Friday, June 21, 2013

Stay on target.... the importance of a target market

The other day a paid ad showed up on my Facebook news feed.

It was from McDonald's, and it showed a big picture of a burger. The ad was a 2 for 1 quarter pounder promotion.

I chuckled, shook my head, and typed a comment:

"That &$^% is poison. Have fun with that."

And what's funnier is that my post was one of the NICER ones. There were over 1,500 comments. Not sure how many were positive vs negative, but a quick scroll revealed several with a similar message as mine.

Ahem.

On my Facebook profile I have photos of myself and my wife running obstacle course races, jumping over fire, sweating, and having a great time. I 'like' and follow crossfit gyms and competitions, fitness companies, and check out nutrition and workout ideas.

I can't remember the last time I ate fast food of any sort. I am betting it hasn't happened more than once this decade. No lie.

So obviously, someone in charge of their advertising didn't really target very well, did they?

My point is not to pontificate on the merits and joys of fitness and eating right - although it's tempting - my point is that any Facebook or marketing newb should have had no problems realizing I wasn't in their target market.

McDonald's is actually not alone. How often do you hear stuff like this:

This product is for EVERYONE
This product is for ANYONE who likes sci-fi
If you like ice cream, you'll love this

And to make it more personal:

This game is for FAMILIES
This game is for EUROGAMERS
This game is for people who LOVE ZOMBIES

What's wrong with those examples?

They're too broad. That would be like McDonald's targeting an ad and saying, "we want to target people who eat meat." Okay, well, that's a start, but just this little example proves that this type of logic just doesn't work. I eat meat, quite a bit of it, actually. But I have no interest in fast food, and this isn't secret information, either.

Why? What's the big deal?

In the grand scheme, I could care less if McDonald's throws its money away.

However:

1. My Facebook news feed had an inappropriate ad in it. We all know how annoying that type of thing is. Compare this to getting spam, watching a TV ad, or just any other type of marketing noise we deal with on a daily basis. Creating more noise doesn't help anyone, it just makes all consumers angry and irritated. Give me something valuable.

2. McDonald's generated tons of bad comments. I'm pretty sure that didn't make them happy.

3. I have worked with and worked for large, global companies with millions of dollars to throw at marketing. Trust me, it doesn't matter how much money you have - you always have to spend it wisely. Big or small - setting a thousand dollars on fire every day isn't going to provide a positive return on investment. There's no such thing as too big to fail.

How do you target?

Targeting is complicated but easy if you're really listening and take some time to know the market.

You need to know the real reasons people buy and use your product. (And please don't say "because it's the cheapest").

You need to know how they buy and their decision criteria.

And then you have to know what makes these people tick, and be ready to categorize them and put them into buckets of people.

Then you have to make sweeping generalizations about each group, test these generalizations, and hone them down as much as you can.

This method will definitely get you started on the right track.

Now, a couple of things to keep in mind when performing this type of research:

1. People often don't know really why they buy things. It sounds funny, but consumers have been trained by marketing messages their whole lives, and will rattle off the first feature that comes to mind.

2. Just like with anything else, never get stuck in your echo chamber. People who know you and like you may not give you the real scoop because they don't want to give you the wrong answer. Or hurt your feelings. Or, they don't want to look like they don't know the answer.

3. Keep an open mind. One of the biggest drawbacks with someone who has been in an industry for several years is that they often already "know the answer". These folks have a wealth of knowledge, but be careful - these folks are also the first to jump to conclusions and will be skeptical of anything that challenges their "world view". Doing research and learning is shut down quickly by someone who already thinks they have all the answers. We live in a world of change. What you knew 3 years ago is probably obsolete by now, or it will be soon.

Market research is amorphous and involves speculation, guesswork, industry and product knowledge, and intuition.

As you can see, market segmentation and targeting is a big thing. But it's actually one of the things about marketing I enjoy quite a bit, and if done well, it will make the rest of your marketing a lot easier.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Reviewapalooza!

By Erik A. Dewey

It should come as no surprise I love game reviews, both doing them and reading/watching/listening to them. I wrote my first paid review back in 1997 and have been doing a steady stream of it ever since. There are few things more satisfying than discovering a really great game and telling others about it. Occasionally, I get an email from someone who bought a game based on one of my reviews and they thank me for bringing it to their attention. That is a fun email to read.

                When it comes to submitting a game for review, there are definitely some things to be aware of. Each copy of your game costs you money to produce and then shipping it out to someone for review probably will cost more than the game itself. If you are a smaller company, these costs add up quickly, so you want to make sure that first, the reviews happen, and second that they drive customers to purchase your game.

