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What a Successful Video Game Can Teach You About Marketing Your Brand
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What a Successful Video Game Can Teach You About Marketing Your Brand


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We now live in an age where even a touch point as transactional and “boring” as a vending machine can turn into a rich, highly rewarding consumer experience. …

We now live in an age where even a touch point as transactional and “boring” as a vending machine can turn into a rich, highly rewarding consumer experience.

Point of View By Ulli Appelbaum, Director of Brand Strategy, SapientNitro

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  • 1. POINT OF view What a successful video game can teach you about marketing your brand By Ulli Appelbaum , Director of Brand Strategy, Sapient Nitro. As a brand steward, you probably dream of having your consumers being magnetically attracted to your brand, even stand in line all night to be the first to buy your newest product, postpone or delay other activities in their busy schedule to continuously engage with, and immerse themselves in, your brand’s world and, of course, tell all their friends about it online and off? In other words you’d want consumers to react to your brand like they would to successful video games. It therefore begs the question, “what draws people to video games, what keeps them coming back to want to talk and write about it, and what can brand stewards learn from them about managing their own brand?” Here, we identify and cover four of those principles. 1. A compelling storyline: Most gamers would tell you that a compelling story is probably the single most important criteria for a good game. It’s what draws you in, it’s what gets you excited and interested in the first place. The same holds true for brands and most marketers know this. The fact that brands need compelling stories is really not a novel concept. However, media fragmentation and the increasing speed of technological innovations over the last few years has distracted most of the industry’s attention towards the execution of brand stories (where and how to tell a brand story across various media platforms or leveraging the latest technological innovations) but very little actually about the quality of “brand stories” themselves (what story to actually tell). Should I use location-based services to communicate my brand? Should I have a Facebook fan page? Should I develop an Ipad app? Should I do something with augmented reality or QR codes? The answer to all these interesting questions really doesn’t matter, and turns your initiatives into expensive and short lived marketing gimmicks, if you don’t know your brand’s story. Powerful brand stories provide the narrative that enables consumers to identify with the brand and find a meaningful and valuable role for the brand in their lives. For example, when you’re promoting a tropical destination, it would be easy to fall back on the clichés of escapism, portraying beautifully pristine beaches, crystal clear water, palm trees and maybe even a cute dolphin or two. And while this story might be appealing and tapping into a core consumer need (escapism) it has also been told many times over. Another way to re-frame the task would be to tell a different story, a story that is unique © Sapient Corporation, 2010
  • 2. POINT OF view and even more compelling. This is what the Queensland Tourism Office did when it decided to offer consumers the opportunity to apply for “The best Job in the world”. In fact, consumers were invited to submit a video application explaining why they should be selected for the position, the winner being given the opportunity to work as the Island’s caretaker” for a year. Not only did telling a different story help the Queensland Tourism Board stand out from competitors with much bigger budgets, it also managed to engage consumers in a very relevant and meaningful way. Last but not least, it created a tremendous amount of earned media effectively amplifying the impact of the campaign. Ensuring that the brand has a strong and compelling story also ensures that the brand steward maintains the control and ownership of the brand. Today’s popular wisdom that “consumers own the brand” is misleading and false. In fact, while it’s true that consumers have the ability to significantly influence the perceptions a brand steward tries to build (and can therefore help the brand succeed or force it to fail), the control is ultimately still in the hands of the manufacturer. Or at least should be. A compelling brand story provides the internal compass a brand needs to succeed. It determines what type of activities with which to engage (or not); what new products and services should launch; and what type of brand moments and brand experiences to create within the context of new media platforms. 2. Great gameplay: Another important criteria for a video game to be successful is a compelling gameplay. There is no universal definition for the term “gameplay”, so for the sake of this article let’s define it as the overall player’s experience of the game design. Gameplay usually includes aspects such as the level of interactivity and the choices at the disposal of the gamer. As such, it has very much to do with the player’s perceived sense of control based on the options at his disposal at any given moment in the game. We’ve entered a world of multi-channel marketing and commerce in which a consumer wants the ability to access the brand’s world and eco-system at each and every interaction point and on their terms. Applied to brands, the gameplay would be both the overall consumer experience within the brand’s ecosystem as well as the quality of the interaction with the brand at the various touch points, or “brand moments”. Consumers don’t travel through a linear and sequential purchase funnel anymore (who remembers the AIDA model?). We’ve entered a world of multi-channel marketing and commerce in which a consumer wants the ability to access the brand’s world and eco-system at each and every interaction point and on their terms. In other words, the center is everywhere. © Sapient Corporation, 2010
  • 3. POINT OF view Take for example, the used car trading website. Autotrader has launched an application for smart phones in the U.K. that enables users to take a picture of any car parked on the street and immediately access all the specs of its make and model. It also informs her about similar vehicles for sale in her neighborhood with maps and all the other vital information needed to make a purchase. See Snap All of a sudden, a service that was only accessible via a computer screen and a Website puts the consumer in full control of the selection and purchase process at any given moment in time, wherever the consumer happens to be. And, in the process, extend the reach of beyond the few hours consumers sit in front of their computer screen each day. How’s the brand’s gameplay? How much interactivity does the brand allow consumers, what choices does it enable at the different moments of interaction, and what perceived level of control does the brand provide? In the future brand stewards will have to answer those questions if they want their brands to thrive and grow. © Sapient Corporation, 2010
