Here’s a fun thought exercise for you.

Question 1: What do Pinterest, Tinder, and the shopping mall have in common?

If you said image-driven marketing, you’d be partially correct.

Here’s the flip side of the coin.

Question 2: What do WhatsApp, Google, and your GPS have in common?

A tougher question to answer.

The answer is that the items in question 1 are serendipity engines. They provide serendipity, a sense of discovery, a chance to stumble upon something that you didn’t intend to look for. Pinterest is masterful at this, at presenting all kinds of content that is tangentially related, but with lots of different rat holes to run down.

The items in question 2 are the norm in the digital world, items that provide you focus. You talk only to the friends you explicitly want to talk to on WhatsApp, and no one else. You find exactly what you’re looking for with Google (or that’s their hope, anyway). Your GPS finds you the most direct, most effective route to your destination.

If it feels like the world has lost of a bit of its wonder, a bit of the magic of life, it’s because we’ve made the sorts of services in Question 2 the norm. Cortana, Google Now, and Siri never say, “Oh hey, I know you were looking for the nearest coffee shop, but there’s a really cool one that’s further away and harder to get to but might be a lot of fun”. That doesn’t happen. Our GPS doesn’t have a “intentionally get lost” button (though certainly apps like Roadtrippers can help).

I love America's highways

When we do have the opportunity to avail ourselves of serendipity, we sometimes enjoy it. We pick a new dish on the menu, or we ask a new acquaintance where to eat in an unfamiliar city. The sommelier brings us a different kind of wine. We meet someone unexpected at a conference.

So here’s the marketing angle for you. If your company provides a focus-based service or product, consider what it would take to offer a parallel serendipity offering. Amazon has figured this out to a certain degree with the “things other people also buy when they buy X” but those are algorithms around your theme. You generally don’t get something completely from left field in those recommendations. What if you offered something even more extreme?

Imagine even adding a “surprise me” button to the search box of your website, or a special series of tweets on a Friday afternoon that have nothing to do with your brand (but are obviously not brand-damaging) of cool stuff you’ve found.

How else can you introduce serendipity for those folks who are looking for it?


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