                Here are some recommendations I would make to companies sending out copies of their game for review.

Know the reviewer

                Every reviewer has their preferences, especially about what kind of games they enjoy. This is typically easy to discover, you just need to listen to some of their reviews to get a feel for what they like. Donald Dennis isn’t a huge fan of deck building games. Tom Vasel doesn’t play a lot of wargames. Cyrus from Father Geek isn’t going to review Cards Against Humanity on his website. It costs money to send out review copies, so make sure they go to the people that would enjoy them the most, not just the people with the broadest reach.

                Donald and I can always tell when we are part of a mass mailing looking for interest in reviewing a game. The email reads like they entered in “Board Game Reviewers” in Google and our name came up fourth or fifth on the list. The company has never listened to our show and there is no personalization in their communication with us at all. When we receive those emails, we often decline, after all, if the manufacturer doesn’t want to take the time to know us, should we do the same?

If you have a deadline, let the reviewer know

                When I’m asked to review a game, I always point out that it is neither a guarantee that I will review the game nor a promise as to when it will be reviewed. The main reason for this is there are times when I’m swamped and a to-be reviewed game will sit on the pile for a while as others got there first. That being said, if a company has a timeline for when they would like a review to come out, I can usually accommodate that.

                This is especially true for reviews of games that are about to be Kickstarted. If I know ahead of time that you’d like the episode with the game review to drop while your Kickstarter is running, be sure to let me know.

Make sure your game is ready

                Once you mail that game off for review, you open yourself up to an internet full of criticism. Therefore, you want to make as certain as possible that your game is ready for it. If your rulebook is terrible, the component quality is off, the art is poor, or the game box is lackluster, you better have a great game in there, because these things will all be brought out in the review.

                It will require being honest with yourself and your game. If there is a nagging in the back of your head that your rulebook layout could use some work, think twice about shipping it out without at least a revised PDF version ready.

Don’t argue with a review, but do correct

                Sometimes the reviews don’t go your way. For whatever reason, the reviewer didn’t like the game. When that happens it is painful, but you have to take it as a learning experience. The last thing you want to do is get into an argument, especially a public one, with them about how they’ve missed the merits of the game. All this does is upset everyone.

                That being said, sometimes reviewers miss something or get something wrong. If that is the case, a polite email or comment about what was missed can easily change a bad review into a good one. Truthfully, this isn’t too big of a problem in the board game industry, but it does happen on occasion.

Sometimes no review is kinder than a bad one

                I’ve gotten some games in the mail that were truly awful. They had little to offer, were not fun, or just plain badly done. When this happens, I find I have a choice to make. I could review it on the podcast and have a rare Red Light review to give, or I can just ignore it and say nothing. Many times if the game comes from a small company I just don’t do the review. Instead, I email the company and let them know the issues I had with the game and why I won’t be reviewing it. I do this firstly to make sure I didn’t miss something in the game, but also to give them a chance to fix the game and try again before it becomes branded as a bad game.

                It takes multiple impressions (typically 6 to 7) for something to attract a consumer’s attention. Reviews are one of the best ways to make an impression to a wide audience and should be integral to your game’s marketing plan. Just make sure to give yourself the best chance you can when you send your box of fun out into the wilds.

Erik Dewey is an author, game reviewer, and co-presenter on the popular podcast On Board Games. One of Erik's driving goals is to see families strengthened and have a sense of identity. He is a big proponent of game play to help in these goals. You can visit his piece of the internet at erikdewey.com.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

How do you "win"? The importance of goals

Vision. Mission. Objective. Goal. End-game.

There's a lot of ways to classify these things, but the idea is to figure out what you are trying to accomplish, and how you'll know it when you do.

There's also a lot of tools, tricks, instructions, and procedures on how to craft them, what they mean, and how to use them.

Here's one from Entrepreneur, for example.

I think it's important to capture your vision - write it down somewhere - and then refer to it periodically as you work. This is especially handy when you are doing a side-project, for reasons I'll get into momentarily.

Terminology Note:

For purposes of this post, I'm going to say "Goal", which will encapsulate objective, vision, and mission statement into one broad concept. In actual "business" terms, these are different things but I like to keep things simple and practical. (Not that those definitions aren't useful, but, there's no need to complicate matters).

What is a goal?

