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How to build your marketing system

Confused as to what marketing strategy to use? This post will help you organize your tactics and form a strategy to ensure people who are interested in your game will be with you on launch day.

Chris Zukowski, Blogger

February 20, 2018

14 Min Read

In my last column I introduced you to the sales funnel. A funnel is a conceptual model for how to move someone from not being aware of your game all the way to laying down the money to buy it. It is a marketing system. It was a pretty heady subject so I kept it high level. 

Well, this week I want to get deep into the weeds and take a look at specific marketing tactics and where in the funnel they are best utilized. 

Strategies vs tactics

The first thing to know is you should not and cannot do all of these for a single game. The following lists are just tactics. And tactics are worthless by themselves. You really need to chain together these tactics in a larger more cohesive strategy. 

You also need to pick tactics that work for the type of game and the strengths that you have. If you have never released a game before it is going to be hard to get the press to write about you. So consider focusing more on trying to build your app store / Steam page presence so it is easier to find your game. 

But most importantly, don’t just focus on one level of the funnel. You need to carefully move your potential fans through each level and have something that would be interesting for them. Rarely does someone see one screenshot and immediately buy. 


In the real world, funnels move water down automatically via gravity. Unfortunately, in marketing, fans do not move down as easily. Instead, you need to actively encourage people to take specific actions to get deeper into your sales funnel.

If you have ever asked fans to “Follow me on Twitter” you have use a trigger. If you have asked someone to wish list your game on Steam, you have used a trigger. Copywriters call this a “call to action.” A successful call to action must always be quick, to the point, written in active voice, and easy for potential customers to accomplish. 

Common marketing tactics and their triggers

Top of funnel (Awareness)

Tactics at this level are all about getting noticed. These are what most people think about when they think about game marketing. If you hire a PR person they will typically do these (and not much else deeper in the funnel.)

Tactics targeted to customers at this level

  • Asking a streamer to cover your game.

  • Emailing the press announcing your game

  • Writing a press release

  • Releasing a new trailer

  • Creating beautiful marketing materials such as Steam capsule images, an App Store Icon, or good store descriptions

  • Posting to Twitter’s #screenshotsaturday 

  • Appearing on game podcasts

  • Posting your game on announcement forums

  • Posting on general gaming subReddits

  • Getting retweeted by famous influencers like Cliff Bleszinski

  • Running a booth at a gaming convention

  • Getting featured on a store

  • Getting your game in a bundle

  • Using good App Store Optimization techniques such as good search terms in your game description and tagging

  • (If the game is a sequel or part of a series) putting the first game on sale

Triggers to get people to the next tier (Consideration):

  • Join my mailing list (with a lead magnet of course)

  • Follow me on social media

  • Subscribe to my RSS feed

  • Subscribe to my YouTube / Twitch channel

  • Subscribe to my Podcast

Middle of the Funnel (Consideration)

After your potential customer hears about your game, you need to tend to them to make sure that they fall in love. This is a slow process and can take weeks, even months. You need to introduce them to the game, give them the history of its development, and tell them who you are.

Tactics targeted to customers at this level (Consideration)

  • Autoresponder Email Sequence (If you don’t know what this is check out Email Marketing 101)

  • Sending great stuff to your mailing list (I wrote an eBook about this)

  • A dev blog

  • An AMA on Reddit (note this can double as Awareness)

  • Posting to a sub-Reddit that is specific for your game

  • Twitch / Youtube development streams

  • (If your game was part of a Kickstarter) Posting backer updates

  • A studio podcast

  • A free demo of your game

Triggers to get people to the next tier (Community)

  • Join the studio Facebook group 

  • Create a login and join our forums / or Steam Forums

  • Join the studio Discord

Middle-Lower of the Funnel (Community)

I didn't add this tier to the diagram because it is still part of the consideration tier but it is a bit different because it is about building a fan community. A well-run community can take a lot of work up front but is almost self-perpetuating to the point that it will market for you without doing much. However if you are just starting out, a community might be too much to manage and could become a ghost town.

