10 of the 19 cheap, easy, and effective ways to market your board game – Part 1, the free stuff

Originally posted on www.tenuredgames.com

I wish we could design a game that was so inherently amazing that customers naturally hunted us down. If you have a following built up already, maybe that happens. But most independent board game designers need to do some level of marketing to make their game a retail reality. I took a class in my MBA program that discussed different marketing strategies entrepreneurs with tight budgets can take to get their names out there. I decided to take what I learned and apply it to board game designers specifically. Here are the first 10 of the 19 cheap, easy, and effective ways board game designers can market their games.

Email Marketing

Email Marketing is amazing because it can be free for a very long time! If you ever gain over a few thousand followers, it would be better if you paid a service like MailChimp to help you manage your email campaigns. But for a while, it costs you nothing to reach out to prospective customers by email. The trick is getting granted access to their inbox! To do so, leverage one of the other marketing strategies. For example…

Sign up for our newsletter!

Great, now that you are signed up for our blog’s newsletter, we can continue. Once you have email addresses, craft personal messages to your recipients. You want to keep your customers interested, but not overwhelmed. Try to space out your emails so you have enough interesting content (about 300 words of high value) or a worthy announcement. It is okay if this takes more effort and will not scale in the long run. The goal is to make your early adopters feel valued.

If you know you have something interesting on the calendar, like a convention appearance or a Kickstarter launch, consider creating a drip email sequence. A drip sequence is a set of emails that lead from one to another ending with a large announcement. It helps generate hype for your most exciting news. Beware! If you use the tactic too frequently, your users may unsubscribe or start treating your emails like spam.

Viral Marketing

Everyone loves your game, they all share it with everyone they know, and you sell more copies than you can imagine! Wouldn’t that be nice? It can happen, but it rarely happens so organically. People have wildly different perspectives on what kind of content is shareable, so it can be very difficult to guess what about you or your game will go viral. It is best if viral marketing isn’t the end goal in itself, but that you strive to create meaningful and sharable content as part of a content marketing strategy that others then share.

The trick to viral marketing is experimentation. Changing a word, the color of a button, or the layout of your advertisement can all change how viewers respond and engage with you. Try to identify a few customers or viewers who seem to really love your content and ask them what about your content they love. Then, plan a marketing strategy around that and see if your small subset of engaged customers grows. You never know what might take off!

Target Blogs

Oh, are you looking at me? Yes, we are a blog you can target. Blogs can get you noticed by a captured group of subscribers. If you choose a blog that is focused on what you are providing, you can access an ideal customer segment by publishing an article there. Each blog has their own rules and expectations, so reach out to the blogs you like and ask specifically how you can be featured. Offering an exclusive interview with you or a promotion can help you get the attention of larger blogs.

For us, our mission is to help other board game designers get noticed. We do not charge a fee to publish an article about you, we do not require a full prototype or anything exclusive, and we will happily promote you on our social media sites. Our limitation is time. We have so many topics we want to cover! Help us help you by writing about your game, your mission, and your ideal customers so we have content to work from.

But do not just target board game blogs! Your game has a theme and an ideal customer segment. If your theme is trains, go find a group that loves model train restoration or collection. That group may want to grow their collection with your game. Think outside the box!

Publicity

Publicity for your game can help you reach a large, broad audience. Getting the attention of a large publicity site with excellent audience reach is the problem.

You may have noticed that many of the most popular board game review sites cover the same popular games. But before those sites covered them, those same games were covered by smaller publicity sites and blogs. That is because with so much amazing content out there, large publicity sites rely on the vetting process that smaller sites perform. If you can manage to get some buzz on smaller platforms, you dramatically increase your odds of getting picked up by larger platforms. Give this marketing strategy some time. Your game must be picked up by a smaller platform, published, and get valuable comments and shares. The vetting process can take some time but getting picked up by a platform with a large audience can be well worth the wait.

Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization involves using organic methods to increase your rankings in search results. SEO is more challenging to manage because it requires you to help train Google’s (or any other search engine) algorithm. You need to show the algorithm what is important. The algorithm is driven primarily, but not entirely, by link building within sites. By back linking your site to another site that has a following and is more credible, you will increase the likelihood that you will appear as a search result. Similarly, getting another site to link to you will improve your ranking as well.

Getting links has a lot to do with Content Marketing and Community Building. By building genuine relationships with others and providing valuable content, you will increase the number of links to your site. This process can take some time, so start making friends now!

Business Development

There are two major ways board game designers can use business development to advance their game. First, identifying partners in manufacturing, supply chain, fulfillment, and consulting can help you reliably produce your game. These partners are mostly beneficial if you are self-publishing your game.

If you are planning on pitching to publishers, you have just as much work to do. First, you need to find as many publishers as you can. Brainstorm a large list and continue to add to it as time goes on. Then, filter the list down to those publishers who are accepting new games. Further refine by your game theme, size, cost, and number of players. You’ll have a much smaller list of publishers, but they will be the most likely to want your game. Next, tailor a personalized approach to each, using their preferred contact method (survey on their website, sell sheet, prototype, etc.). The expectations of publishers are all different, so do your homework! Keep a pipeline of deals at the ready so if one publisher backs out, you have another publisher you can approach. As a good friend of mine likes to consistently remind me, opportunity exists at the intersection of luck and preparedness.

Sales

Traditionally, sales marketing involves having a sales team who cold calls potential customers and tries to sell them your product. For many reasons, that strategy does not make sense for the independent board game designer. To leverage sales for us, we really need to have some sales already. Once you have successfully pitched a game, funded a crowdsourcing campaign, or landed your game in some retail stores, you can use sales to build on your prior success.

Keep your email lists up to date with relevant content about your next projects. Reach out to prior backers personally to ask for their interest in your next game. Build strong relationships with the retailers who are selling your games, especially small-scale game shops. Great customer service will help you sell long into the future.

Existing Platforms

Platforms are where your ideal customers hang out. You can find them on websites, social media sites, or in physical locations like conventions. There are many platforms that already exist, so go join them! Use of community building on existing platforms can be a highly successful combination.

Try to also identify new platforms that are not as commonly used. An example would be a small convention as compared to a large one. A large convention will expose you to many more people, but a small one will allow you to dedicate more resources (time or money) to a subset of interested people that will have a higher likelihood of converting to paying customers.

Take advantage of public contests, in person or online. These contests can help get you get name recognition if you win (in addition to some prize, which is always cool) as well as a better understanding of how customers judge successful projects if you lose. Which really, is a win win.

Speaking Engagements

Have unique experiences you can share? Of course you do. Nobody is making a game quite like yours. But a lot of people can relate to the struggles and triumphs you have gone through during the game’s development. You do not need to be an industry expert to provide value to others!

Speaking engagements are often free. Events need to fill speaking slots, so by providing good content to attendees, you are doing the event a favor. Start with smaller events. If you do well, ask for a positive review or referral. For larger conventions, it helps if you have been “vetted” as a good speaker. If you cannot get a referral, consider recording your presentation for your website and to provide as a resume for future speaking engagements.

Often, an abstract for your presentation must be prepared and submitted for approval before you land a time slot. That process usually starts several months before the convention dates, so be prepared! Always be kind and professional to the event coordinators so they want to have you back. And do not worry about preparing unique presentations for each convention. Write one, and present it well. You can use the same material many many times.

Community Building

Community building is one of the best ways you can market your game, and yourself. The theory of community building is predicated on the idea that people do not just buy your game, they buy the idea of supporting someone they believe in and the experience your game gives them. Community building works best with time and genuine personal connection. Set high standards for your behavior, contribute positively to others, and provide something of yourself that others want to share. Community building on existing platforms is an easy way to start. For all the amazing reasons why community building is our favorite form of board game marketing, check out our article, “Why community building is an essential skill needed in board game design”.

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