini also wants to inject social responsibility into their digital piggy platform by showcasing charities.

Prediction
The combination of consumer empowerment via technology and the hundreds of thousands of brands that compete for their attention, the merging of the real and digital worlds will gain momentum in 2011. Augmented reality, in particular, will play a more significant role in how consumers entertain themselves.

2011 Market Trends: Brain Candy

Innovative companies are leveraging augmented reality to teach astronomy, combining food with learning, developing adaptive algorithms that understand individual learning preferences and expanding upon Mrs. Frizzle’s Magic Schoolbus. New education initiatives are helping children, high-schoolers, college students and graduates learn in ways that are most conducive their individual learning patterns. It’s about injecting creativity into education, whether manifested in technology or more traditional, person-to-person environments.

Pocket Universe — Augmented reality has long-been the “next best thing,” but until recently, the technology didn’t have many practical applications. Apple’s iPhone presents a new world for developers to explore and innovate. Enter: the Pocket Universe iPhone / iPad app. Pocket Universe combines education with incredible technology and creativity to teach astronomy in an engaging and interactive way. Simply point your iPhone’s camera up to the stars and the iPhone’s accelerometer, GPS and compass work in tandem to create informational images over the camera view.

Fresc Co — In today’s busy, get-it-done-yesterday lifestyle, we have integrated eating into nearly every activity — from driving to business meetings, to watching sporting events. Why not learning another language? The Spanish restaurant, Fresc Co’s, is blending eating and language education for free. Two Barcelona locations partnered with the learning firm, English Metas, to host events whereby professional workers get together with English instructors over some food to teach everyday language and work situations. It’s a creative way to network with professionals, enjoy some delicious bites and of course, learn.

Knewton — No, the Knewton we’re referring to isn’t Apple’s first and only PDA device (spelled, Newton). Although both are pretty innovative. This Knewton is a test prep software for students. The online courses include adaptive learning programs, videos and can be used anytime. That means the software is completely suited for each student’s unique needs, learning process and schedule. Test prep courses include, GMAT, LSAT and SAT.

Medikidz — The Magic Schoolbus helped explain how the human body worked through a fun, creative and entertaining TV show for children. But how do you explain how your child’s uncle has leukemia, epilepsy or diabetes or even their ADHD works? The New Zealand-based Kidzcomics recently launched the comic book Medikidz to explain how such serious illnesses and diseases work, much in the same way Mrs. Frizzle did in the Magic Schoolbus. Kidzcomics aims to empower children through education to lessen the fear of such serious illnesses. Comic books are great, but when is the iPhone app coming out?

Prediction
Just as technology and creativity are changing the push / pull dynamic in advertising, the same will soon be true for education. The idea that an instructor dictates what, how and when students “learn” will soon be an antiquated way of teaching — replaced by a more dynamic system that considers not only the course material (which will still be curated by instructors) but the most effective learning techniques for individual students.

Image by Billy Alexander from Stock.Xchng

2011 Market Trends: Spontaneous Fun

There is an undercurrent of people that want to explore, have fun and seek new adventures and discoveries. They range from giving spontaneous gifts via text message to discovering and promoting Indie authors to being kidnapped for 24 hours.

Kidnap Me! — The Game (1997) is a thriller where Michael Douglas plays a jaded, bored business executive. For his birthday, his brother (played by Sean Penn), enrolls him in The Game — a program that injects action and fun into players’ lives. Douglas’ character is kidnapped, shot at and even shoots “villains.” French company, Ultime Realite, is making The Game a reality with its “Kidnapping,” “Manhunt” and “Go-Fast Adventure” services. Clients that choose the “Kidnapped” package are abducted without warning and imprisoned for four or 10 hours and the “Manhunt” package, you can be the hunter or the prey. Of course, you can customize your package with corpses, helicopters and more. For clients with a lot of money to spend, Ultime Realite will make your life a movie thriller — with as much thrill as you can handle.

