So ... you are developing a groundbreaking product and you want to pomote it? What if you need to crowdfund it to go gold? What if you are an indie and this is your first campaign? Will you follow the self-promotion route? Will you hire marketing services? Are you on a budget? At least, do you have a clue where to start?
These are some of the questions I had (and still have) to go through in order to successfully manage my first campaign at IndieGoGo: http://igg.me/at/theape (launched!).
Please bear with me that if you're not on the marketing business, or like me, you are in charge of executing different tasks than marketing promotion, when you face questions like the above-mentioned ones and attempt to take the plunge your-self, you may eventually find that marketing could be a cold hearted companion!
Ok, let's move on ...
I have developed this product ...
... it's a fantastic tool, handy, top-notch, what many could have been waiting for, and the list of great things goes on... now, if potential backers don't know it's there, you could have the best software in the Universe and still face the risk of failure due to anonymity! Yes, that sort of invisible cloak wrapped around your product (and even you and your team sometimes) in a virtual world of social media illusion. Take the above trailer video, for instance: it has been around for a while now, and by the time I was writing these words, it only had less than four hundred views and two likes.
We are more and more socially connected on the Internet (Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, MySpace, etc.); no doubt about it. But at the same time it's really difficult once and again to drive the attention of (most of) your contacts to things that matter to you at due time. When you're looking for meaningful exposure, it's hard to witness that many times even a senseless comment/image/video get more retweets, shares, likes and favorites than something that could prove to be really helpful if given an opportunity, just because the former seems funny, it's rather dumb and or a rant to something/someone. And you say, "Really? That amount of RTs? C'mon!".
And on the financial side, if it's indeed difficult to successfully crowdfund a game when you are an indie, now picture that for an application for game devs, being therefore the critical mass of potential bakers/stakeholders (or target audience) smaller by far!
One may argue that there is a crowdfunding bubble going on right now and others that crowdfunfing is a game changer that has arrived to stay in the Industry, but one way or the other, reality is showing us that like games in key marketplaces, the number of campaigns for multimedia and entertainment is growing fast, so sites like KickStarter, IndieGoGo and others, are getting -and please excuse my redundancy here- crowded. You may say "So what?". The thing is that your efforts to get your campaign noticed may get easily diluted on a sea of choices where odds, imho, are continuosly decreasing for indies to get and mantain a spotlight.
Thus, marketing must not be underestimated. It must be placed among top priorities. And yes, this indeed applies to indies (solo devs as well as teams) who usually struggle more for visibility than AAA companies. As a matter of fact, if you are serious about your product you will have to realize -better sooner than later- than marketing takes time, effort and money to such a extent that you have to prepare your strategy carefully, because once the novelty passes there may be no second opportunities for your product/campaign to get noticed.
So, after doing a whole research on the topic for crowdfunding, reading some material here and there, and carrying out some promotion efforts my-self, I managed to identify what I deem as key guidelines when planning and executing markerting tasks (that could be also used generally and not only for crowdfunding campaigns).
Although I'll be starting my campaing really soon -so I don't know the outcome, I'm hereunder sharing ex-ante my Top 10 guidelines to help others in a similar situation, get comments, thoughts and suggestions from readers as well as reviews (I hope constructive ones).
So here they are in no particular order:
1. Build your audience.
This is the first thing you should do if you want to brake the barrier of anonymity. But be warned: recurring solely to self-promotion is like defending your-self on a trial. So, my advice? Follow a hybrid approach: reserve some money in your budget and refine your strategy by hiring a marketing service.
Now, as I said earlier although we are more connected in virtual space, it seems that most of the times there's a disconnection between what we pitch and our receivers, unless for some magical reason or design of providence, a spark is somehow lighted bright enough to trigger the viral campaign you were looking for.
To stand a chance, you first need to build a strong foundation of followers. Your audience. A group of people where backers/stakehoders will emerge from and also willing to help you find more backers/stakeholders.
You may wonder: "ok, but how can I reach them?". In multiple levels: write blogposts, participate in forums and social groups, write or review books in the field, upload screnshots and videos of your work, show that you know and master what you talk about regularly, and be polite (there's no need to be rude or look down on something/someone to show that you are smart).
There is an interesting technique in the case of Twitter that can give positive results if used well: identify the accounts of your target audience and follow them. With some luck favouring you they will also follow your account back (and you can always unfollow that account if the move fails). But here's the part that I don't like: some that use this technique and first follow a Twitter account, then unfollow that account right away when the latter follows back. And, afaik, that's not fair play.
