Breaking The Wheel

A picture of lots of words, cause thats what a marketing communication strategy involves

Marketing Communication Strategy

Before you start an awareness campaign, you need to – say it with me now – develop a strategy. The first step was the positioning exercise from the last post. With that in hand, we can move to more esoteric, but ultimately vital aspect of marketing communication strategy.

Credit Where It’s Due

This post is influenced, first and foremost, by the seminal marketing book, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout. If you only read one book about marketing, read that one. For one thing, it’s short. You can burn through it in an afternoon. But it’s also written from a very high-level perspective.

The book won’t teach you how to handle the various exercises of marketing. But it will give you solid constructs for developing a marketing strategy, particularly when it comes to communicating ideas to potential customers.

But, I digress.

Developing a Marketing Communication Strategy

Before you go to the trouble or expense of kicking off an awareness or advertising campaign, you need to make some critical decisions about what you want to communicate. You need to think through your marketing communication strategy.

Category Leadership

A fundamental concept in business strategy is the so-called “first mover advantage”. The first company to develop a category will own it in the minds of consumers. When you think Cola, you think Coke. With photocopies, you think Xerox.

However, it isn’t universally true. At one time, Web-Crawler owned internet searches. Now it’s Google. Nintendo used to be synonymous with video games, now it’s arguably PlayStation that owns that correlation. Medal of Honor was the premier WWII shooter, until Call of Duty came along.

Further, in order to own the category, the first mover has to be successful. Gears of War was not the first cover-based shooter with a blind-fire mechanic. Kill Switch beat Gears to market by three years, but it failed at launch. Gears, through a combination of high-quality, timing, and lots of advertising muscle, was a mega-hit. So, now, when you think “cover-based shooter”, you think Gears.

The Benefits of Category Ownership

Owning a category is a massive strategic advantage because it tends to be self-reinforcing. Every other entrant in the category, regardless of how strong it is, will be compared to yours. Every review of a survival horror game will mention Resident Evil, or at least the term “survival horror” which is almost as good (more on that later). World of Warcraft inevitably pops up in any discussion of MMORPGs. This American Life is the benchmark for literary journalism podcasts. Any band that dips its toes into the industrial music pool will be compared to Nine Inch Nails.

This means that every new entrant creates MORE awareness for the category leader. It will further cement the category leader as the gold standard by which all other category members are judged.

Two of the most important concepts in any marketing communication strategy are mind-share and top-of-mind awareness. Mind-share is a measurement of how aware the public is of your product. Top-of-mind awareness is a measure of how likely the public is to include your product in the first few brands that come to mind when asked about the category.

The gold-standard phenomenon above greatly improves both.

The Downside of Category Leadership

If you own already own a category with one game, it’s really hard to steal it from yourself. So, if you stay in the category – if you launch a new series within the same genre – you will perpetually live in your own shadow. Shinji Mikami’s new series, The Evil Within, will forever languish in the shadow of his previous magnum opus, Resident Evil 4.

I was happy to see Kojima take a step into surrealist horror, because he will never, ever, make a game that unseats Metal Gear Solid from its leadership of the stealth genre. And I’d be willing to bet that, no matter what Bungie does, press about Destiny will always mention Halo. Comparisons to Final Fantasy will color any Square-Enix RPG.

I mean, shit, think how long it took before every article about the Foo Fighters didn’t start with “Dave Grohl, former drummer for Nirvana.”

The Short Version

So, the best way to think of a category is that, as a marketing communication strategy, the first-mover (assuming it has a successful launch) has two distinct advantages:

  • It has a strong point of differentiation
  • It is the standard bearer for the new category, greatly improving your mind-share and top-of-mind awareness

But What If The Category Already Exists?

Simple: make a new category. Resident Evil wasn’t a horror or adventure game, it was “survival horror”. Halo wasn’t a plain old FPS, it was “combat evolved”. Gears of War wasn’t a shooter, it was a “cover-based shooter”.

Yes, it’s really that simple. The category needs to be something meaningful, and your game needs to credibly sit in that new category. And, again, your game actually needs to be good and successful to actually secure ownership. But it’s completely doable.

Word Leadership

Another key notion of marketing communication strategy is owning a word (or words) in gamers’ minds. Coke owns “cola”. Dominoes owns “delivery”. Resident Evil owns “survival horror” (and, arguable, the word “horror” itself) while Silent Hill owns “psycho-sexual”. Metal Gear Solid owns “stealth”. Halo owns “combat evolved”. Madden owns “football” and Fifa owns “soccer”. Dead Space owns “strategic dismemberment”. Super Mario owns “platformer”. Sonic the Hedgehog owns “speed”.

So, pick a word (or words) your game can own, and make that word front and center in your advertisements and PR.

An important element of owning a word is that, once it’s yours, it’s yours. It’s almost impossible to steal a word from another brand or product.

However, that also means you should forget about any notion of stealing another game’s word. It ain’t happening.

Hype is a Marketing Communication Strategy In and Of Itself

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing cautions against hype for one simple reason: the candle that burns twice as bright lasts half as long. Building a massive amount of hype, or becoming of a “fad” is detrimental to the long-term viability of a product. Put simply: people burn themselves out on fads rather quickly.

So, if you have a product that you want to live for years (disinfecting wipes, motor oil, Roombas), you don’t want consumer interest to burn out like an oil fire.

But, most video games don’t live for years. They’re viable on the market for months if you’re lucky. So in our perverse case, hype can be your friend.

The Bright-Line Test

Here is the way you should look at hype. If you are developing a self-contained, premium, boxed-copy type of game, go get you some hype. Fan the flame as high as it will go.

But, if you’re making something that you want to maintain for months or years, such as a subscription-based online game or a F2P mobile game, try to avoid hype. Focus on a slow, steady build of gamers over time.

A Word of Caution with Hype

One final aspect of hype to keep in mind is that it curtails your ability to contain issues. If you’re doing a slow audience build, you can iron out problems over time because they’re only impacting the (initially) small customer base.

If, however, you fan the fires of hype and have a big launch and then, for instance, find out that your uninstall script can erase users’ hard drives…well there’s no way to contain that PR explosion, is there?

What’s Next?

With a strategy in mind, it’s time to actually plan some ads. So I’ll walk you through some of the elements of an effective video game advertising strategy. Click the link to read on!


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