Discover More About Friends — Imagine your friends made you a magazine, in real time. They want to make a feature of their trip to Italy a main spread in your magazine. Flipboard is an iPad app that crowdsources your social network friends’ stories, photos, news and updates from Twitter and Facebook. Links and images are seamlessly integrated into the magazine template to give users a well-designed, personalized way to keep up-to-date and discover new things about their friends and family. If a users’ social network dries up on content, they can always pull interesting links, stories and photos from Flipboard. Check out this video to see Flipboard in action:

Discover and Promote Indie Authors — Crowdsourcing your talent search isn’t anything new for the publishing world. Authonomy and Sellaband are two services that leverage the crowd to find the next up-and-coming author that might not otherwise be found by big publishing houses. TenPages offers authors to publish the first 10 pages or more of their book on the website. The site has shareholders, who can buy 200 shares in that or any other book for EUR 5 and those books that sell 2,000 shares in four months are rewarded with publication by one of three publishing houses. It’s a way for aspiring authors to get spotted and readers to find new, upcoming authors and actually take a stake in their future.

Mobile Delights — Want to show your girlfriend, husband, mother or any other important person in your life, how much you care about them? Typically we give affection in Hallmark cards. Giiv is trying to make sharing affection more fun and spontaneous. Simply download the free Giiv iPhone app and choose an item you’d like to give to that special someone — it could be an Amazon gift card or movie tickets. Then send them the gift code via text message, whereupon the thankful recipient can cash it in on the Giiv website. Giiv gives users a way to be spontaneous, fun and adventurous.

Prediction — Although not all consumers have the cash to be “kidnapped” safely for 24 hours, there are more economical ways of discovering new things. Expect more services, particularly in app form, to help users discover something about themselves or be spontaneous in one way or another to live life to the fullest.

Image via Flipboard

2011 Market Trends: Brand Me

What are the top search results for your name? If it’s a link to a MySpace pic of you drunk at a college frat party 5 years ago, you might want to spend time modifying your image before applying to jobs. The same goes for CEOs, other executive leaders and politicians. Personal branding, as expert Dan Schwabel can attest, is becoming a necessity as competition for jobs, new business and voters intensifies.

Bing’s partnership with Twitter to integrate the social platform into its search results is one of many initiatives to merge social and search. Therefore, individuals and brands need to play an active roll in shaping their image on the web. For instance, potential voters searching for Ben Quayle, the son of former Vice President Dan Quayle, in Google would find blog postings to the candidate’s racy contributions to an adult website called Dirty Scottsdale.

Whether it’s a politician fighting for a political office or an unemployed nurse searching for a position at a local hospital, web and social searches play a major factor into how others perceive personal brands. So how might a digital neophyte suppress embarrassing photos or condeming blog posts? NPR discusses a simple way to “own” your personal brand image in search results is to piggy-back off large, social sites with high page ranks. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Digg are sites where you should own a username similar if not the exact same as your real name. Accordingly, when a prospective voter or employer Google’s your name, your Twitter account rises to the top, not that embarrassing picture.

Ralph Lauren found itself in hot water when it picked a fight with the famous Boing Boing blog, over an offhand comment about a model looking too thin. The negative Boing Boing article rose to the top of search results for Ralph Lauren — giving the fashion brand a bad name. Ralph Lauren, although the company lawyers tried to bully Boing Boing into removing the damaging post eventually blew up in their faces, was monitoring their brand. Google search results change all the time, so monitoring how your personal brand stands day-to-day can help you move quickly to suppress embarrassing content. Social Mention monitors multiple platforms — from Twitter to Facebook to blogs — to let you know who is saying what about your personal brand. Quickly responding and promoting positive feedback can help suppress that content and save your personal brand.

Prediction
SEO is estimated to be a $2 billion industry — quite sizable for such a niche portion of the marketing pie. As personal branding on the web becomes more and more linked to financial and social success, SEO strategies will be adopted and implemented by more than digital market firms. From those unemployed seeking a job to prospective Congressional teams, will monitor the web more carefully to shape and mold their digital brand image — particularly as the social, economic and political environments become more volatile and competitive.

2011 Market Trends: Tailored for Me

Consumers are dictating what they see and when they see it, which makes product and service customization a natural next step. Consumers want to blend their creativity with purchases and define products as uniquely made for them. Customization is permeating, not just in consumer industries, but in all aspects of business — from the client meetings to finding new relationships and even solving that terrible conundrum of finding the perfect pair of jeans.