I think we all know what a goal is. I just want to add that I think a good goal is something that is:

1. challenging yet still realistic
2. measureable
3. timed

You can have goals for all kinds of things. I think it's a good idea to have a goal for each game design you are working on, for example. I also think it's a must for any organizational or business planning activity. It's absolutely something you need to have completely figured out before asking anyone for any type of start-up capital or launching a crowdfunding project.

You can have several goals; one for each design project, and one for your "overall goal", each having a different level of specificity. You can have broad goals that you define over time. Do whatever works for you, just have something captured that you can refer to.

 Examples:

A goal could be "to publish a game with a publisher in 3 years", "to design a game and crowdfund it in 3 years", or even just something like "to design the perfect dungeon crawl game for my friends in 3 years".

Even with just those 3 examples, I hope you can see how stating the goal can drastically change your approach, behavior, and even willingness to invest resources (your time and money).

What's so important about a goal?

1. it will help focus your time and resources
2. it will help you make decisions
3. it will help you finish tasks

We're all time-constrained. Especially when working on side-projects. And for you game designers out there, unfortunately you are designing games, planning crowdfunding projects, launching publishing companies, etc in addition to having a full time job.

Coming up with a goal and posting it in your workspace will help you focus your valuable free time. Ignore things that aren't substiantially related to accomplishing that goal. It will also help you make financial decisions. Sometimes spending money to make a slick prototype will help attract playtesters, which in turn will help you make your deadline to demo it at your local game convention, for example.

When you come up with ideas, activities, or are presented with challenges to your project, think about them in terms of how they will help you complete this goal - or not.

If they help, or are directly related to accomplishing your goal, then those are your priorities for the project.

If not, write them down in a notebook or "idea document", and leave them there for now. They're a distraction.

Do the same thing with your decisions. Approach your project decisions within the context of how they will help you accomplish your goal or not.

Finally, having a tangible goal will help you stay disciplined. If you're results-oriented, like me, seeing regular progress (checking things off a to-do list, for example) has an amazingly positive impact on any project, and boosts your motivation.

And for all of us creative types, where getting past that "creative/motivational/depressionist" rut is huge, having a goal hanging on your wall, and a sheet of checked-off items, is very powerful. Try it sometime.

Brain power - or, if you can dream it, you can do it

You've probably heard that if you want to accomplish something, just "set your mind to it". I think that deciding upon a goal, keeping it in your mind, and acting upon it, is a much more powerful tool than most of us may realize.

Many people create just for the fun of creating. Others create for fun, then decide to take it more seriously. At a certain point having a defined goal matters. Try it. I think you'll like it.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Sales forecast: stormy, cloudy or sunny?

How do you figure out how many games to publish? And why does it matter?

There are a few ways to come up with this number, but you should do your homework, because getting it wrong can really screw you.

Make too many, and you've locked in your money. And you'll also have a garage full of games.

Make too few, and you're leaving money on the table. Meanwhile people who would have bought your game, if there was one on the shelf, have now bought a different game.

Maybe in six months when your next run is done and shipped, they might be interested in buying one then. If they haven't forgotten about your game or moved on to the next new hot game.

In a practical sense there are two approaches, okay, well, three, to use to determine how many games to produce.

1. Make something up. (AKA "WAG" - or "wild-assed guess).
2. Economic/financial approach. How much money do you have to spend and other factors.
3. Market driven approach. How much market demand is there over a certain period of time.

1. WAG.

This approach is more common than you may think, even with big corporations. Sometimes it stems from "there's a certain sales figure we need to hit for the company to reach a certain growth goal, so that's going to be our sales forecast." Have fun with that.

2. Economic approach.

Today I listened to On Board Games podcast, and Donald was interviewing game designer Andrew Parks regarding his crowdfunding campaign for his game Canterbury.

Andrew's goal was to use his Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to publish the game. He also wanted a quantity of games to sell into distribution and retail. Selling through those copies would then provide his seed capital to continue his publishing business.

When asked how Andrew arrived at his number for how many copies to print, his response was that it was based upon economics.

In other words, after gathering his printing quotes, he knew that to have 1,000 copies would make the per unit costs very high, and that doubling that print number would drastically reduce his per unit costs, and also provide him with around 1,000 copies to sell after satisfying  his crowdfunding backing commitments.

Andrew used an approach that is sound and viable for a lot of reasons and most importantly, it does mitigate some risk on his end. (Nothing wrong with that).

But what is the true market demand for Andrew's game Canterbury? What if demand is really 5,000 for the first year? Or even worse, what if demand is 500?