Tactics targeted to customers at this level (Community)

  • A well-managed Discord 

  • A company forum either hosted on your website or on Steam.

  • Meetups at gaming conventions

  • A Steam Group

Triggers to people to the next tier (Customer)

  • Buy our game

  • Wish list our game 

  • Back our Kickstarter

  • Back our Patreon

  • Download this Steam code

Core of the Funnel (Customer)

Getting new people to this level is your ultimate goal. This is where people buy your game and play it. Although you got the sale, their journey is not over. There are still marketing opportunities after a person becomes a customer.

Tactics targeted to customers at this level (Customer)

  • Asking them to review and rate the game on the store

  • Asking players to Tweet their high score

  • (From within your game) Linking to your store page with other games players might like

  • Telling people to visit your forums for advanced strategies

  • Patreon perks such as Q&As or Feedback sessions

Triggers to people them to the next tier (True Fan Tier)

  • Download the soundtrack

  • Listen to the game’s developer commentary

  • Install mods created by our community

  • Check out our merch store

  • Download our next game

Bottom of the Funnel (True Fan)

Every game developer should hope to build a community of absolutely dedicated fans. Very few players will get to this level but those who do are more valuable than the money they spend on your games. These folks are the ones who make your community great: they moderate your forums, always buy your game, and always leave a review. They shut out the forum haters and defend you till the end of time. 

Most of the tactics listed here are not even done by you. It is like a forest fire that is burning on its own volition. However, you should always fan the flames and broadcast what your true fans have done to the rest of the folks in your sales funnel. 
Tactics targeted to customers at this level (True Fan)

  • Creating game mods and custom maps

  • Fan written FAQs about your game

  • Fan translations of your game into other languages

  • Moderating your forums

  • Creating fan art

  • Cosplaying as your game’s characters

Common funnel mistakes 

A funnel is a complicated system that must be well maintained. Here are places where it can go wrong. 

Not building a funnel

A big marketing mistake that indies fall victim to is they focus their marketing strategy on the top of the funnel. The common misconception is that marketing is just about getting eyes on your game. That is a tiny fraction of marketing. If your funnel isn’t in place then anything you get will just fall through like a sieve. This is what your funnel looks like if you focus 100% on just trying to get press. 

In this scenario there is no mechanism to capture fans who are genuinely excited about your game. Because there is nothing for them to do next, they will just close the browser tab and move on to another game. Be sure to have your trigger in place to tell them what to do next. 

You are basically hoping that at launch it is love at first sight. As soon as someone sees your store page they instantly throw you their money. There are very few games that have that effect. 

I hear what you say: “but I don’t have time and now that I also have to do marketing tactics for the middle and bottom of the funnel you just tripled the amount of work I have to do.”  My suggestion is to cut some of the top of funnel work you are doing. Look at your metrics and cut anything that just isn’t isn’t attracting people. Stop posting to poorly converting social networks and forums. 

Building a funnel too late

Before you create your first trailer, before you post your first #screenshotsaturday, before you make any contact with the press you should have at least the skeleton of your funnel built. Bare minimum have a signup form (with lead magnet) to your mailing list.

You never know if your game will go viral. It would be a shame if your screenshots were shared around the world but you didn't have anything in place so you could keep contacting them after the viral news cycle died down.

No Call to Action

The Internet has too many distractions, too many voices yelling “try my game.” If you aren't 100% clear in telling people what you want them to do they will not do it.  

Don’t just place that little Youtube icon on the bottom of your website. Don’t just have a text box that says “For updates give me your email address.” You need to be bold. A verb must be the first word in the call to action. This is good: “Join my mailing list and get my game’s soundtrack for free” 

Don’t give them a bunch of steps. Players will close the browser tab if it takes more than a second to figure out what you are trying to do.

Also don’t give them thirty options. Give them one. For instance, at the end of your announcement trailer don’t list every single social media site you use. Instead give them the one clear mission such as, "Go to this url to download the game’s soundtrack."

