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9 Essential Tips for Marketing to Gamers
While developing our newsletter and podcast that discusses what’s happening in the world of games, we had the opportunity to speak with experts in everything from interactive TV to indie game development. Even though their backgrounds varied, we asked them all for advice they would give to brands and marketers looking to market to gamers.
We’ve gathered pieces of their wisdom below, and supplemented that advice with our own experience gained working at the intersection of marketing and gaming.
1. Don’t think of gamers as a monolith.
The traditional stereotype of a “gamer” — that is, a white male, 18-25 who spends hours in front of a PC screen — was never really accurate.
It’s even less accurate now.
We spoke to Jamie Kouse, moderator for r/girlgamers, about marketing to “gamers.” She told us: “I think we get a lot of marketing to only a certain kind of gamer. Think about car commercials. Every kind of car tells a different story, right? The sedan is always a gift for Christmas. The truck is for someone who wants to do some heavy-duty lifting. These car commercials are talking to different kinds of people, but they’re both people who want to buy a car. With a majority-gamer society, companies need to start reaching out to different kinds of gamers.”
For marketers, it’s worth being more specific. “Competitive PC gamer in North America” is certainly a better framework than just “gamers,” and the more specific and targeted your efforts in the gaming community, the more effective your outreach will be.
2. Do your research on what your audience likes.
This one may seem obvious, but it’s an important step that’s too often overlooked in favor of a quick ROI.
Breanne Harrison-Pollock, the cofounder of esports apparel company Ateyo, has learned how true this is from experience. “My biggest lesson so far has been to really do your research. We spend so much time watching streamers, talking to people, and attending events to make sure that we deeply understand a space, a person, or a community before we do anything because we want to make sure that we’re always adding value to the community.”
If you’re targeting a specific group of gamers, learn what games they enjoy, what communities they are a part of, and why. Put yourself in their shoes, or at least spend the time necessary to really understand the space in which they operate.
Who knows, you might discover a new passion in the process.
3. Remember that everyone games.
Even people who don’t identify as “gamers” most likely are, as what constitutes gameplay is changing constantly. Everything from language apps to interactive films on Netflix is gamifying activities that were once passive.
Juan Vaca, Netflix’s first narrative designer knows this firsthand. “By creating these more accessible interactive stories, people will begin to not only realize that gaming is fun but that they’ve been gaming this entire time.
What is or isn’t a game is no longer clearly defined, and likely never will be again.
4. Gamers respond to nostalgia.
For many, the games played in childhood are hugely formative, and illicit strong positive memories.
“Branding and visual aesthetic are big in marketing. Showcasing an old logo can immediately spark memories. Out of the five senses, visual is probably the first and best way to go,” said Kyleigh Parker aka Captain Dangerous, Nintendo brand ambassador, influencer, and photographer.
A throwback image, carefully chosen color pattern or well-placed reference can make people feel like they’re in on something exclusive, and a part of a community. Again, Kyleigh Parker: “Logos, fonts, symbols, and patterns of color are easy ways to immediately tap into nostalgia.”
Acknowledging and resurfacing those memories, and the emotions associated with them can be very powerful.
5. Hop on product placement.
Another tried-and-true marketing opportunity that is often overlooked in the digital space is simply increasing the visibility of your brand.
“One thing that’s been pretty successful is product placement. The most famous example is Cup Noodles—all of a sudden a bunch of streamers were eating Cup Noodles on their streams,” says Mat Piscatella, gaming industry analyst for NPD.
Highlighting a specific brand can run the risk of alienating discerning audiences, but a careful, self-aware product inclusion can be a great way to generate goodwill.
This type of marketing has been around for a long time and isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
According to Mat, “Gaming peripheral companies have been doing this a long time, making sure that streamers were using their brand of headset or keyboard. I anticipate we’re going to see a lot more mass-market brands move into that space to try to get placement during streaming activities. People like Ninja are on the forefront of that, so it’s fun to watch. It’s like the dawn of a new era of media, and we’re seeing it all develop in real-time.”
6. Reach an untapped market.
In keeping with the theme of gamers as an extraordinarily wide and diverse group, targeting people that you might not traditionally associate with gaming can be a potential opportunity.
