Digital marketing has become a catch-all term that incorporates a multitude of ways to get your product in front of consumers. These channels include web, social, email and customer resource management (CRM), first party, influencer engagement, and paid media. Determining where to spend your time - and money - to drive awareness about your next game can be a tricky endeavor, particularly given that each channel requires its own level of expertise and knowledge of industry best practices to maximize your return on investment (ROI).
Read on for 3 helpful steps to consider as you create your next digital marketing campaign.
Step 1: Define a Strategy for Your Game
At its core, digital marketing is just one branch of the larger umbrella that is marketing, which means that it abides by the same guidelines as the rest of your campaigns. If you haven’t done so already, take some time to put together an overarching strategy for your game, including a marketing profile that attends to the following items:
Intended audience, including demographics. Who will you be marketing your game to, digitally or otherwise?
Comparative and competitive titles. Which titles can your game be compared to, and which are its direct competitors?
Elevator pitch. How would you describe your game in 2-3 sentences to the average gamer or potential investors?
Unique selling proposition (USP). What sets your game apart from its competitors and/or genre?
Key features. What are the 4-5 features of your game that will make people excited to play it?
Once you’ve put together a marketing profile, you’ll be ready to consider your overall strategy, which will be particular to each game and will include things like performing a SWOT analysis and creating a targeted communication calendar. Understanding the proper cadence and types of content that will work for your game will be paramount to the success of your marketing. There are a ton of resources on this aspect of your campaign development available, and you can expect some future tips from us as well. Most importantly for our current discussion, however, is that you’re able to pull from your profile to create a direction for your digital marketing campaign, along with key art and copy, positioning, and intended channels on which to promote.
Step 2: Decide on which Channels to Market
The world of digital marketing has expanded exponentially since its inception, and it should go without saying that it’s next to impossible to become an expert in all of the available channels to promote your game. Furthermore, there are no hard-and-fast rules that will indicate which channels are the best ones to target for your game to succeed. Take some time to research the channels available to you, along with their costs, best practices, and potential ROI. The most basic ones include:
Web. You may have heard that you need to create a website for your game, and this advice is more or less true. It’s helpful to have at least a landing page where you can show off your game’s art, key features, screenshots, contact information, and early access or pre-order links. If you’re savvy with drag-and-drop builders and content management systems (CMS) like WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace, you might be able to put something together yourself on a shoestring. Otherwise, expect to set aside some budget - depending on the scope of the site - towards hiring an agency or publisher to do this for you.
Social. Do all games need a Facebook page, Twitter handle, Instagram account, or Discord server? Perhaps not, particularly if you don’t have the time, interest, or expertise to engage with channel users and your burgeoning community. Anyone can have a social media account, but social platforms are only as successful as the user’s ability to understand its nuances and methods for success. It’s important to have at least one community hub, even if it’s just comprised of your Steam forums, to post updates and interact with your fans. Be prepared to do some research to determine what are the best practices for the social channels you intend to use for your campaign, such as how to get the most out of Discord.
Email and CRM. Building an email (or SMS messaging) list can be really helpful in providing a growing rolodex of people who are interested in learning about game updates and perhaps purchasing at launch. You’ll need a way to capture and corral all of their information, which is where a tool like HubSpot, Constant Contact, or Mailchimp could be useful. Do note that because of privacy regulations such as GDPR, you must do your due diligence to make sure that your public messaging and the way you handle customer data is in compliance.
First party. There are few other avenues of marketing that are as powerful as promotions on a first party platform, be it PSN, Xbox Live, Steam, or the Nintendo eShop. Securing featuring on first party is likely something that you’ll need a publisher’s help to do, unless you already have those connections yourself.
Influencer engagement. Influencer marketing consists of reaching out to gamers and others that have “influence” on the market to play or promote your game. Some of these relationships can be organic, where you send game codes to a group of streamers in the hopes that they play a demo on screen, while others can be paid, where you sponsor an eSports competitor or cosplayer as part of your advertising. Doing some groundwork to make sure that you’re contacting the right influencers - either by yourself, or through an agency or platform - is essential to make sure that your effort and money are going to result in eventual sales.
Paid media. Also known as advertising, paid media indicates any type of digital marketing that you deploy with money behind it to create a certain user action, such as a YouTube video view or a Twitch banner click. Some paid media activations, like creating Facebook, Twitter, or Google ads, can be done relatively easily if you’re familiar with the platform back ends and have some help in making the creatives that will be deployed along with the copy. Other activations, including homepage takeovers on consumer sites or front-page livestream featuring, will require you to be in touch with an account manager or salesperson of some sort to connect all the dots. Each type of paid media requires its own tactical analysis and optimization, wherein it could be helpful to leverage the recommendations and executional help of an agency or publisher. Importantly, and because your targeting will only be as effective as the data you’re able to collect through testing, paid media activations ordinarily require at least a modest budget to have any sort of meaningful impact on your campaign.
Step 3: Deploy, Analyze, and Optimize
You’ve defined a digital marketing strategy for your game, considered the available channels on which to promote, and are ready to kick off your campaign. Once you begin deploying your trailers on YouTube, ads on Facebook, or game codes across influencer networks, you’ll want to keep a very close eye on how each aspect of your campaign is performing, and determine areas for optimization and pivoting.
Each channel will have its own analytical framework that surfaces things like views, clickthroughs, and so on (and if it doesn’t, it’s probably not worth your time or money). You’ll want to hook up Google Analytics to your website, for example, and make sure you’re poring over traffic sources, time on page, and bounce rates to understand how people are making it to your website and what they’re doing when they get there. You may find, for example, that a press feature is driving tons of clicks to your website, and decide to strengthen your partnership with them to create more previews in the future. Or, you might see that no one’s clicking through from your website to your Steam page, which may indicate a bad link or poor user experience that needs to be addressed.
Similarly, if you’re deploying organic or paid media posts on social, you can look at engagement data to determine if there’s a pattern in your content that makes it more or less successful, and lean into the activations that are delivering on your ROI. With paid media activations, analyzing key performance indicators (KPIs) such as clickthrough rates (CTR) can be helpful when balanced against your cost-per-view (CPV) or cost-per-click (CPC), as you’ll be able to see which ads are performing well and which ones need optimization or scrapping entirely. A Google search will go a long way towards letting you know what industry benchmarks look like to help determine whether or not a paid post is delivering, along with a lot of factors to consider for optimization, including audience segmentation, location, type of creative, and budget, to name a few.
If you’re not an expert in digital marketing analytics or don’t have the time to do it, that’s perfectly OK. You’ll still want to make sure that someone on your team, or that you’ve hired, is tracking the numbers for you so that any time or money spent on marketing is helping to get your game in front of the right audience. This step is crucial in maximizing the potential of any digital marketing campaign, and you must be willing to analyze each piece of content’s performance or make sure that your agency or publisher is doing it for you. Performing analytics and optimizing where needed can make the difference between a wasted indie budget and a tightly executed, successful campaign.
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of ways to do digital marketing, across a multitude of different channels that each require a modicum of experience in understanding how to optimize them correctly and get your game in front of people who will be excited to play it. Setting out with the mindset of creating a strategy, picking the channels which will be most effective for your game (and importantly, for which you have the time, expertise, and/or budget to be successful), and taking the time to analyze so that you can optimize accordingly will ensure that your next digital marketing campaign, and hopefully, your game, will flourish.
This article originally appeared on the Modus Games Indie Access Blog.