  • 4. POINT OF view 3. The reward is in the experience: Most great video games have a goal, an objective, a set of criteria that lets the player know when she’s won or lost. The villain was killed, the most points have been collected, all other players have been eliminated, the next level has been reached and so forth. However, the real thrill of playing comes from the play itself. This is what brings players back to the game. The reward comes in large part from the act of playing itself—the actual experience—as much as from the outcome of the game. Applied to brands, this means that each interaction with the brand is an opportunity to provide the consumer with an immediate rewarding experience. Again this is not a new concept. The friendliness of a barista at Starbucks (or the sales person at any retail outlet for that matter) will significantly influence whether I’ll return to that location or not, and, to some extent, how much I will spend there. Providing a rewarding brand experience starts with a rewarding advertising experience and ends with a rewarding reveal of the purchased product (think about the unwrapping of an Apple product for example). Brands historically have looked at communication as a means to an end, as a way to funnel consumers though the purchase funnel with the ultimate goal to get her to purchase the brand. In the first phase, we start by raising awareness through traditional communication (and try to create some sort of emotional involvement), we then try to convert consumers through a richer amount of information (and maybe more rational information) through our Websites. We then try to trigger purchase behavior at point of sale, usually with some kind of highly rational or activating message. But this method of communication doesn’t resonate with consumers anymore. Technology makes it possible nowadays to provide instant gratification and a rewarding consumer experience at every point of brand interaction and, in the process, drive brand affinity and brand choice. Not taking advantage of this opportunity means wasting an opportunity to create a competitive advantage and bond with consumers. To illustrate this concept, let’s look at how our London team helped consumers “share happy” by developing an interactive vending machine for Dove Ice Cream that rewards a smiling consumer with free ice cream. A video camera and facial recognition software captures and recognizes the facial expression of the person standing in front of the vending machine. If the person smiles, the machine dispenses a free ice cream for “sharing” their happiness. © Sapient Corporation, 2010
  • 5. POINT OF view We now live in an age where even a touch point as transactional and “boring” as a vending machine can turn into a rich, highly rewarding consumer experience. Is your brand experience rewarding at each and every touch point? If not, my guess is that one of your competitors will soon find a way to change that into his favor. 4. An experience is even better when shared with others. One of the big trends in the gaming industry is social gaming. This trend is fueled by a universal human truth: most experiences we make are enhanced when they are shared with our friends and family. The same applies to brands and brand experiences. Technology nowadays gives us the opportunity to share every experience we make. I can tell my friends about a great venue through Yelp, I can take a picture at a concert, or make a movie of my kids playing for the first time with their kiddy pool and post it online in real time, with minimal effort. In other words I, and for that matter a brand steward, can amplify every experience I make by sharing it with my social network. However, too many marketers still put the cart before the horse when thinking about social media. They look at social media as a “media space” they can buy and in which they can stage their brand. Instead, they should be thinking about a social media platform as a space where people come together to interact and share interesting stuff and experiences with their friends. For example, no one would call shopping malls (which are spaces where people go to hang out and shop) “shopping media”, would they? And yes, sometimes this interesting “stuff” is an experience made with a brand. But brands need to consider the value of the experiences consumers are having with their brands before they engage with them in social media. For example, I was recently invited by Pampers to show my endorsement for their brand on Facebook. So I had to ask myself why would I want to do that? The fact is I like Pampers. I only buy Pampers because I think they’re good. I even signed up for their loyalty program. But as good as I think this brand is, it hasn’t provided me with an experience isn’t worth sharing yet. So the best thing the Pampers brand managers could do, or any brand manager for that matter, would be to ensure that the experience consumers have with their brand is worth sharing. I’d even argue that if the experience is amazing enough, consumers will find a way to bring it up on a social media platform and share it with friends whether the brand provides a “Like” or “share” button or not. And in case you were wondering, yes, the Dove ice cream vending machine provided the opportunity to capture the experience (a picture) and share it with your friends on Facebook. © Sapient Corporation, 2010
  • 6. POINT OF view Conclusion The comparison to successful video games is obviously only an analogy used to share some insights on what brands need to, and can do, today in order to succeed and gain a competitive edge. But one that makes sense in a marketing world focused on attracting consumers rather than interrupting them, in a world where technology makes it possible for brands to provide rewarding experiences worth sharing. In fact, a brand that has a compelling story, provides a gameplay that gives consumers the satisfaction of being in charge, and is rewarding enough for consumers to want to share with their friends are the brands that will have a significant advantage in today’s multi-channel and socially-driven environment. An A compelling A great A rewarding Experience brand story gameplay experience worth sharing Ulli Appelbaum is director of brand strategy at SapientNitro. He has been helping his clients build brands and businesses and create new product and marketing ideas for more than 16 years in Europe, Japan, Australia, and the Americas. He’s passionate about understanding people, their culture and their behaviors, and turning this understanding into strategic ideas that generate economic value for his clients. He has won five Effie Awards in the last six years for effectiveness in brand marketing communications and a 2010 Gold Ogilvy Award which celebrates the extraordinary and/or creative use of research in the advertising development processes (ARF). Ulli can be contacted at or via his LinkedIn profile. © Sapient Corporation, 2010