Music and Dating — “How have you not heard of Mudhoney? They were the precursor to Nirvana in the early 90s.” For some music aficionados, lack of musical knowledge can be a make or break issue when it comes to dating. That’s where Tastebuds comes in. The music-dating site pairs users based on musical taste using the library of likes and dislikes on Last.fm. Or, Tastebuds users can plug in their favorite bands / artists, the type of relationship they’re interested in and the country they currently reside and the music-dating site will find the most suitable match. New, customized dating sites, like Tastebuds, are popping up for all different types of passions, including books.

Custom Presentations — Want to wow your clients with a stellar, custom Powerpoint presentation but lack the artistic touch? PPT Salon delivers high quality Powerpoint presentations with a 48-hour turnaround time. Perfect for last minute meetings and procrastinators. The online company’s services begin at $99 for 20 slides — not a bad price for an engaging Powerpoint. PPT Salon is one of many companies offering customized professional services, making the “customize” trend more pervasive than ever before.

Custom Jeans — For women in particular, a size 6 at the GAP might not be the same size at Banana Republic. It can be incredibly frustrating having a size range of 6-14. indiDenim found this frustration as an opportunity to create custom jeans for that perfect fit. The online store enables shoppers to design their own custom-fit jeans, including hems, legs, flies, pockets, jean treatment, rise and much more. Once the shopper includes some honest information about their height, size, weight, indiDenim creates a customized pair of jeans. But what if the size isn’t right? The company will make any adjustments necessary without charge. Although the jeans will set you back at least $145, the customizations make you feel and look better in jeans.

Custom Coffee — Girl Scouts have their cookies, Boy Scouts have their popcorn and usually other nonprofits have their own distinct products they sell annually. Many nonprofits, however, cannot afford to sell their own line of cookies or popcorn. Newhall Coffee aims to help those nonprofits by offering “customize” coffee. Qualifying nonprofits can sell their distinct coffee blend and receive a percentage of the proceeds. Icing on the cake, Newhall equips its nonprofit clients with a custom marketing platform, which includes a website, fliers, brochures and postcards to get the word out about their perfect coffee blend.

Prediction — We most often hear about custom clothes or shoes in consumer industries, but there is an increasing need in business for customization — with a wide range of business models and needs that abound. Although we split the customization trend between business and consumer industries, expect more products and services to be tailored to the unique needs of entrepreneurs.

Image via indiJeans.com.

2011 Market Trends: First Class Service

Checking into a Doubletree for holiday discounts, logging into a cocktail lounge, a key-chain with a lifetime of exclusive offers are just a few novel ways brands are making consumers feel uniquely cared for. VIP is usually synonymous with high-brow luxury, but more “economy” brands are leveraging technology and consumers’ desire to feel distinct from their peers. Here are several cutting-edge luxury and economy brands thinking outside of the box to make their clientele feel like Very Important People:

VIP Check-Ins — Check-ins have been all the rage ever since FourSquare burst on the social networking scene with location-aware updates. And brands are trying to sign onto the craze with exclusive discounts for loyal fans. Hilton’s Doubletree Hotels is one of those brands. The hotel chain offers discounts for checking into Facebook Places, Topguest, Foursquare, Gowalla or tweeting about the Doubletree check in on Twitter. The exclusive deals make “checking in” at a Double Tree a VIP experience for every guest.

VIP For Life — Imagine exclusive access to luxuries for life. Key-2 Luxury promises just that. The Key-2 Luxury key ring offers exclusive deals and freebies at the world’s most exclusive clubs, bars, hotels and restaurants for the remainder of a recipients life. For instance, a key-bearer can receive 50 bottles of Cristal champagne when they book a five-cabin yacht for 10 nights. There is a catch, however. An individual cannot purchase the key, only companies can. Lamborghini, Hugo Boss, Exclusive Resorts and Hilton on La Dolce Vita are on the client list, yes, it’s very exclusive.

VIP Dating — Online dating can be somewhat awkward and frustrating for digitally unsavvy users. Unflattering pictures, amateur love poems… eFlirt Expert understands you might not be a professional wordsmith or photographer. You might need a bit of help from an expert to look your best for your prospective life partner. That’s why eFlirt’s service includes touching-up those unflattering Facebook pictures, injecting personality into your words and even crafting eloquent emails. The service can even recommend dating sites that best match your personality. Because you are a very important person, eFlirts wants to brand you as such.

