I’m not going to lie: marketing is a tricky beast that is incredibly important but often misunderstood. At its root, marketing is all about finding, attracting, keeping, and pleasing customers. This is simple to explain but beneath the surface, there are countless tactics and strategies to deploy (and most marketers will disagree on what is “the best” way forward).
The reason every board game designer needs to understand marketing, though, is because it unlocks success. By now, you’ve probably been playtesting non-stop and tweaking your game for months on end; the next step is to actually get people to pay you money for it. And guess what? The way to get people to pay for your game is through marketing.
In today’s article, I’ll cover the very basics to get your creative juices flowing:
- The Key Marketing Strategy For Your Board Game
- The Marketing Model For Board Game Success
- Putting It All Together
- Tactics That Work To Market Your Board Game
The Key Marketing Strategy For Your Board Game
When I was in business school, I initially had a really difficult time parsing out the difference between strategy and tactics. Years later (and hopefully a little wiser), I’ve come to define the two in this way:
- Strategy is the big picture plan that will help you achieve your goal
- Tactic is each action that will support your strategy
For you as a board game designer, your goal is to launch your board game to the market. The strategy is the big picture plan of how you can get there, the “messy middle” as some would call it. The tactic is, therefore, each action you can do each day to move closer to that goal.
When it comes to a board game launch on Kickstarter, there is one core strategy I stand by time and time again. The strategy is to gather an audience, ensure they want your board game, prime them for your launch, then push them to your Kickstarter page.
Although the strategy sounds simple, there’s actually much more to it than meets the eye. Effectively using and rolling out this strategy will allow you to find the most relevant people for your board game and actually convert them into backers on Launch Day. This in turn triggers the Kickstarter algorithm, magnifying the exposure of your campaign to the millions of people who browse Kickstarter each month.
If automatically accessing millions of people for free isn’t powerful, then I don’t know what is.
Next I’d like to introduce the Marketing Model that fuels the strategy mentioned above. Understanding this will allow you to decide what tactic works for you in your marketing journey.
The Marketing Model For Board Game Success
There’s no winning if you just shove a new board game into someone’s face and say “BUY THIS”; the path to your success is much more nuanced than that.
I’ve broken this down into a few levels for easier comprehension:
- Make People Aware Of Your Board Game
- Educate People About Your Board Game
- Make People Want Your Board Game
- Get People To Act On Your Board Game
The image below is a visualization of this Marketing Model.
Let’s go through each step of the pyramid in detail then cap this article off with specific action steps for you.
1. Make People Aware Of Your Board Game
As the marketer for your board game, the first thing you need to do is get others to know that your board game even exists in the first place. If they don’t know it exists, how can they know they even want it?
The marketing lingo for drawing attention to your board game is called “lead generation”. To do this, show up where others are and start talking to them about your game. In this process the where is very important; show up where there is the most chance of people being interested in your game. This is an extreme example, but don’t spend time at a Meetup where people are learning how to train parrots to talk, if you’re launching a wizard-themed dungeon crawler.
Keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all approach for this because every single person in the world is a unique individual and every game is its own unique thing. Some board games might find diehard fans on Twitter while others might uncover a diehard underground cult following from a relic oldschool game.
However, the core of this is putting yourself and your game out there for people to actually know it exists.
For you, it might mean playtesting at local events every single weekend or spending a few hundred dollars on Facebook advertisements or showing up on an obscure Reddit thread. Or it might mean committing yourself to podcasting the entire game development journey to get the word out there about your project.
2. Educate People About Your Board Game
Once people are aware your game exists, you now have to make people care about it. Think about the last thing you bought – maybe it was a tshirt or a phone case – no matter what it was, you had to learn about it and know its ins and outs before you even considered using your hard-earned money to buy it.
It’s the same with board games. People have to know more about it before they’re even going to consider buying it. They need to know what the game is about, what the mechanics are like for the game, what the theme is, how many players can play it at one time, what the price is going to be, and more.
