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.