3. Market driven approach.

To find market demand, or produce a market-driven forecast, you need to perform market research. Commonly you'll ask your retailers, sales people, and distributors. You can ask your marketing staff to do some research. You can find out ballpark figures for what other games have sold.

This is tricky and takes a fair amount of time. At a certain point, you are going to have to say "this is close enough" because it's not going to be 100% accurate, and opportunity costs for your time are going to come into play.

Forecast scenarios

After you've come up with your basic sales forecast, using one of the above methods, it's relatively easy to plug that number into a budget spreadsheet and model out a few scenarios, like the ones below:

Stormy: what does your budget look like if you only sell half of your sales forecast? How much will this hurt your overall financials? What is the impact long-term?

Sunny: what does your budget look like if you sell all your games in the first year? How much (if any) overall profit will this yield? Will selling out leave you with enough money to make another print run - assuming there's enough demand?

Cloudy: what if you sell 75% of your inventory the first year? How does that impact your development schedule for expansions? Do you still make a profit?

Spending time playing with these scenarios is an excellent way to plan, and you'll get to see how inventory impacts your overall budget, cash flow, and capital.

If you do scenarios for year 1, year 2, and year 3, all based on a set of predictions, you can start to see how things may play out, and it's a powerful way to make some decisions or base a strategy.

If you want "advanced" lessons on forecasting, budgeting, or financial planning, there are many great resources. Here's a site I found that will help you with forecasting.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Do you want action?

The call to action, or CTA as we call it in the biz, is one of the most important parts of any communication, advertisement, web page, love letter, or anything else we're putting together for consumption by our target audience.

We're exposed to (hundreds? thousands? apparently we're not really sure) of advertising messages a day.

Regardless, it's a lot.

Most of those are what we call "push" advertising or marketing, where it's being - you guessed it - pushed to people who may or may not want it, or even have any interest. These are most commonly "brand awareness" messages.

The other type is "pull", which is when you are doing some type of shopping/research. This is obviously better because now you are actively interested, so presenting you with advertising is a much better investment. Product reviews are often in this category.

Considering the large number of push advertising we're exposed to daily, and then add the stuff we're experiencing that we have "requested" to see, as you know the environment becomes very noisy very fast.

So that means that getting to the point of your advertising message and being clear about what you want them to do next is paramount.

That's the call to action. And you should only have one call to action. Presenting more will confuse the issue and the message.

If there are more actions you want from people, those need to be in different ads, or in different steps of the purchasing process.
  • Click here to buy now
  • Email us
  • Pick up the phone
  • Reply to this message
  • Enter to win

Combine those with visual cues that are clear and easy to find. In fact, make that the highlight of your advertisment.

In fact, if all they do is respond to your CTA by clicking, calling, emailing, sharing, etc, then - congrats! You've succeeded!

There's much more to this messaging and advertising thing, but if you nail down your call to action before you even start to write or design your ads, you're already way ahead of the game, and have greatly increased the chances that you'll get a response.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Is there an echo in here?

By guest blogger, Erik Dewey.

On a recent episode of On Board Games, Donald Dennis and I were discussing game companies and some of the flaws in the games they produce. Don said that companies and designers needed to “get out of the echo chamber.” And that is a great statement.

What is an echo chamber in game design? It is when all of your feedback on your design is from people with a vested interest in the success of your design. Now this could be someone who is the designer’s friend, someone in their game group, someone who doesn’t want to jeopardize being a beta tester in the future, etc.

The problem with these people is twofold. One, since they want your game to succeed, they are more willing to overlook issues that a more neutral party would point out. Second, they tend to communicate with each other in some fashion and so they tend to start having similar opinions, a concept known as “groupthink.”

I remember a great example of the echo chamber when I worked at a mall store that sold computer and video games. The prices on their games or systems were typically a few dollars more expensive than you could get it at Best Buy or Wal-Mart. Not a huge amount, but still it was more expensive. One day some management came into the store to see how things were going. This man asked me if I thought that the fact that the prices were a little higher was a big deal? He phrased it in such a way that he clearly thought it didn’t. Now this was just a seasonal job for me so I honestly didn’t care about my “career” there but still I answered that no, it wasn’t a big deal, even though I’d never buy anything there when half a mile down the street I could avoid mall traffic and buy the game a few bucks cheaper. I fell into the groupthink and the manager heard exactly what he wanted to hear.

The big problem is that people in the echo chamber are also the easiest to recruit for help. They are the ones who have seen the game from the beginning and played many iterations of it. They know what you meant in the rule book, even if it doesn’t actually say that. They understand that the fiddly parts of the games are actually a lot less fiddly than they used to be.