“One of our other goals is to try and reach a market that’s been untapped,” says Don DeLeon, co-creator of the Stash House escape room. “We don’t run any more ads, but when we did, we would target — on, like, Facebook and Instagram — all the groups who are not necessarily the escape room demographic.”
This cuts to the idea of demographics as a whole. If your demographic is almost everyone, then what’s the best way to reach them?
“We market more to the Coachella audience,” says DeLeon, “the younger kids that don’t know exactly what this is or think it might be geeky until they read about it. Then they’re like, ‘Oh, maybe we should check this out.’”
Who do you think would find your product valuable that you haven’t reached out to yet? Chances are there’s a group in the gaming community that would be an ideal match.
7. To make a good branded game, you’ll need time and other resources.
It’s no secret that game development consumes a great deal of time and money. Accounting for that expense is critical when considering a branded game in a marketing strategy, and it’s likely to cost more money and time than you expect.
We spoke with Sean Velasco, Shovel Knight director, and one of the founders of Yacht Club Games about branded interactive media: “No matter how much leeway that you think you’re going to need to give a developer as an artist, you’re going to need to give them more. It’s going to take longer than you want—no matter what. If the game is time-constrained, then there is no guarantee it’s going to be good. And you’re going to need to be there, sitting on them the entire time to make sure that it’s exactly your vision. Of course, there are places that mitigate that risk, right? Like when I was working at WayForward, we were like, ‘Yeah, we can make your game for you,’ and you can hit that movie date no matter what. But sometimes, the quality would suffer.”
You need to be willing to invest the time and resources necessary to make a compelling gaming experience if you’re serious about incorporating this into your strategy. If you’re unwilling to do that, you’re better off trying something else.
8. Brand ambassadors don’t have to be real.
As the lines between virtual reality and our actual daily experience continue to blur, exciting opportunities to create new and experimental messaging in these digital venues continue to proliferate. One example of experimentation in this wild west of marketing is the advent of fictitious influencers.
The creation of virtual influencers is a burgeoning field, and the concept of inventing a character that is exempt from the unpredictable behavior of a flesh-and-blood human influencer is a compelling one. These fictitious spokespeople can be a powerful marketing tool, in that they can embody your brand, product, or service in any way you see fit.
That said, it’s not as simple as creating a fake person’s Instagram account and calling it a day. This “person” needs to have something interesting to say, and speak in an authentic way to your target audience.
“What is going to be the differentiator [with virtual influencers]? How fun is it to engage or interact with that character?” asked Peter Rojas, co-founder of Gizmodo and Engadget and an investor in synthetic reality at Betaworks Ventures.
There is a great deal of artistry necessary to create a compelling social media or digital influencer, and just like with a real person, great care must be taken in developing a brand that intrigues people. It’s a long-term, resource-intensive commitment that requires serious social media skills, but it can be a powerful branding tool when properly executed.
As Peter so eloquently put it, “A lot of people would rather follow a fake influencer who is fun than a boring influencer who is real.”
9. Get involved in gaming through charity.
Charitable giving can be an excellent way to make a connection with an audience. When undertaken properly, viewers associate the brand not only with doing good work but also with caring enough about the subject to get involved in the first place.
“There are multiple ways brands can get involved in charity live streaming, either by supporting a streamer, reaching out to the charity, or hosting their own event,” says Craig Kaufman, program director of AbleGamers. “If a company or brand is looking to host an event, they can always reach out to a charity to see if they may have any recommended streamers that may fit to support the stream or more information that may help spread the mission of the organization.”
Charitable work can be mutually beneficial, and in the right scenario, everyone wins. Making the world a better place while simultaneously developing positive brand messaging. Doesn’t get much better than that.
“When it comes to supporting individual streamers, a brand can provide products or codes as giveaways or raffles,” says Kaufman. “When a streamer does a giveaway in their channel, it usually brings in a lot of extra viewership and donations.”
There are plenty of compelling charity opportunities in the digital and gaming space that are worth exploring, so find one that makes sense for your platform.
The gaming landscape is always changing, and to stay nimble, we need to continuously analyze, explore, and adapt to what’s happening in it.
Stay tuned for more insights from experts and our agency in our newsletter and on our podcast.