At this point, a lot of people will lose interest in your game and that’s completely OK. It’s way more effective to continue talking to people who actually care about your product than try to force people to care. For example, I’m an avid fan of the FIFA World Cup. It’s much easier to convince me that soccer is the greatest sport in the world than someone else who might not even care about soccer at all (side note: if you’re a fan of the WC, hit me up and let’s get a viewing party going next time around!).
As before, there are different ways of doing this. Some choose to use Instagram as the main way to educate people about a game while others choose to do YouTube videos while others choose to write in-depth blogs. No matter what you choose to do, at the core, this level of the pyramid is about making sure people know everything that there is to know about you and your board game.
3. Make People Want Your Board Game
Once people know your game and are curious to learn more, you know you’ve hit the jackpot. It means that they actually now want your game. This next part is one of the more difficult things to do when it comes to marketing. How do you convert someone from just curious about your board game to wanting it?
The main way is through exposure and proof.
In the book Hit Makers, Derek Thompson talks about how hits are created in art and music. Humans want to think that we like what we like because we have free will, but unfortunately a lot of what we like has been carefully orchestrated by other people. In the book (spoiler alert), they conclude that the world’s most famous works of art and songs on Billboard charts are the result of exposure. A lot of repeated exposure. More specifically, repeated exposure over and over and over again. So much so that our brains end up equating exposure to liking it, too.
The second concept I mentioned is proof. Humans typically thrive off of relationships and tend to follow the crowd. That’s why services like Yelp work so well; we trust that other people rating a restaurant with five stars will mean that we will like it too. To loop back to board games, when we see that other people want or like a certain board game, we too begin liking and wanting it.
The best way I’ve seen people foster exposure and proof is through the creation of a community. Communities can be anything from Facebook groups to dedicated chat rooms (discord, Slack) to forums (BGG) to offline Meetups.
Whatever form your community takes, keep in mind the need for repeated exposure about your game and proof from others. The more you talk about the game, the more people will see the game and think about it. The more people are in your community, the more others think they are part of an “in-group” and buy into the idea of the game.
4. Get People To Act On Your Board Game
Now that people want your game, you will need to drive people to act. In marketing terms, pushing people to do something is dubbed a “call to action”.
For Kickstarter, it doesn’t just come out of the blue like a sudden lightning strike on a bright sunny day. But rather, it’s a series of concerted messages that lead up to the final ask (pre-order now!). Think about frying an egg, you don’t just put an egg in the pan right away and hope for it to cook. You have to heat up the pan, spritz a little bit of oil and then crack the egg in; there’s a series of steps that leads you to the final goal of a cooked egg.
To succeed on Kickstarter, this involves a few things:
- Telling people at least one week in advance that the game will be available for pre-orders
- Letting them know right when the game is ready for them
Tell them, tell them and then tell them again.
How you roll this out will, again, be very specific to your board game. It will depend on where your audience is hanging out, where you’ve chosen to show up and how your audience prefers to receive their news.
For some, it might be a direct message on Facebook Messenger on Launch Day, for others it might be a text to their phone while for others it might be seeing a post on a discord channel.
Putting It All Together
As you can see, marketing isn’t just a one-and-done deal. Marketing is more of a multi-step process where you lead people from not knowing your game at all to not being able to wait to spend money on it.
To solidify this point, let’s refer back to that strategy I mentioned earlier in the article:
The strategy is to gather an audience, ensure they want your board game, prime them for your launch, then push them to your Kickstarter page.
When we apply this marketing model for success, this is what we get:
- Gather an audience by making people aware of your board game
- Ensure they want your board game by educating them about your board game
- Prime them for your launch by making people want your game
- Push them to your Kickstarter page by getting them to act.
Tactics That Work To Market Your Board Game
What makes the strategy above work is the day-to-day tactics that you use. There is a lot of ground to cover here so I’m going to split this into a few articles that will allow you to dig deeper depending on which topics you’re most interested in.
- Social Media
Since each topic is incredibly unique, I’ve decided to cover each one separately in its own post to give each one opportunity to shine (and work its wonders for you). If they’re not linked yet, then it’s a topic that I’m still working on writing about so be sure to check back soon!
Before you go, be sure to join the Kickstarter Board Game Marketing Facebook Group to learn the most up-to-date marketing methods for your board game!