American Express made a bold move by announcing it would now allow cardholders to use rewards points to buy virtual goods on Zynga properties. There are two fundamental implications here.
1. This again shows that stereotypical assumptions about gamers, whether they are casual online gamers or hard-core console owners, are likely mistaken. They are not overweight, unemployed and alone. They span the gamut and are passionate about what they do in their spare time.
2. We’re entering a new phase of currency. Gone are the divisions between money and points, in the real world and the virtual world. “Second Life” tried this some time ago. Unfortunately, it seems they paved the way at their own expense.
If creativity is the hallmark of an active mind, then everyone needs to put on their thinking caps because there’s a lot of room to maneuver here. Imagine the ability to tie your consumer’s activity and spending directly to their virtual success. Asking them to be altruistic with apps such as “CauseWorld” is one thing. Telling them their service upgrade will save them money AND move them up to Level 17 is something altogether different.
The key to making this work is deeply rooted in bullet No. 2. Marketers and innovators need to stop categorizing what consumers spend so rigidly. Does a consumer feel any more or less satisfied when they hand over their credit card for a physical indulgence versus a virtual indulgence? No they don’t. And marketers who capitalize on the fact that physical dollars can easily translate into virtual points are better-positioned to look in touch, innovative and aware.