On Tuesday, I blogged ( post on The Need to Move Beyond Performance Marketing ) that social game companies needed to create robust marketing strategies rather than rely solely on performance marketing. Today, I wanted to elaborate a little on what needs to go into the marketing strategy.
Although this may sound a little like Marketing 101, social game companies should look at product launches the same way virtual any other company that sells to consumers does. This process starts by creating a robust launch plan for every game. Although this sounds simples, in my 20+ years in the game industry, more times than not I have seen companies focus on marketing only after the a product launches, if at all.
The first step is to create a full launch plan for each game, preferably six months before launch but no later than three months before the scheduled launch date. I am not going to go into details here about how to write a launch plan as there are many great templates available online. The key, though, is for the launch plan to include the three components needed for success: pre-launch, launch, and post-launch.
In the pre-launch phase, the company needs to Research and Plan. Research includes consumer testing and customer feedback. With consumer testing, I am not referring to the testing that the product development team is doing to optimize usability, retention, etc. Consumer testing in the launch plan should be tied to the marketing aspects of the product, what features will resonate with customers, what name will be most effective, what demographics respond best to the game, etc. There are multiple ways to test, from mock ads and surveys on Facebook to focus groups. The other type of research that should be done in the pre-launch phase is consumer input. Examples of this would be speaking to your customers through forums or direct contact about features they would like to see, what would get them to monetize, etc. The planning phase is also critical prior to launch and should encompass the steps that need to be taken to an effective launch and when (i.e. what needs to be done launch minus 4 months, launch minus three months, etc), what resources will be needed (i.e. cash, people, agencies) and what are the goals (are you aiming for 1 million DAU, $100k/day in revenue or a different metric). If you do not know your goals, it is impossible to measure success.
The next phase of the launch plan is Launch. Key elements here are when and where, the promotional plan and customer support. First, the marketing team needs to work with the development team to determine optimal timing for launch. This may come as a surprise to most social gaming companies, but the best time to launch is not 30 minutes after the game is considered stable. Instead, the company should think strategically when would be the most effective time to launch and then coordinate development and marketing to build a successful launch. Part of this consideration will be whether to launch a robust product or a minimum desirable product. With the latter, you can get to market quicker and adjust but you are also more likely to have a game that initially does not satisfy your best customers as long as you would need to. When planning the launch, you also want to avoid launching when your largest competitors plan launches. For the same reason a studio would not release a kid’s movie the same weekend that Disney launches Cars 3, you do not want to launch your big social title around the launch of Castleville. You also need to decide where you are going to launch (and when tied to where). Do you launch initially in the United States or do you launch day 1 in fifteen languages to avoid clones coming to those markets before you do? Do you launch first in Indonesia or Turkey to get early customer data with lower user acquisitions costs so you can adjust your product and marketing mix or do you hit the US hard? These are all questions that need to be answered in the marketing plan.
Once these questions are addressed, you need to determine the media mix. As I wrote about multiple times, it is important not to rely entirely on performance ads. Instead, you should look at the same media options that other entertainment and consumer goods brands use. These options include television, web, social media (there are many ways to advertise beyond Facebook ads, including building campaigns around Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook pages and groups) and even print. This is far from an exhaustive list and also an opportunity for companies to be creative (rather than the lazy approach of just programming 500 Facebook ads).
Finally is the post-launch phase, where the key aspects are Measure, Analyze and Adjust. While these terms are probably familiar to most social game companies, the key here is to use them in regard to the marketing plan rather than product development. Social game companies should use analytics as religiously to measure the ROI of each aspect of its marketing campaign as they are in measuring game performance. Although more traditional advertising channels are more difficult to measure than Facebook ads, they are measurable. If you run television advertising, you can measure performance at the time of the ad versus three hours later (or performance where the ad is shown versus another region). With any type of marketing, there are ways to measure it, it just requires a little more work from your analytics team. Once the ROI of the various components are determined, you then must continually adjust your marketing mix to optimize performance and continue growing your player base.
As I mentioned Tuesday, I will be speaking on this topic Monday at the Social Gaming Summit in London. Although I may not be able to blog regularly next week, I will put up some further thoughts on marketing social games as soon as I can as well as my takeaways from the Summit.