Not using a mailing as the backbone of your funnel

Here is your regularly scheduled message that you need to build a mailing list.

The reason I don’t think Twitter is a good marketing tool is that you can’t target your message to the different levels of the funnel. Every tweet goes to your whole audience. A person who just learned about your game could be confused by the inside-baseball jargon you are using when trying to tweet to your more loyal people in the “Consideration” tier. Twitter’s hashtags and retweets are good but only for top of funnel marketing. You should make every effort to get people who discover you to join your mailing list. 

When you have a mailing list you can use pinpoint targeting to send the right message to the right audience. For Instance, for people who just joined your list, send a series of emails that introduces them to the base concepts of your game. It slowly warms them up to your community. 

You can also send emails just to people who are in the middle of the consideration level and seem to be losing interest. You might notice they subscribed months ago but they only open every other email. Show them advanced strategies and some of the coolest features you have implemented. 

For your hard core crowd who open every email and have been with you since the beginning, treat them like royalty. Send them emails with the exclusive details about your game. Ask them for feedback as if they are a close friend.

If you are still unsure what to do with your email list, I wrote a mini eBook on the types of emails you need to send (both at the top and bottom of the funnel). You can get a copy here when you sign up for my email list

Not Tracking your Funnel

One of the main reasons I like thinking in terms of sales funnels is that by compartmentalizing your efforts, you can track how effective your marketing is before launch. 

Let’s say a preview of your game got covered on Polygon. How many email signups did that lead to? If it was less than you expected you can try to debug it. Maybe the signup form is too hard to see. Maybe the lead magnet isn’t good enough. Maybe your screenshots don’t accurately represent what type of game you have. Whatever the cause, you can track each level of the funnel and try to optimize the number of customers that are performing the triggers that you wanted them to.

Tracking and patching your sales funnel is almost like debugging a call stack. Finally, you can get programmers jazzed about marketing! They might actually help you out.

Allowing your contacts to go cold 

You have probably heard the sales term cold call. That is actually a sales funnel term. When someone enters the funnel they are cold. If you give them a lot of information and teach them about your game they warm up to it.  

But contacts can also cool again if you don’t regularly update them 

Typically I hear people say they don’t want to do marketing too early because they say people will forget. But if you have a well-built sales funnel your contacts will not go cold. 

How to fix it

Test your funnel out by coming up with a bunch of scenarios of how your game might get discovered. Then, put yourself in the mind of a potential customer who, although knows nothing about your game, is excited about it. Then, click through your marketing material and see where it leads you. 

For example, play out what would happen if some big blog finds your game and posts your announce trailer. Does the end of the trailer tell the viewer to go to your website? When they land on your website is there a big banner that says “Saw the trailer? Download the music in it by joining my mailing list.” Then, once you join the mailing list do you automatically receive details about the backstory and features of the game? Count how many clicks it took you to get through that. Was it ever unclear what you should do next?

If you realize that you are missing a whole tier of your sales funnel, take a look back at my tactics list and see which one makes the most sense to implement for the type of game you have. 

The reason I have you map out your sales funnel ahead of time is because all your materials should be absolutely clear what you want the audience to do when they read it. If you haven’t laid out what your triggers are, your marketing copy will be vague, wishy washy, and have a bunch of confusing links. 

Break out the red string. It is time to map out your funnel.


Even if you are just starting out you should build a sales funnel. Getting a big article from a high end blog is probably not going to happen right away. You will be lucky if your trailer gets a few hundred views. Unfortunately, that will translate to just a few drips into your funnel. But, like a man stranded on a desert island, every drop should be collected and used.

A sales funnel is not some magic bullet that will convert everyone who comes in contact with it. You still need to make a good game that people want to play. However, when you view your marketing as a funnel you understand that that surge of traffic was just like someone pouring water on the funnel. Your funnel needs to be leak proof. When the flood of viewers comes, you will be ready. 

Questions for you

Were there any marketing tactics that I missed?

Have you had success with any of the tactics above before?

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