How are we marketing at our college?

It’s important that the way we interact with our college and fellow students not be summed up by, “we go to the same school as you, and we’re planning on making a game, so you should buy it.” The stuff below is really only just scratching the surface of a complicated topic, but it’s enough for a short post.

We’re not experts on marketing by any means, I’m basically making up a lot of this as I go along. But there are strategies behind how I advertise the game, so I wanted to go over how those differ when dealing with people that are closer to our team.  In specific, I’m talking about my college’s student community, the Interactive Games and Media major at RIT.

This is a look into how I approach marketing rather than a list of rules or tenants. The fact is I have no idea how well our team is doing on any of the below points, and likely never will. However, I think what we’re trying to do and the ways we’re trying to do it is interesting enough to warrant a post, so if nothing else you can form your own opinions and strategies for the future. And as always, this is purely my perspective, and I’m sure Sean and Sarah have different strategies for how they interact with people.

For goodness sake don’t be shameless

Generally speaking, Kickstarters have to be marketed a lot. It’s tempting to think that means you should talk about the project all the time, but I don’t think that’s actually the case. You need to talk about the project whenever it’s intelligent to do so. Before I post the game anywhere online, I research the community to make sure that they’ll care about the game. Occasionally I break taboos, for example registering for forums just to post about the game. Even in those situations though, I take time to make sure that the post will do more good than harm. Are people actually interested in what I’m saying? Is it a good fit for the where I’m posting?

With RIT, that’s a much more involved process. I am a casual acquaintance to a lot of the people that I’m talking to. The Kickstarter game needs to be encapsulated within that relationship. There are 30 days in a campaign: if I post something on my college’s facebook page every one of them, I’ll lose everyone’s attention by the 5th day.

The more time you spend around someone and the better they know you, the more tolerance and patience they need to have in order to put up with your obsessions. Sometimes it’s acceptable to just rely on people having that extreme level of patience and not worrying about how you present yourself. However, when you’re marketing to someone, you can’t do that. The more voice I have in a community and the more that I am actively participating in the community (as is the case when posting in a Facebook group) as opposed to just passively making my views availalbe, the more I’m required to balance what I say or do. So while it’s OK to post updates every day on this blog, and pretty much OK to post updates daily on the Kickstarter page, it’s a bad idea to post daily updates in other people’s forums or groups, especially if I personally know the people I’m updating.

The advice to be “shameless” when you’re promoting a Kickstarter isn’t horrible, but I think that it can do a lot of harm when taken in the wrong way.  Besides, there are numerous advantages to being tactful about what you’re doing, even beyond the “don’t make people mad at you” justification.

  • Periods of inactivity make people think that you still work on things even when you’re not talking about them. If our team goes quiet in the future, people in the IGM community are less likely to believe that the project’s been abandoned, and more likely to suppose we’re still working on it. Our team wanted to create a persona of being people that just “went out and did stuff”.  We want people to think that we’re probably out doing stuff right now, even as you’re reading this.  In order to maintain that persona, we need occasional silence. It’s just like (appropriately enough) using tension in a horror game. People need to be scared even when you’re not throwing blood from the ceiling, and in the same way, people in our college need to imagine we’re doing stuff even when we’re not telling them about it.
  • Periods of inactivity allow us to condense updates together and make them more impressive. Our Kickstarter is based around allowing people to continuously see what we’re doing, the rate that we’re progressing, and what decisions we’re making. The consequence of that, indeed the entire point of that, is to let people see that we’re not doing anything crazy or impossible. Amongst our fellow students and teachers though, we’re doing the exact opposite. Unless people are actively following us, I want to obscure the myriads of small steps between our updates in an attempt to get people in the IGM major to be impressed with the project. Posting lots of stuff in a single clump preserves the magic of what we’re doing and makes people think the project is special.
  • Periods of inactivity allow us to create a persona of humility and healthy separation from other people’s opinions. I consider myself to be a fairly narcissistic person, I don’t want to speak for the rest of my team, but sometimes I think it takes a little bit of blind-faith in yourself and a little bit of self-centeredness to do something like a Kickstarter. The way our team can balance that out is by, again, not posting too much. The less we spam people, the less it looks like we’re vying for their attention, and the more it encourages people to look at our project as the focal point of what we’re doing. We’re sharing not to get attention, but because this specific piece of information is interesting enough to warrant the effort – our posts stop being about us, and stay on the topic of what we’re doing, and when we do post, it’s because something that’s genuinely cool has happened, not just to get people to re-notice the project.

As much as it is within your power, create a persona

I’m not going to go into a huge amount of detail with this one, especially since it’s touched on above, but suffice to say that the justifications and methods are very similar to what we’re already doing with the Kickstarter page. We want people to root for our project, so we’re making ourselves into people that, we hope, are easy to root for. That means creating idiosyncrasies, building flaws and faults that are reasonably unique but also acceptable in the culture you’re engaged with, and finding aspects of your personality that people want to foster and encourage to grow.

It’s not about being better than other people, it’s about being the type of person that people want to see succeed. Sean, Sarah, and I have built the entire Kickstarter around that concept and we’re hoping that not only will potential backers want to see Eyes Open get made, they’ll want us to be the people to make it.

I have no idea how well any of that actually has worked or will work, but striving towards creating a likeable personality, at the very least, will offer some small protection from finding yourself with an unlikeable personality, which is a really horrible position to be in.

Find something to offer that people in the community actually want

No one in our games department is starved for games. Everyone has a huge back-catalog of games they still need to get to, and no one needs another one to add to the list. While I think Eyes Open is an engaging concept, that concept is not what we’re selling to students in the IGM department.

Additionally, no one in the IGM department really cares about us. All of the stuff I’ve talked about above is a nice background for Eyes Open and certainly helps the general effort, but the IGM community is never going to seriously rally behind a project purely out of charity, and they shouldn’t be expected to.

What the IGM community does have though is a lot of is startups and prototypes, and little data to go along with that. Additionally, the students and faculty are actively trying to bolster RIT’s reputation to get more attention from businesses and talented incoming students – again, because it gives the community more opportunity to do cool things like work with companies or form startups. So what Sean, Sarah, and I have tried to offer is twofold:

  • Our experience as raw data – regardless of what happens, people in the community will be able to learn from what we do and use it to be smarter when they launch their own projects.
  • Credit to the college – we’re hoping to feed off of the idea that having successes within the RIT community is just cool for everyone involved.  Students and faculty have school pride, and they want to see projects succeed that bring credit back the school.

We’re betting that this is what people the college care about far more about backing that than any game of any type that we would ever show them. On top of that, because both of the things we’re offering are very social in nature, we’re hoping that people are sharing and talking about the game, which is almost just as helpful as backing itself would have been.

Always be honest about absolutely everything

Finally, while it’s not specific to college marketing, it’s worth reiterating that the best way to avoid manipulating people in unethical ways or destroying a community that’s built up around a game is to always be open about what’s actually going on. All the time. If people don’t like what you’re doing, they’ll be able to get out before the situation becomes awkward and becomes an “event”.

Having people see your project as trustworthy, and the people behind it as equally trustworthy, is really valuable in marketing. The only really good way I know of to do that is to actually be trustworthy. Don’t ever lie to the people you’re advertising to.  Advertising is messy, so create lines that you don’t cross.

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