Realize that the implications of the echo chamber go farther than just the design of the game. They can extend into other design decisions like token design, rule book layout, graphic design, even things like card quality or box size. I’ve seen quite a few board games that had decisions made on them, like say card thickness, that were clearly the wrong one. I can easily see the designer trying to pick between two different card thicknesses and looking at the cost difference. They really need to go with the cheaper one, but will it make a difference in the satisfaction of the game? The echo chamber says no it will be fine. Go with the cheaper cards. That is what the designer wants to hear, so he follows through. When the game is released the first four posts on Boardgamegeek all deal with how flimsy the cards are and how people are afraid that the cards won’t last more than a few plays.

So how do you exit the chamber? The designer needs degrees of separation from the respondents. Blind play tests by people who have never seen the game before, friends of friends experiencing it for the first time. Even having unassociated people just read the rule book for clarity and layout will bring out issues the designer hadn’t seen in all the time they worked on their product.

The main reason this is so important is that the moment your game is released, the players and reviewers will be solidly outside of the echo chamber and they will point out every flaw in the game. Rather than spending your marketing time telling others how great your new game is, you are spending it in damage control, a place no one wants to be at.

So if you are involved in the design process at any level, be it game, components, collateral, marketing, etc. Be sure that when you solicit opinions that some of those giving the opinions have separation from you and you will avoid the problems of the echo chamber.


Erik Dewey is an author, game reviewer, and co-presenter on the popular podcast On Board Games. One of Erik's driving goals is to see families strengthened and have a sense of identity. He is a big proponent of game play to help in these goals. You can visit his piece of the internet at erikdewey.com.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Advertise your game without actually advertising your game!

Or, public relations (PR) and one way it works.

I found a couple of good articles recently about board games and family time.

Board games can offer many benefits for families and Tabletop games allow face-to-face activity.

Both tell a similar story - that playing board games is a great way to bring families together. Each article features quotes from industry influencers and others.

You may also notice that each article makes some game recommendations, and even references some local game shops, where interested readers can learn more about the hobby, and maybe even stop in and buy a game or two while they're there.

One side benefit to this digital information age we are living in is that there are thousands of media outlets, in all shapes and sizes, that are literally screaming for interesting content for their audiences to consume.

That's good for folks with an interesting story to tell.

But that's the trick.

These articles are examples of "human interest stories", which we see constantly in the media and all over the Internet. The basic difference with this type of PR activity is that the focus is not on the product(s) or companies. The focus is on a broader interest/need that will attract eyeballs. It is need/benefit focused.

You'll notice that they aren't describing a game. Games are mentioned but the designer or publisher isn't rattling off all the mechanics or telling you how it's played.

Human interest story = focus on audience needs and benefits

Your company, product, or brand is in there as an "oh, by the way..."

And when your messaging appears in this type of story, it needs to fit with the story and can't be a hard sell. It must fit with the need/benefit message you've told in the rest of the story, otherwise it'll get sniffed out as another advertisment.

There are many strategies and tactics for a well-rounded PR program, and of course they are dependent upon what you are trying to achieve. Each strategy is going to be tailored to accomplish different things. I'll delve into others in future posts.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Board games actually fulfill a human need!?

I sit in front of a laptop pretty much all day at work.

Sound familiar?

That is another motivation for me to get out of the office 4-5 times a week and hit the gym!

And there's the fact that my books are replaced by my Kindle, my CDs are gone, and the list goes on. You can all relate to this in one way or another.

A recent post from Fast Company, Forget Your Email: We All Crave The Physical, based on a new trend report that found that we still cherish those physical artifacts. In fact, there may be some kind of innate need to touch things and experience things in "real-life", instead of only digitally.

Interestingly, this is exactly the type of thing that board games address. In spades.

My son, after a memorable win at Colosseum.
So, we like to play physical games. We need to touch things. It probably even meets some innate need we have... so what?

From a marketing point of view, understanding this type of thing not only allows us to understand our customers better, but it also helps us tap into new markets, develop messaging, products, and all kinds of things.

Here's but two examples:

1. Messaging:

Developing messaging and positioning is a whole thing all by itself. But one of the keys is to understand what makes the market tick.

Why do the customers care? Why should the market care?

Thanks to this Fast Company post (and the trend report), we now know that gaming is probably helping to satisfy a need we have for physical experiences.

Yeah, this just got real.

2. Product planning:

Knowing the needs we are satisfying helps us focus our product planning and development.

What is the real value we are providing with this product? How can we differentiate?

