Interactive entertainment—or as it is more commonly known, video games—is a multi-billion dollar industry. In 2010 it took in an estimated 25 billion US dollars in revenue in the United States alone. Competition in this industry is fierce, with dozens of titles being released every quarter, each clawing for both a customer’s money, and a customer’s time.
Although video games have been a niche industry for most if its life (only recently broken into mainstream markets), its steady, consistent growth shows that other industries can take some valuable lessons from this as-yet-unstoppable giant.
Know Your Audience
The video game industry is a rare one in that nearly everyone involved in the process—from company leaders to marketers to programmers—plays video games themselves. This gives them a better ability to see, anticipate, and appreciate their customer’s tastes.
Think about it: how many people in a baby foods company are parents? How many employees of a sports equipment brand actually play the sport they promote? Video game marketers have an easier time stepping into their customer’s shoes because they are often customers themselves.
This level of consumer intimacy can still be achieved in other industries, but it usually entails a lot more research, engagement, and feedback. This is also why startups and small firms tend to connect better with their customers—because the founders are often from the same walks of life.
Adapt to Technology
Video games are an inherently technological industry, and game companies can easily adapt to new media and adopt tech innovations in order to follow their customers. Social media, online communities, and mobile platforms are easily understood and assimilated into a game publisher’s marketing menu.
While not all customers are as tech-savvy as the electronic entertainment industry, there is no denying that the aforementioned new outlets play a significant role in modern marketing, and that businesses have to keep up if they want to stay relevant. Hiring dedicated employees to tackle such new media is fast becoming a requirement in some industries.
Games are produced by highly creative and artistic staff, and this tends to bleed into a game’s associated marketing as well. This is normally shown in video trailers and background fictional material, but some games have also used more innovative techniques such as ARGs (alternate reality games) and promotional stunts to drive interest. Customers respond well to this kind of creative marketing, especially when it showcases notable aspects of the featured product.
Other businesses can adapt this to their use by injecting creativity into their ads and marketing events. The key here is not to go overboard and do something creative for creativity’s sake. There still has to be a strong tie to the product, the brand, and the company’s values. Otherwise your marketing push will lose relevance and not connect with your customers.
Let the Product Speak for Itself
Product demos are a staple of the video game industry, whether they are preview videos allowing gamers a peek into an early stage of development, or playable demo versions that give players a taste of the final product. In these instances, the product is the ad, and it will succeed or fail on its own merits.
Many businesses already offer free samples, trials, and rebates. Discount coupons also function the same way. All of these tactics function as a way to get the product in front of the customer, where they can try it out and experience the benefits for themselves in a low-risk situation. Ideally, the customer would use the sample and be so impressed with the product that they buy it more often.
Connect with Customers
Video game marketers are highly skilled at connecting brands to customers, whether it’s through developer blogs, Q&A sessions, public beta testing, or playable demos. This kind of engagement drives interest in the product and prompts customers to learn more. As a bonus, game companies use this feedback to tweak the product more to the customers’ tastes.
Brands can follow this example by engaging customers on various social media and online outlets. Focus groups are a low-key source of customer interaction that can help improve products before they are released to the general public.
If there’s one thing a video game marketer knows how to do, it’s build buzz. Preview trailers, trade show junkets, playable demos, and pre-release press coverage can bring customer anticipation up to a fever pitch.
Automobile brands and book publishers also rely heavily on buzz to maximize release-day profits. While some industries might not be able to duplicate the scale of the above examples, they can still generate good pre-launch interest among interested customers and industry publications.
Develop a Community
Strong online communities tend to grow around good video games (and even some bad ones). In these communities, players congregate to discuss the game, exchange stories, develop strategies, and connect with other players on both friendly and competitive terms.
Game companies foster this kind of community by setting up online forums on the game’s official website, which are staffed by either employed Community Managers, volunteer forum moderators, or both. Communities in other online venues exist as well, and are usually self-managed, but the “official” community is usually the largest and most influential.
While companies don’t have to set up online message boards to get people to talk about their product, they should foster some kind of community in order to encourage discussion. A good company blog, for instance, can be a good place to spark discussion and develop a loyal community if the content is strong enough. It also establishes the company as an authority in their field, which can affect customer perceptions of your product. Joining existing online communities can have the same effect, as long as you provide value for other members and not shamelessly shill your product. Social media is also a great venue to encourage discussion, as long as you remember the unwritten rules and not come off as too crass.
Do remember that these online venues are subject to free speech. You need to expect and prepare to address negative responses. Other companies have attempted to censor negative feedback before, and it always ended in a scandal that soiled the company’s online reputation.