2. Avoid negative influencers.
Some may say that you don't really know a person in a job until it gets promoted. Well, that also applies to peers, friends and contacts in general. You get to know them when you eventually need something: in terms of social media, that is, exposure.
Any examples? Yes ... there are many but I will post just one: say you expect a retweet from a person, maybe a peer, but instead what you get is that the person attempts to show something negative about your product/campaign (even if it's argueable) through jokes or irony on any social media when it can do so at least with respect and or through a DM or email. If that happens or you know beforehand that could happend then avoid that person immediaely. You can thank me later (and btw, feel free to add your own experiences with negative influencers in the comments section).
But there is always a bright side in life because for every negative influencer that you may find, you will also find a positive one that needs no message, post or call to back you up on your quest. I'm not sure though whether the scale is balanced towards one side of the other, but I do know that every positive influencer, regarding its reach, at the end of the day, counts ...
3. Use social media (tools), wisely.
In short, don't abuse the power of media tools.
Constantly tweeting the same thing over and over again will most likely upset someone somewhere. And guess what? That situation could turn into a negative influence. And unfortunately, I believe -at a rough guess- than commenters are biased towards posting negative feedback. How come? Think of it as if negative commenters needed to surpass a lower number in a variable to post negative feedback than the number that positive commenters must reach to post positive feedback.
Same thing goes for Facebook and other social media. Try to ration how and when you post news about your product/campaign so as to generate a positive mood. This doesn't mean that you must by all means avoid posting once the same news among the groups/forums you are member of. Just avoid posting the same news more than once in the same group, and always, follow the rules of each group/forum. Some are rather picky on marketing/crowdfunding posts.
So be careful if you use social media tools that help you automate messages to your followers.
One last tip here: do not post announcements and or new material when approaching the weekend (including Friday)! In my experience you get more impact when you post them early on the week. Indeed, I have come to realize that Wednesday is a good day to catch attention.
4. Take your time to select the right marketing service.
This one is tricky, in particular when you are not able to base your decisions on a trusted contact. Maybe none of your contacts know a respectful provider of marketing services specialized in crowdfunding.
So you go solo with the task of picking a promotional service provider but before that you try to directly contact magazines, expert portals and PR outlets. And here is the thing: you don't know who to contact, and even if you happen to find it, the chance that you get the answer you're looking for is not high. Thus, you realize that you need a promotional service but you want to avoid the "consultations" and go straight to the PR plus social media exposure. And here is when you need to be careful ...
Some of the sites do not have a Twitter account with many followers, what could be ok if you were looking for PR services. Maybe they know the right people at the right places for a direct contact, so there may be a big change that they take your press release. Thus, verify that at least they have an acceptable website and if you can, the campaigns they served and the rate of successful.
Now, there are other sites who do offer social media tools besides PR. The problem here is that when you check for instance their tweets, even though they have thoudsands of followers, you notice that out of the hundred of tweets posted each day only a few (5 or 6) are meant to promote campaigns, remaining ones have to do with sayings, proverbs and allegued handy crowdfunding techniques. What gives? Even if they approach 100k followers, how many of them could be considered potential backers? Plus, how many of them do really follow hundreds of meaningless tweets? Or worse, how many of them do find a tweet related to a crowdfunding campaign out of that sea of self-promotional tweets?
Therefore, my advice to you is go ahead, pick a service from the bunch, but take your time to make up your mind. Do a cost-benefit comparison plus some research on their background and ask them to provide more information if in doubt. Mostly when they quote you thoudsands of american dollars for their proffesional marketing packs/services.
And remember that you can always advertise your (Facebook and Youtube) sites with Facebook and Google directly by setting the daily estimated cost you want to pay, which guarantees that your account complies with terms and conditions of the corresponding site.
5. Look for advice from respected experts in the Industry.
There is plenty of articles regarding crowdfunging experiences and self-promotion to read, like this great article by Leigh Alexander entitled "How today's game developers come to grips with self-promotion" or suggestions given by Chris Roberts as stated in Christian Nutt's article "Beyond Crowdfunding: Chris Roberts urges you turn backers into fans". And you can find many more in blogs, magazines and sites related to the topic.
But that is not the only way to get feedback from experts. You will be surpirsed to know that if you ask the right questions properly they do reply at due time, and the best part is that you can retrieve useful information from the given answers! LinkedIn is a great service to get in touch with these guys with the InMail feature (since a direct email could be deemed sometimes as too personal or unappropriate). Private messages in thematic forums could also be a good way, but from my experience many of they check more frequently LinkedIn (and LinkedIn groups) than forums.