Think about ways to enhance the physical experience. How can you package and/or develop products in ways to achieve those experiences we crave?

Is there something you can do that is unique or especially memorable?

Hopefully this has triggered all kinds of creative thinking. And there will be future posts that will explore this topic further.

Now, go have fun and embrace the physical!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

International TableTop Day 2013 - Aftermath and Future Impact?

I think it is safe to say that the First Annual International TableTop Day was a success.


If nothing else, the pages, and pages, of results I received from typing "International TableTop Day" into my favorite search engine, combined with all the positive posts from retailers on my BGG thread, pretty much seals the deal.

My friendly local game store (FLGS), Off the Charts Games in Gresham, OR, told me that his store was packed and rocking all day. They even had walk-ins investigate what was going on and stick around to participate. I'm sure this type of thing occurred more than once.

If you want to see a recap video, or want to share your photos/videos with TableTop, or read more about how the day went, you can check it out here.

How will this day impact the industry? It's another example that the hobby is experiencing strong growth. Events like this will help keep the buzz going.

Does it portend continued growth for the hobby? I think so.

As the hobby grows, there are some things to watch for, and think about, while you are designing, selling, and marketing your games, planning your Kickstarter campaigns, and otherwise launching your Global Gaming Empires.

The obvious one is that as the hobby increases in popularity, there will be more gamers looking to buy games.

But the thing to watch for is how many of the new gamers move up and down the board game spectrum, starting with "gateway" games, then trying out different types and complexities of games.

And finally seeing how many of the new gamers stick around and become hardcore gamers, forming their own game groups and become ambassadors for the hobby.

The general impact should be a sustained increase in sales.

But the risk is going to come into play when you are trying to forecast what types of games will sell. And depending upon how long this window of popularity stays open will have a huge impact on those predictions.

Hopefully, we're not going to experience a board game bubble-burst, where a convergence of Kickstarter over-saturation, over-extended hardcore gamers, a board game publisher scandal, and a podcaster going into early retirement, causes the hobby to sink like a .com stock in '00 and leave you stuck without a game group to enjoy all your new games with.

Everything goes in cycles. And in the meantime, we're going to have a huge number of new games to enjoy with our friends and families.


Saturday, April 6, 2013

"No, but my game is different!"

Stop me if you've heard this one before....

A guy walks into a bar and orders a beer. The bartender lifts his eyebrows and says, "instead of ordering that yucky national brand, you should try this local brew."

You think for a second, shrug, and say, "what's so special about it?"

The bartender harumphs and says "It's local, and it's the same price."

At this point, if you care about trying new things, or want to support something local, then you can base your decision about whether or not to try the local beer on one of those criteria. The only difference the bartender used to differentiate was that one was local.

I chose beer, but this is a "conversation" that occurs in every industry. It happens in the halls between product managers, marketing people, sales people, and on and on, up and down the line.

This decision making occurs with buyers and consumers often at a subconscious level, but sometimes they will verbalize it as "why should I try your widget instead of this one?" Or the classic "I already use this widget, why should I change?" (you'd better have a GREAT answer ready for that question, BTW.)

This boils down to differentiation.

Differentiation can come from anything, really. But the one important factor you have to remember with differentiation, is that it occurs in the mind of your target audience.

Differentiation is defined by your target audience. It's only differentiation if they find it meaningful or relevant. Not you.

For example, you've designed a board game where you place workers on spots to activate actions or generate resources. You decide to make it about zombies. Does that mean it is differentiated? Maybe - maybe not. Maybe you should ask some gamers who like zombie games for their opinions. Or, ask gamers who like worker-placement games. My vote is to ask them both.

When you are designing a game (AKA "developing your product") hopefully one of the earliest questions you are concerned with, and asking yourself is, "is my game different?" And that's a hard question to answer.

Hopefully you'll ask that question early in the design process, because the traditional product development theory is that the sooner you make design/development changes, the easier and less expensive they are to make.

So, think about differentiating your game. Think about it as early as possible, and keep thinking about it throughout your design and development process.

There are thousands of game submissions passing through game publishers and being Kickstarted... and you'll stand a greater chance of getting their attention - and the attention of gamers - if your game is differentiated.

Have fun designing your game - keep differentation part of the process - and good luck!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Market research is a waste

"Market research is a waste of time"

Imagine hearing that while sitting in a marketing class, listening to a late '90s hipster-ad-exec type.

Yeah, I smirked, and I looked over and saw the marketing prof smirk also.

