When Reuters comments on the growth in gaming during the COVID-19 lockdowns around the world, it’s time for brands and companies in all sectors to consider how gaming can play a part in their strategic marketing.
It goes way beyond hard-core gamers. Millions of people around the world have turned to gaming for the first time or have returned to gaming after a number of years away, often rekindling fond memories.
Gamers of all ages, many backgrounds, and across multiple genres, have increased the time they devote to their favourite pastime. Research suggests that many plan to stick around in their gaming worlds of choice as the lockdowns start to lift.
And this represents a huge opportunity for B2B brands, as well as consumer brands, to step into what for many might be a mysterious world, but which is now a potentially beneficial one.
The questions on marketers’ minds should therefore be:
- How do I do this?
- What are the opportunities?
- How big are the risks?
- What investment do I need – financially and emotionally?
- And, most important of all, what does success look like?
Start with data
Though the time it takes for each of us to form new habits will vary, research indicates that two months – just about the time most of us have been working from home, or otherwise stuck at home – is a reasonable minimum average. We can start to see that playing out in some early research in the gaming world. Research And Markets reported an increase of 39% in global mobile game downloads in February 2020 by app analytics firm Sensor Tower that was largely attributed to the lockdown imposed in China.
The trend has followed the pandemic around the world as lockdowns have been introduced: in Australia, the ABC reports that 1.2 billion hours of content was consumed on the streaming platform Twitch in March. In Italy, the surge put the country’s Internet services under severe pressure.
And even though live streamed gaming has been hit (with stadiums closed and gathering in-person currently not possible), personal online gaming participation outstrips education, entertainment, photo and video, and business combined, according to the World Economic Forum.
For switched-on marketers, especially for brands seeking new ways to cut through, gaming, gamers, and influencers represent new channels to create long-term partnerships that are built on the shared enthusiasm audiences and influencer have for the games they love.
And all are in the market for sponsorship and partnerships. So for marketers and brands waking up to the gaming sector for the first time, or seeking to rerun after some time away, let’s answer some of the questions asked earlier on.
How do I do this?
Start by researching the influencers and gaming content creators who might be aligned for your brand. Research their content, their reach and their styles. Are their personas, content and games of interest aimed at adults, or a broader gaming audience?
Esports remains a high-profile segment of gaming – but it remains a niche market segment. The people who watch esports are hard-core gamers, and are not the biggest slices of the audience – which are casual game content creators, mainly YouTubers and Twitch streamers. There are more opportunities for brands to sponsor content creators, to support influencers, or to create their own special events.
Esports is a great platform, but you need to look at smart ways to invest your marketing dollar. Team sponsorship can be a better investment for a brand – one that can be longer-term, less expensive, and more meaningful to the audiences who share the passions with the influencer or content creator being supported by the brand.
An example is the comparison between the millions of dollars invested by Playstation in sponsoring the Call of Duty World League, and the thousands of dollars invested by goto.game on behalf of Lenovo in the Tainted Minds team, which were competing at that event.
Audience segmentation and audience mapping is essential to understand where to spend budgets in the right areas for the right audiences.
Excited to take part in the launch of @Skrillex new song #MidnightHour thank you @WarnerMusicAU for allowing me to be part of this promotion. I had so much fun bamboozling everyone.
Here's some moments over the past few days.
Check out Midnight Hour here: https://t.co/p0ZuHwBlF6 pic.twitter.com/3zEE9DD47d
— Liddles (@LiddlesTV) August 30, 2019
Play your part
The best sponsors are active, not passive. They work with the esports team, content creators, and influencers, making it a partnership, being involved in the brand transfer from company to audiences.
Brands also need to remember that you’re not chasing results (especially with content creators) – you’re helping them to create and share new experiences, being part of the tribe that cares about a particular game, and those who play it.
When it comes to risks, have a plan
Brands can often be wary of stepping into the gaming world for the first time, and there is no doubt that it’s a distinct environment with its own rules of engagement. There are risks, in particular around language, personal opinions and alignment, but all of these can be considered sensibly considered, and steps taken to lessen the impact should things stray.
Ensure there’s a clear set of rules of engagement set down in the agreement – this won’t guarantee that problems won’t arise, but when both parties understand the expectations, both parties can work productively to resolve problems if they arise.
Being transparent with the public, especially if something goes wrong. Never hide away from a controversy or say nothing. Gaming audiences are very vocal – if a gamer or an influencer does something that people don’t agree with, a brand will get called out if it doesn’t respond. Immediate and early responses are crucial.
We’ve had situations with clients, but we had set expectations, and we have managed to resolve incidents.
COVID-19 has accelerated engagement with gamers. The biggest opportunity was for non-gaming fans to get involved – and that’s happened over the past three months or so. New habits have been formed: we believe the audience is here to stay.
This represents a huge opportunity for companies to tap into, one that is now open and accessible, across multiple audience segments.
Any brand has the ability to form a relationship with gamers and gaming influencers, based on the five basic rules:.
- Develop a clear marketing strategy that define your objectives for any engagement with a gaming company, gamer or influencer
- Ensure you are an active sponsor – be a long-term partner, never just a funder
- Be clear and open about the risks, and discuss these with your potential partner from the beginning. Put your expectations into the agreement
- Choose the right partner. Make sure they are inclusive – the gaming sector can be sexist, and you don’t need to alienate half your potential audience. Consider their infrastructure for content creation – content is king. Pick a team that knows its shit and keeps it shit together – and that they know their business and as well as they know their gaming
- Track, measure and refine – in today’s digital world, gaming especially, you can track performance around reach, engagement, even sales
In marketing and brand nurture, there is a compelling need to invest when things get difficult, as part of a balanced business management and cash flow management process. Gaming represents a new opportunity for many brands, and COVID-19 has increased those options. There is always an audience for content that is exciting.
Time to take a look.