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What Gaming Can Teach Us About Digital Marketing: Part 1

  • Aqil 

Any start-up will tell you: make your job your passion. Unfortunately, I had a passion from before I had this job, something that I continue once the sun goes down. But, much like those “entrepreneur” Instagram posts will tell you, my passion and my job aren’t completely separate. In fact, there’s a lot that I’ve learned from my years of being a Dungeon Master that I’ve since applied to digital marketing.

A Dungeons and Dragons campaign is functionally the same as a digital marketing campaign when you break it down. Your Playable Characters (PCs) are your customers, your Non-Playable Characters (NPCs) are your ads, your emails, and anything else that interacts with those customers. But it doesn’t stop there. As a Dungeon Master (DM) you need to plan for every possible choice your PCs make. And while a healthy dose of improvisation is necessary for any good campaign (tabletop or marketing) the true success comes from careful and thorough planning. Before you even start the campaign, you need to carefully plan the entire trajectory, from beginning to end. Some campaigns, if successful may result in add-ons and spinoffs in the future, but when you get started, plan for a single campaign with a definite endpoint. In both gaming and digital marketing, planning on continuing “forever” is both a waste of time and resources, and you’ll run yourself and your players/customers ragged. So, plan for a single campaign. If your customers like you, and they want more (and you’ll know if they want more) you can plan a continuation, but we’ll talk about that later.

The Setting

The basis for any good roleplaying game is going to be the setting: where are your players now and where do you want them to be? Most games start off in a single village with one mysterious and troublesome dungeon nearby, they’re heavily localized. In the same way, digital advertising is also moving to small scale, local “adventures”, with 46% of all searches staying local (according to Go Gulf). But it’s not just the geographic location you need to worry about when you plan a campaign, there’s a lot that goes along with it, including language, culture, and local customs. For example, if your campaign is in multiple languages, make sure your content is localized (or localised) to the audience, instead of just translated. When our client Pickles expanded into Southeast Asia, we had to delay their launch campaigns in order to get their emails and landing pages localized into Bahasa Malaysia and dialectical Chinese; since the content was originally written in Australian English, we had to make sure that the language resonated with locals across the sea, and Google Translate can’t compete with local speakers (yet).

You also need to consider the digital “setting” when planning out your campaign. Social media functions differently from display ads, email newsletters function differently from email reminders. The “geography” of the digital space needs to be considered, as well as the language and the culture of each platform. While doing recent competitor research for a number of our clients, we found lots of examples of recycled content that outline the disparity between these internet settings: the same content performed wildly differently depending on which social media platform it was posted on. During this research, we found that news about a recent merger or acquisition performed better on LinkedIn than the same content on Instagram. A link to a blog post about emerging technologies fared better on Twitter with the right hashtags than it did on Facebook.

In DnD, the setting informs the rest of the campaign: you’re not going to find a car to drive during the golden age of piracy, and dwarves tend not to deal with credit cards. That should be the case for your digital marketing strategy, as well. Instead of creating content and just throwing it out into the digital universe, you should cater your content to the place where your customers will interact with them. You need to pair your intentions with the intentions of your platform. YouTube (and Google as a whole) is designed to keep users on their platform, so while it may be a great place for people to find your videos, you can’t expect them to convert on your website. Of course, most campaigns span multiple platforms, so take all the settings into consideration when creating your campaign. You won’t end up with one-size-fits-all content since you’ll have to tweak your content for each platform, but your customers will have a better experience of your campaign.

The Characters

When creating your campaign, you also need to take into consideration your characters and customers. What you include in your campaign is highly dependent on who your audience is and what they’re expecting. At the beginning of any DnD campaign, we create characters, and at the beginning of any marketing campaign, we create personas. This process not only defines who your players/customers are but also what they want, which is foundational to your entire campaign. On the most fundamental level, your job as a DM or marketer is to give your audience what they want and to do that, you need to understand where they’re coming from. Not to rely on old stereotypes, but a dwarf character would be more motivated by a large sum of gold than an elf character. Likewise, a business executive may be more interested in the wide scale applicability of your product or service than an off-the-street consumer. You customers will also have different expectations of your product or service. While a pyromancer and a druid would like to visit a dense forest, it would be for completely different reasons. Likewise, a software engineer may be more interested in integrating your service into what they already have, but a marketer may only be interested in how your service looks and behaves on the front end, even though you’re selling the same service to both. When planning your campaign, you need to understand where your customers are coming from and how best to appeal to them. Just like the setting, you’re not going to get a one-size-fits-all campaign for your different personas, and it may behove you to create a single campaign for a single type of customer; you don’t want to try to integrate a post-apocalyptic zombie encounter into your space-opera, just like you wouldn’t want to integrate a long-winded explanation of your brand design process in your campaign that explains your encryption methods. It’s often best to keep them separate.

Now that you’ve defined your audience, both broadly with industry and specifically with personas, we can move on to setting up the actions of your campaigns. Join us next week, where we discuss how to move your customers through your campaign.