I will always remember that phrase, which was spoken by a guest speaker at an upper level marketing class I took while at Portland State University. The speaker was a bigwig at Weiden & Kennedy.

Mr. Anti-market research followed up his blasphemy by saying that if we wanted to understand people (AKA "market research") just read good novels. Fiction as a means to understand human behavior.

I love to read. I read all kinds of stuff, including novels. I hear his point - but I'm not sure about how applicable this is. However, market research is definitely a double-edged sword as well.

I have always loved research.

I have a minor in sociology, so I love research that tries to profile groups and tell stories about what types of features, products, or advertising messages they would respond to. I have always found these studies fascinating. I have spent a great deal of my career performing, planning, interpreting, and analyzing all types of research. Focus groups, printed surveys (old school!), ethnography studies, mining secondary research for relevant nuggets (my most popular activity), customer support logs, online surveys, etc. All can be very useful. All can be a complete waste.

The trick for me has always been patterns, and who is saying it?

Sometimes people who aren't your target audience will be very vocal about something. This presents some special challenges - who are these people, how/why did they get your product, and, most importantly, how are you going to treat this input?

As you are noticing, this is a long and involved topic all by itself. But one of my goals with this blog is to give folks some "thumbnails" in regards to marketing.

In regards to Market Research:

1. Stay focused on what problem you are trying to solve. Sometimes you are just trying to understand/wrap your head around an issue. Sometimes you have a very specific question you need answered. Either way, make sure you aren't forcing yourself into a decision-making situation using "research" that was never meant for that function.

2. Be open-minded. This is the most common error I've seen. Don't jump to conclusions, be as empathetic as possible. This is actually going to be its own blog post. No joke.

3. Don't wait for all the information. You're never going to have all the information. This is a business truism, and a life truism. Risk exists, and there are always trade-offs. As they say, if it was easy, everyone would do it. Do your best with what you have, and when the deadline approaches, make the best decision you can. Just beware of the ramifications and weigh them accordingly.

4. Remember biases. Biases exist in many shapes and sizes. Biases are pervasive and color our lives. Don't forget one of the most common biases - the bias of ommission. NOT revealing things is also a bias. Anytime you are asking people about things you're going to get all kinds of baggage. Don't try to over-analyze this, just keep it in mind and learn what you can.

5. Use research to springboard. Anytime you are doing research, file it away and refer back to it periodically. This is a great way to spur new ideas for products, messages, marketing programs, or just to find new ways to think about things.

In summary, there's a time and place for market research, and there are good and bad ways to apply that research.

BTW If you are interested in reading an "official" definition of Market Research...

Friday, March 29, 2013

International Tabletop Day Tomorrow!

Tomorrow is the first annual(?) International Tabletop Day.

My friendly local game store, Off the Charts games in Gresham, Oregon, is hosting "open game day" all day during store hours. I expect to drop by at least for a game or two, probably bring the kids.

If you want to learn more about this event and its origin, you can research it online.

I do know that it stems from a desire to take the board game hobby to the masses and grow interest and participation. I can only see that as a good thing.

But the point of this post, and the question on my mind today is, will this have any impact?

This is one of those things that we won't really know the answer to until after the fact, however, there are some indicators that may give us some insight. And this is mainly addressed to publishers and retailers.

I have some questions:

1. Did you experience more store traffic?
2. Was that traffic the same people you see anyway, or were there new faces?
3. Did you see increased sales?
4. Were any of those sales to the new folks you mentioned in #2?

For publishers/designers:

1. Did you see any sales lift?
2. Did you do anything special to support your retailers/distis to pump up the Tabletop Day? If so, what?

From a PR perspective, really, any type of "big" event like this will generate at least some buzz, even if only for a short time. As good marketing people we should always be looking for things like this to leverage and use to our advantage to engage customers, build our brand, grow the market, and hopefully sell some products.

So on Monday morning, and into next week, hopefully I'll hear whether or not International TableTop Day was a "success" or not. I'm going to bet it was.

Happy TableTop Day!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What makes hobbyists so cool?

I found this excellent PDF from the Hobby Manufacturers Association, "Opening a Hobby Store". I haven't read the whole thing yet (though it looks really good), but in the introduction the authors talk about the expertise level needed to successfully own and operate a hobby store. And this hits one of the characteristics that define a hobby market in general.

What is a hobby market, and how is that different from a mass market? And more importantly, how should I market in a hobby industry?

1. Hobby Consumers are knowledgeable about the industry. They research purchases thoroughly. If you give them information about your product, they will use it, and hopefully forward it to their friends.

