The Innovation Zen blog has a short and interesting article on how changing the model of an “ideal user” to include those outside the typical user experience can significantly affect the draw and success of a business.
Essentially the point is that their may be many different people involved in the sale of a product or service (Users, Purchasers and Influencers), and each should be identified and marketed to. Further each should also be given the opportunity to move beyond their initial role, and this is where each can be come really powerful.
The User, Purchaser, and Influencer may all be the same person, or could conceivably be many different people. Especially on large purchases (and big projects) the buying decision will not often be left to a single individual, and even if it is that person will be affected by many people around them.
How then do these people change or combine roles, and then become peer leverage for new customers? The answer is not simple, but an example as in the World of Warcraft game (as used in the Innovation Zen Blog) is a good one.
In WoW the player begins having little or no idea of how to user the system. So very obvious objectives, tool tips, and prompts lead the user through the initial experience. As far as game play the early missions are almost impossible to fail, and the rewards are very quick to arrive, and quite gratifying.
The after it is assumed that the user has the basics, the challenge gets a little harder, and the user is encouraged to move through the game more independently.
The player can opt to turn off the tool-tips, and start adding their own short-cuts to commonly user items; which is a direct way of acknowledging their own progression, and taking ownership of the experience.
Later at level 5, the player can add a new complexity called Professions (Alchemy, Smithing, Enchanting, etc) which is totally optional and rewarding, while adding to the time and complexity of thinking required in the game. And on this goes through out the game, with improved or new abilities being available every few levels.
This gradual change is what draws a player further inside the game, and gives them the immersion that drives them on. I see this as a Nurture -> Rapture -> Mentor type of progression, and is created in the community as new players are helped (and hounded) by more experienced ones.
Warcraft (and many other good product models) have an ability to be repeated many times, and also keep raising the reward the more time/money a customer commits.
Perhaps the immersive nature is special to an online game, but the interactivity and personal involvement is something that many brands are trying to develop (YouTube, MySpace), and the growth of online communities has never been more fragmented or stronger than now.
What will Google do with YouTube to pick up on the community feel? I don’t know; but I do know that if they don’t do anything they will be missing a huge opportunity; and I doubt that will happen.