The point is, regardless how you get feedback, is that you look for it and pay attention once you get it before jumping into the wrong pool (verify first that there is enough water in it). There is no point in rushing into things when you don't have enough experience, in my case, in crowdfunding.
Also, you could try to get a hold on someone that was part of or in charge of a successful campaign to get some insight. Hopefully, some may be kind enough to answer, especially if you were a backer. So I believe it worths a try ...
6. Listen carefully to all feedback from real stakeholders.
A paradox with common sense is that common sense varies per person. But you should appeal to your common sense to identify a real stakeholder from a casual visitor. The former do a follow up of your responses, post new comments and suggestions, are aware of news, and most importantly, are interested in your product. And the latter, well, ... not.
So, listening to them plus showing that you do care of their comments is a must. That will help you mantain captive your audience, in the good sense. And, you never know, you might eventually learn something from reviews and comments.
7. Be ready to adapt your strategies and or product.
Due to feedback and or results of pre-campaign promotion (or during the campaign it-self), you may find your-self in the need of do some changes to your marketing strategy and even your product. Change management is vital for agile methodologies. Securing the critical path on the roadmap does not necessarily mean that you must avoid adjustments, in particular when they could add great value with minimum effort. Not to mention that if you find a crossroad with a dead end in the street you're at, and you need to keep moving, turn!
Regarding the marketing strategy, good advice may come from any source: either for a service provider to consider, a free/commercial tool to use, or a kind of promotional service that you didn't even know it existed. An example in my case is Thunderclap (btw, I'll be starting a clap soon so I hope you support me: @yoruguaman). Adding trailers/how-to videos and write additional blogposts regarding the product are included in this category.
And regarding the product it-self, you don't need to enter a beta-phase stage in order to get smart suggestions that could imply a fast reaction on your side to improve your software. That has been the case for the APE and could still be the case during the upcoming campaign. And you can always include any change in the roadmap of your product if you cannot address it at the moment. Try to be open minded to suggestions but don't be afraid of replying "not right now because ..." or "that is not necessary because ...".
8. Don't neglect your primary/daily tasks.
This is important when you do some self-promoting efforts. Writing a PR with SEO, getting in touch with peers, press/outlets and connections in general, monitoring follow-ups and replying to comments takes quite some time, and even though the task may not seem difficult at first, it could eventually get cumbersome and distract you from your main activities. And the latter may end up troubling you, your team and your business somehow.
So organize your work, keep your schedule tidy and take care of your primary/daily tasks. In short, be productive. Find an equilibium to keep your business rolling without stalls.
Spreadsheets, checklists and a well-organized agenda are your friends ...
9. Watch your finance figures closely.
Marketing does not come for free. At least not the one that matters. To generate positive impact on potential stakeholders some expenses will be required. Even if you try to keep them low, as the pre-campaign promotional phase goes, these start to add really quick, so if you don't monitor the numbers with care, the final amount may turn out to be a red number for the initial budget. And as in any venture, there is no guarantee that you get what you have invested back.
So, grab your pencil, rubber and calculator (man! that sounds old) and let the mean accountant in you emerge. Be wise even when you decide not to play safe and put at risk a few bucks for profit. Know your financial limits. Avoid drying up your funds in a way that could jeopardize the campaign and or business. Be realistic.
10. And hold on in there!
For crowdfunding is recommended to spread the word about your campaign at least 30 days before you start it (pre-campaign marketing). I believe 30 days flat (or less) may not suffice, especially if you're an indie on a budget and self-promote your campaign. Actually, I believe 45 to 60 days of pre-campaign promotion could be a better minimum.
Now, if you add those days to the time you're campaign will last, you'd likely end up with an average of, say, 3 to 3 and half months of wait until you see the final results. So you have to be patient. Do not desperate and keep up the hard work. If you do things right, mantain your expectatives along the optimistic-realistic threshold, plus a bit of good luck (always needed), you could get the desired outcome.
To wrap up ...
There you have it. This are the guidelines I'm currently following. Maybe there are some things left out from this post for the sake of concretion, but I believe it summarizes fine what I have been doing lately. I don't know whether I'll succeed or not but as usual, time will tell.
I hope you like the article, write some comments/advice, and check out the campaign at IndieGoGo for the Asset Pipeline Editor (http://igg.me/at/theape).
And who knows ... maybe you even make a monetary contribution to the campaign and or help me spread the word about it (in any case, thanks in advance!).
Whish me luck!