2. Hobby Consumers are enthusiastic. You're talking about things they love to do with their spare time. Hobbyists are engaged because they love it. You aren't going to have to convince them to spend money. The trick is to convince them to spend money on your product instead of the other guy's.

3. Price isn't always an issue. The traditional marketing axiom is that hobbyists aren't price sensitive, meaning they aren't shopping on price alone. I think online purchasing has changed this mindframe somewhat. However, I do think there are large number of hobbyists who could care less about price. There are some who will spend some time to find a better deal, but at a certain point will buy what they want to buy, regardless of price.

4. Hobby Consumers are natural evangelists. These folks want to influence others. Word of mouth is always the best promotion, and capturing a base of rabid fans who will tell all kinds of folks about your great product is a winning strategy.

So to recap - we're marketing to a bunch of people who are super-psyched about our product, have mounds of cash laying around, and who sit behind their computer all day Facebooking about how amazing our product is, and that everyone should also have one!

It's not quite that easy.

Remember, these people are super-stoked but they are going to research the hell out of your product. They are going to talk with other people about it, they are going to read reviews, and probably even try it out before they buy it.

So if your product doesn't match their expectations, then forget it. You're going to have a helluva time getting traction.

In my first post I talked about the front-end planning and decisions that need to be made. One of those was in the product category. Hopefully during the product phase you took all this into account, and developed a product that was super-cool and different (enough) from all the other stuff out there, so that when your super-knowledgeable and enthusiastic hobby customers saw it, they would immediately "get it" and send those credit card numbers flying your way at the speed of light.

If not, well, that's for a different post. I'm going to assume your product is properly differentiated.

There are tons of ways to market a great product to an enthused audience. Here's some things to think about:

1. Master your product pitch (AKA messaging) and make it meaningful, relevant, and easy to remember. Make sure you tell them why you're different. Tell this story every chance you get, and tell it in the same basic way.

2. Make researching your product easy. Leverage reviews and early adopters.

3. Help your customers spread the word. Be easy to find.

4. Arm your sales channel with plenty of incentives and information. Remember, they want to sell your product - that's how they get paid. Tap into this and make it easy for them to get paid. They will love you.

5. Listen to early feedback from the channel, customers, and reviewers. Adjust as necessary. This is where you will get your ideas for future products or ways to improve the process.

Well, there it is. What do you think? I would love your feedback and stories from the trenches, both good and bad.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

What is Marketing?

This is a question I used to get a fair amount during college, and it's something others in the field are probably asked quite a bit. I actually had to think about this a little more because I haven't been asked this question in a while. I guess being in the industry this long means I'm surrounded with people who know and understand what I do, or have given up trying to understand what I spend my days doing.

Before I get to my current explanation of "marketing", I want to dispel two common myths around marketing.

1. Marketing is NOT SALES. Sales is it's own beast. Awesome sales people may or may not make good marketing people (actually this is rarely the case, in my experience.)

2. Advertising is NOT MARKETING. They are more related than sales is to marketing, and marketing will often have more influence on advertising than on sales, but advertising is its own beast as well.

Now you are probably quite confused, but read through this next bit and then I think it will all come together.

Basically, marketing is "taking something to market".

All the decisions, activities, research, and productivity that goes into "taking something to market" is marketing, including what you do with it when you get there (assuming that the decisions you made in the "taking something to market" phase actually leads you to market, meaning, you don't pull the plug on the whole thing.)

What are all these pre-market decisions?

There's too many to list here, but we can break these down into a few broad categories:

Product - what product - or service - (when I say "product" I mean product or service) are you going to make? How are you going to make it? Is there demand for it? Who are you going to sell it to? Why? What is the competition like? What are your goals with the product?

Price - how much can you charge? What is the demand? How are you going to make money? What is your cost structure? Competition?

Place - "place" is a catchall for distribution and "where are you going to sell it". What's the distribution model? Will you sell direct or through a channel? What is the channel like? How are they compensated? Is there channel demand for your product? How can you generate channel demand? What pricing policies do they have? How will you sell it?

Promotion - this is where all your advertising and PR decisions are made. What methods and to what extent you promote will be a result of the decisions you made in the first three categories. How will you tell people about your product? How will you generate demand? Who will you tell about your product? Why should they care? What's special about your product that will make them care? How noisy is the market?

So, as you can see, there are many decisions to be made, and "sales" and "advertising" are extremely important, but those activities are only a part of the overall pie, and if done correctly, should flow from decisions made in the first two categories - Product and Price.