VIP Restaurants — “What’s the secret password?” That’s what MiWorld’s asking its exclusive customers. The South African bar is an invitation-only lounge that requires users to register online and log in at the door. Exclusive customers can order drinks off interactive touch-screen MiTables and chat with others in the lounge or log onto Facebook. The lounge is a perfect mash-up of VIP access with digitally savvy audience.

Prediction
As consumers become more empowered by a wealth of choice and information, they will seek individuality. Part of that individuality is feeling special and pampered, like a VIP. Whether it’s an “open sesame” password to get in or special discounts for checking in, expect to see more “economy” brands offering special privileges to loyal fans.

2011 Market Trends: Recognize and Reward Me

Exchanging $50 for a shirt you really really want is a fair trade, right? Not exactly. Some consumers are seeking more from brands than a simple exchange of currency for goods. Yes, loyalty programs, such as a free cup of coffee for every 10 you drink, have been around forever. But that might not be enough. Brands are pushing their creativity to develop fun, exciting new ways to give consumers a pat on the back to say, “Thank you, you’re really special.” A designer brand is rewarding fans willing to pass on happy blog comments with merch, FourSquare-like companies rewarding top contributors with branded gear, and vending machines are rewarding mental agility.

“Happy Hunter” — Spanish clothing brand, Desigual, is rewarding loyal customer that want to say a few kind words about the brand with free merchandise. Fans sign up for Desigual items they would like to be rewarded with at the “Happy Hunters” website. The clothier then sends fans a blog post to write some kind words about the brand. The first 100 to get a reply from the blogger wins the item they selected on the “Happy Hunter” website. And if you don’t get a response, the 20 percent discount for being a “Happy Hunter” member isn’t bad.

GetGlue — It seems like everyone is “checking in” these days. With FourSquare on the rise and new service-based check-in services, such as Topguest and Plancast, popping up all over the place, GetGlue is against some stiff competition. GetGlue’s twist is to reward top contributors. When users sign up, they are asked to choose products they enjoy. They are then given recommendations based on their preferences. Like FourSquare, those contributors that rate and review the most products are given guru status. Unlike FourSquare, however, GetGlue’s members are rewarded with brand stickers to further support their favorite brands. Stickers might be just the beginning however, as HBO is teaming up with GetGlue and there might be an opportunity for some real merch.

Smart Vending Machine — Money can’t buy you… a bag of chips? If the British company, Britvic’s Juicy Drench, has anything to say about it, customers need to work a little bit harder to get a drink. The company’s vending machines reward mental agility by forcing consumers to play from over 40 “mind games” on the machine’s touch screen to test alertness. The games are meant to re-enforce the brand’s message: “brains perform best when they’re hydrated.”

Supportland — Point-based loyalty rewards have been around for quite a while. You are probably a member of two or three brands with such a program. Supportland adds a twist to the traditional points-based reward programs. The Portland-based company leverages a network of 50 locally owned brands to incentivize consumers to continue to buy local. Consumers that use the Supportland card in the company’s network earn points that can then be used at any of the Portland shops. For instance, Poppy Massage offers a one-hour massage for every 500 points earned at any business or businesses in the Supportland network.

Prediction
Exchanging cash for goods is how economies have been running for thousands of years. I give you some money and you give me a product or service, right? Consumers are increasingly seeking more out of the relationship than just products and services. They want a pat on the back, saying “We really, really appreciate your patronage.” As more brands seek to reward customers not in just points, but in a more meaningful way, services that link customers and brands, such as Supportland and GetGlue will increase in popularity.

Image via GetGlue

2011 Market Trends: Instant Access

Baseball great Ty Cobb once said “Speed is a great asset; but it’s greater when it’s combined with quickness – and there’s a big difference.” Society has increasingly demanded more service, more quickly. There is a whole new market of innovation and instant access service that are being introduced to the world.

Microsoft Tag – Tag is a new kind of bar code that connects almost anything in the real world to information, entertainment, and interactive experiences on your mobile phone. You can add them to your ads, posters, product packages, display it on your website, billboards, clothing…the list is endless. When you scan a Tag using the free Tag Reader application on your mobile phone, it will automatically open a webpage, add a contact to your address book, display a message, or dial a number. Tags are free to create and use.

