Every time I look up the value of the global gaming market, it seems, like a Grinchy-heart, to have grown three sizes.
It’s bigger than the fitness industry, bigger than the automotive industry, heck, it’s worth more than the Catholic Church. It’s no surprise, then, that whether you’re selling Chanel bags or chicken wings, every brand wants a piece of the $179bn pie.
For many brands starting to explore partnership or marketing opportunities, gaming can feel like an opaque behemoth; a closed system of in-speaking cliques. Likewise, gaming companies and their audiences are beginning to complain about brands blundering in without a clear strategy or nuanced understanding of the environment.
The notion of a “gamer audience” is the biggest stumbling block in this respect. Unfortunately, “gamers” have become a polarised segmentation, with hooded basement dwellers on one end of the continuum and Candy Crush commuters on the other. The reality is that there are as many kinds of “gamer” as there are television watchers.
This is the reframe we need to make when approaching marketing through games. Gamers are not a distinct audience, games are a channel.
So, for those brands interested in exploring gaming but feeling a little tentative in their first cyber steps, below is a five-step blueprint for how to approach gaming-marketing strategy and a couple of bits of inspiration to get you thinking.
1. Define your objective.
Obvious, but stick with me. The first thing to work out is: what are we trying to do? Games are like any other channel: what are its strengths and how can we align them with our objectives?
For example, if you’re trying to raise donations for a charitable cause, say, you could follow in the footsteps of Lil simsie, a Sims caster who set up a stream where her audience could affect her gameplay by donating certain amounts (£100 builds a room, £500 bulldozes the lot).
Perhaps your objective is to create desirability for your product? Then you could create a rare in-game item to be bought as an avatar accessory; see the well-documented Balenciaga and Fortnite collab.
If you’re looking to create behaviour change, then you might try to develop a mission within a game to have players enact the behaviour you’re trying to create in the wider world (and be rewarded for it). Animal Crossing and KFC Phillipines did this to great effect when they invited players to search for Colonel Sanders and were rewarded with real-world food.
Perhaps you’d like to extend the reach of your existing campaign? Consider in-game advertising and signage in the virtual world. This works well for games that draw a big esports crowd like the Mastercard and League of Legends partnership.
2. Find your audience’s jam
The mistake many people make when trying to target “gamers” is to think of them as an homogenous audience distinct from their existing target audience. Rather than thinking of gamers as a new audience, we need to think of games as a channel to reach our existing audience. So, take the audience you know well already and find out what games they play.
Game-type is crucial to developing an understanding of player mindset. For example, are they more interested in adrenaline-fuelled, first-person shooter (FPS) gaming, competitive sports games, escapist, role-playing video games (RPGs) or creative simulation games? How can your product build on the need state that the games speak to?
Then there’s the channel-planning thinking. How often do they play? When and where? Is this mobile-first, PC or console first (very different environments).
Understanding the physical parameters of the gaming moment for your audience can provide clues as to the most seamless ways to integrate your message or product.
3. Get playing
This is absolutely 7,000,000% crucial if you want to a) create something authentic that your audience will engage with and b) have an informed conversation with developers and manufacturers about how you might partner with them.
Learn the language, behaviours and drives behind the game. Join forums, watch Twitch, read comments, see what is searched for on google through answer the public. Is this a game where tutorials are important? Is this a game someone might play with their kids or partner?
When we use games in a marketing mix what we’re really doing is trying to do is infiltrate a specific cultural environment, complete with its own community codes, so become part of the community, learn that language.
4. Find your game-brand link
Only once you’ve nailed down your objective, where and what your audience play and what that experience is like for them (steps one to three) you are ready to develop your game-brand link, or, in more traditional marketing speak, your creative proposition.
What is the intersection between your brand and the game you are looking to partner? It could be an audience need state, a subject matter, a shared value, a product use moment... the list goes on.
Crucially, this link should feel right for your brand, relevant for your audience and aligned to the game environment.
5. Ideation and execution
Steps one to four have been about getting clarity on the brief. Now you are in a position to approach a gaming company with a clear objective, audience understanding and game-brand link. Connect with developers early and always in the spirit of collaboration. Not with a fully-fledged creative concept but with a clear objective, some rough ideas and an open mind.
Fran Docx is strategy partner at 20something