Social games and virtual worlds are the most engaging digital platforms today if you want to be really creative and competitive in your marketing campaigns. Users on these platforms are amazingly loyal. They come back again and again to have fun and socialize; and to go on with their long-lasting missions such as cropping, harvesting, purchasing limited edition virtual goods, collecting virtual badges and so forth. This kind of long-term interactive, even addictive, relationship is what every marketer dreams of being a part of. And this makes such platforms great alternatives to old-school Web sites and portals especially from advertising and marketing perspectives. Today, from Zynga’s popular games such as FarmVille or CityVille (where millions play regularly) to Habbo Hotel (the teen virtual world with more than 200 million users), they simply offer a huge range of possibilities and opportunities for advertising your brand.
Advertisers and marketers are already aware of these platforms, and they are willing to make use of them as efficient as possible but these platforms are kind of hard to keep up with. Rules change quickly, newcomers rise here and there, many new metrics, technologies and trends are presented, and competition is fast and furious. Here is a list of important questions and tips that you might want to consider before deciding on a social game or a virtual world platform for your campaigns.
- Respect the gaming experience and empathize. If your ad does not naturally and smartly blend in the game, then the users will quickly see your brand as a nuisance and you will end up with an angry mob. Be careful and “thoughtful” about the way and how often you advertise. Empathy with the help of creativity will lead the path to a positive and long-term relationship with the brand.
- Does the audience match your target? If the platform you would like to advertise on is mainly popular among kids such virtual worlds for youngsters, advertising for a credit card would not make much sense. (However, depending on the age group of the platform, student credit or debit cards would be perfect.)
- Ask about the geographic distribution of the players. Aim your campaign’s visibility based on the places your brand exists or will do so in the near future. Otherwise, promoting your brand where the product/service is not available (or will not be so for an unknown period of time) can cause frustration, jealousy or even virtual fights among the players.
- Ask about segmentation variables such as age and gender. Knowing how and to what extent the game audience is segmented is crucial to target your audience correctly. The devil is hidden in the details after all. You may aim at children specifically aged between 7-12 but if the game/virtual world does not have user age verification process in place, then many kids will simply claim they are over 18.
- Ask about the average duration of the sessions. Accordingly, you can decide how often and for how long you would want to air your ad. The average play length is important since it would simply affect the display length of traditional banners or, in more complicated campaigns, the life cycle of your branded virtual goods to be consumed by the players.
- What time of the day or week do users play mostly? Looking at the busiest time slots, you can decide if you want to run your 7-day campaign from Monday to Sunday or only on weekends.
- Ask about the in-game shopping habits. You will then know how to integrate your brand efficiently into the social game or virtual world. If you have an apparel brand, for instance, you would want to brand the top selling virtual clothing item to offer, therefore to advertise, to the players.
- How do the players use social media? If the players are already active and sharing on social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, you can get additional exposure for your brand as players would love to share the fun and the news. It is also great to know where the players will be talking about your brand so that you can monitor and respond if need be.
- Are there any in-game communication tools? If so, what are those? Many rich social games and virtual worlds have important in-game communication tools and channels such as newspapers, flash announcements, real-time chat between players, message displays at login or logout and questionaires. Make sure you are aware of all the options available to communicate and use them as effectively as you can to attract and engage your audience with your brand.
- Get information about the PR power and style of the game studio/developer. More structured and serious game studios and gaming companies run their own PR activities, and naturally they would love to promote your brand and your partnership with them as a successful marketing case. This will add even more PR muscle to yours.
- Ask about the down/maintenance times of the game. No one wants to have down times during the campaigns as you aim to make best use of your limited and precious time to engage your audience. Knowing about the maintenance schedule is important to have control over your campaign’s performance. You should also ask about how they deal with unexpected technical problems and their recovery and/or refund policies.
- Learn about the metrics used to measure campaign’s performance. How are they measured? Social games and virtual worlds have quite different measurement techniques comparing to Web sites. If you learn how they work and what they mean to your brand in terms of engagement, you can evaluate the success of your campaign and your ROI a lot more effectively. You can also ask about the success rates of similar campaigns such as their CTRs (click-through rates) if there are any, or at least the overall CTR success, which would give you an idea about how interactive and resposive your target audience is.
- Ask about the reporting policy. It is very crucial to evaluate your campaign’s success based on valid metrics and on time. If you are going to get a lousy report at the end of a one-month campaign, you will miss the opportunity to optimize or fix things.
What kind of questions would you ask if you plan to run campaigns on these platforms?