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Marketing Channels - Who Has the Time?

Let's be honest: Marketing is sort of terrible. It takes so much effort and seems to give so little back, all the while distracting us from making games. Marketing is full of black holes and stars - this is about separating the two.

Taylor Bair, Blogger

March 6, 2015

6 Min Read

Marketing feels like such a slimy business. Thousands of Twitter feeds and solicitatious emails are dedicated to giving us pre-packaged marketing tools, and it's all too tempting to take them. Why? Because marketing wastes our time.

Marketing changes like the wind. Just like a person, it is a muddle of half-baked theories and sketchy logic that often leads to dark pits that we crawl out of with our pockets emptier than before. And all the while we hold nothing of value.

And that's unfortunate, because marketing isn't really all that difficult. There are some channels that are easy to work without having to waste our time - but it means we must learn a bit and adapt them to our own game developments. There are no pre-packaged answers here.

But the good news? Marketing teaches us about ourselves. Because it is, at the end of the day, about us.


Marketing = What We Are

Marketing is just the busnification of anthropology. Yes, that’s right: the study of people. What we think about the future, what happened to us in the past, and who we are now – it’s all part of the maze.

The most common misconception about marketing is it’s all advertising and design. We envision Don Draper holding up another Lucky Strike spread with a pitch that bowls everyone over and we think, “That really IS the essence of Lucky Strike cigs!” Then we swoon and fall in love with marketing.

But behind every great pitch are great surveys and focus groups, and behind every great survey is a person who took the time to actually speak with the audience. To get in another person’s head, to distill all their sordid past, their layered present, and their hopes for the future into a potent brew and drink it: that’s how great marketers are made.

Sound tough? Well, luckily for us, being a great marketer isn’t necessary. Squeezing by with decent will do just fine. And there’s no better place to start on the road to decent than with the Marketing Channel Mix.


What is the Marketing Mix?

I said marketing is like a maze, and that's because it has to be approached from multiple angles to be really effective. This field of study is often referred to as Effective Frequency, or how often someone needs to see an ad before they take action (or get enraged by the blasted thing). Thomas Smith wrote about successful advertising in the late 1800s (yes, the 1800s) and the diagram below is a smattering of his semi-humorous opinion about how people react to ads when they see them.


But it’s only SEMI-humorous. The fact is we’ve become adept at ignoring incessant advertisements, which makes finding an effective and interesting message even more necessary.

The Marketing Mix comes in handy here, as it represents the main channels of marketing that are available, along with which ones you as an indie dev are hitting. Included is a helpful graphic with different icons representing the main marketing channels.


My goal is to look at each in a bit more depth and rate its effectiveness for developers in the three different stages of development (see article here or my website here for more on that).

Ranking the Mix

The beauty of the marketing mix is different channels are more effective for different industries, so we can create a measurement of effort versus effectiveness for developers. Now, I can’t pretend this is an exact science (there are precious few of those in marketing), and even within each of these areas are multiple sub-groupings, but let’s give it a go shall we? And for some of these, I have had the pleasure of speaking with some game developers who have used them. That will provide a little more insight into their practical application.

Without further ado, we start at the top of the circle and move clockwise:



Time: 1~5

Capital: 2~10

The line between advertising and public relations is a bit blurry at times, but for the sake of this article we’ll define advertising as the sort of public exposure you pay for, and the options are myriad for a game developer. Take out a spread in some magazine, buy online ad space, or go nuts with a 30 second television spot on local cable access. Actually… don’t do the latter. It probably won’t end well for you.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about advertising is the amount of investment you make doesn’t always ensure an equal return. You might invest a chunk of time creating a web ad, shell out a few hundred dollars to run it for a month, and see minimal conversion. Sure, people may see or click the ad, but are they buying your game?


Final Fantasy VII had an advertising blitz for the time – this being one of its most memorable ads.

Before you embark on advertising, a few cautions. First, advertising is not worth your time or money starting out. Some think it not worth your time ever, but I'm not convinced. If you are either in the survive or sustain phase of indie game development (again, more on that here) I'd say stay away. It's a dangerous game for beginners that usually doesn't pay off.

For crusty ol' veterans, ensure you’ve done sufficient research into the publication you’ll be advertising on: their target market, readership, and other ads running. Also, make sure you have website analytics set up so you can track the flow from ad clicks on into sales conversions, otherwise it’s rather akin to tossing money into a hole and smiling. If you don’t use Google Analytics, you should, as it will be a lifesaver for tracking your marketing results regardless of what channel you use.

Though rather odd, using memory techniques can be useful for producing an interesting advertisement. Studies show that people remember things that are funny, strange, or visualizations of complex concepts. Take a tip from Sarah Koenig’s Serial Podcast: we remember what we deem significant or out of the ordinary. Which is unfortunately why those old “Mortgage rates at an all time low!” ads with hideous dancing baby gifs did so well.

Such is the sad, sick world of advertising.


Next Up: Sales Promos, PR, and Direct Marketing

Due to some slowdown on Gamasutra when posting ridiculously long articles (and because I rather disliike ridiculously long articles) I'll break the other channels and final recommendations into two additional posts. If you are on the edge of your seat and wish to sneak a peak (or just outright read them), you're more than welcome to jump to my website here, though you'll have to skip past Advertising, which we just covered, to Sales Promos (that's what you get for peaking).

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