Global Entry – Do you travel out of the country often for work and play? After that long flight home, the wait at the customs line can go away. Global entry is a trusted traveler network offered by US customs and border protection. The service allows expedited clearance for pre-approved travelers. Instead of the long line, enter the U.S. by swiping the card at an automated kiosk popping up at most major hubs.

Search Enhancement – It started with Google, now You Tube and even iTunes. These new search enhancements show results as you type, and by predicting your result. The new enhancements, such as Google Instant, save the average searcher 2-5 seconds per a search.

Instant dotMobi – With more than 60% of consumers having a web enabled phone, even small business need a mobile website to stay completive today. Instant Mobilizer offers a convenient and cost efficient way to reformat your website to a mobile-friendly version. Instant Mobilizer resizes images, reformats text and inserts other mobile-friendly features to ensure your Web site works on any phone.

Cloud Computing – Personal users and business alike are migrating to internet based computing whereby shared servers provide resources, software, and data to computers and other devices on demand, instantly. One can access files and be productive from anywhere. When two work on a project it enables faster collaboration without file transfer. Several versions are available from Apple, Google, Microsoft, IBM and many other tech companies.

Prediction –Remember just a few years ago waiting for the dial-up connection? Innovation was demanded and was fulfilled with high speed Internet. Fast service with a smile is nothing new. We all know how time is a valuable resource; consumers and businesses alike are demanding that service not only be efficient but instant.

2011 Market Trends: Local Power

According to research by the nonprofit Institute Local Self-Reliance, if half the nation’s employed population spent $50 a month on local brands, it would pour $42.6 billion into the retail economy. For every $100 spent at a locally owned store, $45 remains in the local economy, compared with about $13 per $100 spent at a big box store. Organizations and consumers are increasingly signing onto a local brand mission to encourage local spending. About 130 cities or regions now host “buy local” groups, representing about 30,000 businesses — up from 41 in 2006.

More and more, consumers are looking to their local communities to build relationships, buy products and join causes and events. Supporting local communities could mean joining a Meetup group, monitoring a local waterway, leveraging like-minded neighbors for buying power. Entrepreneurs – ranging from tech geek to farmer — are finding ways to sustain and grow local economies and communities through the power of new networking technology, such as smartphones and social networks.

Local Crowd Sourcing – Want to go solar but the cost is too high? Consumers can leverage their community to get discounted rates on solar energy. 1BOG negotiates group discounts with solar installers to provide local consumers cheaper prices via the 1BOG website. The more homeowners that sign on, the greater the buying power. Homeowners simply enter their address on 1BOG’s site and select their roof from Google Maps to determine where the panels will be placed. They then can get detailed information about leasing options, rebates, costs and the average returns. 1BOG saves its customers about 15 percent on their energy bill by leveraging local buying power.

Locally Sourcing Food – Want a local specialty food but do not have access to it? Maybe it was that local cheese in Napa that you want to sell in your own shop. FoodHub aims to answer your problem. The online network seeks to increase local food trade by connecting buyers with ranchers, farmers, fishermen and manufacturers. The trade system enables buyers to easily find locally-sourced food and sellers to promote their goods. The site has customizable features that allow buyers to find exact products they’re seeking from sellers. At this time, FoodHub is on the Pacific Northwest only.

iPhone App Monitors Local Waterways – Think your small business occupies a small niche market, consider Creek Watch. The iPhone app enables users to take part in maintaining the quality of their local waterway. Whenever a user passes a waterway, the app enables them to snap pictures and report a couple of facts about what they see – including the amount of trash, the amount of water present and speed of creek flow. All of this creek data is aggregated and shared with water control boards to monitor pollution, manage and plan environmental programs. The Creek Watch iPhone app combines environmental activism, high-technology with mobile devices.

Prediction

Technology has enabled local food suppliers to connect with buyers, monitor waterways and leverage like-minded enthusiasts to negotiate discounted rates. The above examples illustrate how consumers can benefit from utilizing new technological resources to bypass corporations that have dominated the consumer landscape for so long. Expect apps, like the Creek Watch to make local more accessible for more people. Imagine, for instance, you buy a delicious local cheese in Vermont and want to share it with your friends in Maine. As Apple would say, “There’s an app for that!”