November 11, 2009 - If you are looking for a way to build your brand, and at the same time make your site more "sticky", you should consider developing an Advergame. What exactly is an Advergame? Simply put, "An Advergame uses interactive gaming technology to deliver embedded advertising messages to consumers". These games incorporate the company brand or product as a key element in the game. And, unlike a "product placement" in a movie (where you may only see the brand name for a brief moment), an Advergame is typically built around the brand, product or service, and is an integral part of the story.
At epic, we try our best to find ways to incorporate Advergames into client sites. Over the years, we had developed a number of applications, and in 2004 when the publishing company Charles River Media asked us to write a book on the subject we accepted the challenge. Advergaming was coming of age. That year, computer game revenues passed those of box office receipts, and the internet was filled with excellent examples of awesome games - all available for free.
I am writing this blog entry for those companies trying to decide if developing an Advergame is a good use of their precious marketing dollars. Since there are two key parts of an advergame, we will divide this post into Part I - Branding, and Part II - Game Development.
If you are a game developer, the branding section will help you understand the basics and why building a brand is important to your customer (who is most likely a product or marketing manager). After reading it you will learn the language of branding and why a company works so hard at creating and maintaining their brands. If you are a marketing manager planning to use an Advergame to promote your brand, the Game Development section will provide you with a number of ideas on how you can best showcase your product or service.
What is a Brand?
"In a world of information overload, brands become ever more important. Icons with virtual memory, brands save time. I may have intelligent agents that can go out and assemble pages of reports on every camcorder on the market, but I don't have time to read them. I'll buy Sony.” Steve Hayden as quoted in Advertising Age magazine A brand is a promise made by a company to consumers. It is a set of expectations and may foster a relationship that creates consumer preference. The purpose of creating a brand is to achieve consumer perception that your product or service is different and will deliver a sustainable competitive advantage for your company.
A brand will generate loyalty, even when your product or service is similar (in many cases, identical) to the other choices available to the consumer. A strong brand identity can help you to outperform your competitors by providing the customer with an unspoken shorthand – a signpost. We are all busy, and when we are faced with making decisions, a well regarded brand provides us with a level of confidence that is missing in a generic or unknown alternative. The brand helps us quickly position the offering, and determine if the cost of the product relative to the competition is a good value. It speeds up the decision making process.
Brand imagery can serve as a reminder the next time the customer is in a similar buying situation. A product or company logo can trigger a subconscious response to repeat the buying action. This can lead to brand loyalty and increased sales. Brands are built upon impressions received by the consumer over time. Every time a person reads an ad, hears a radio spot, sees a billboard, talks to a friend, or visits your Web site, you have a chance to build your brand image. These impressions must be clear, concise, and sustained consistently over time. Multiply this by thousands of people viewing them, and a brand is born.
Ask anyone about a brand, and they will typically describe a company’s logo. Think "Coca-Cola®” and immediately the red and white flowing letters around their distinct bottle appear in your mind’s eye. The logo is simply the image that has come to represent an entire experience and it is reflected in everything they do. The Coca Cola brand has a well earned reputation because it has a history of offering value, convenience, choice, relevance, reassurance, and satisfaction. Branding is everywhere, and can be used by a variety of organizations: ·
- Non-Profit groups to garner gifts and donations ·
- Municipalities to build support for a bond issue ·
- Companies to increase sales and profits ·
- Cities to attract business investment or tourists ·
- Schools to attract the best facility and students, and to gain support from their alumni
Branding is all about building a relationship with your customer. It’s a positive relationship based on trust rather than someone just trying to sell you something. And once your customer has used your brand and it delivered according to their expectations, you can use the brand itself to reinforce and help develop an ongoing relationship. While entire books have been written about the subject, we will just touch on some of the more common terms and aspects of branding you’ll likely come across. Brands are built around a Core Proposition that ties together everything you want your customer to understand and remember about your brand.
Your core proposition includes the positioning, the brand personality, and what makes the product unique (Brand Managers will use the term USP which stands for Unique Selling Proposition). When a customer can relate to your product, understand why it is distinct, and at the same time how it meets their functional and emotional needs, your core proposition is a solid one. In addition, brand managers often use the term Brand Equity to represent the monetary sum for the intangible brand value that is separate from the worth of a given product or service.
When a company decides to sell off a division, the premium it receives from a willing buyer over the cost of the physical assets being sold is the brand equity. Branding is so valuable that it sometimes appears on a company’s balance sheet. To drive home the point, it is estimated that the Coca Cola brand alone is worth an additional $70 Billion dollars over the underlying value of its assets (bottling plants, trucks, etc.)!
Companies often build strong Corporate Brands by identifying or creating characteristics that apply to all its product lines. On the other hand, some firms choose individual brand identities for each of their products. Proctor and Gamble is an example of a company that does both well. All of their products benefit from their strong corporate brand (as touted on their web site: “P&G – Nearly 300 brands you know and trust”), but each individual product also enjoys its own clear identity and personality, appealing to a specific market segment (Crest, Max Factor, Head & Shoulders, etc, etc.) There are also National, Multi-National, or Global Brands.
A brand owner with a product distributed in more than one country may use different brand names for the same product in different regions of the world. Others prefer to use a single brand name and a single market positioning in every country where the product is distributed. For example, Volvo's brand is synonymous with vehicle safety in countries around the world. When the promise and impression of a brand do not match you have a problem known as Brand Gap – the difference between what you were promised or led to believe about your purchase and what was actually delivered. When a promise is broken consumers act in a very predictable way – they turn to alternative products they know and can trust. And it is difficult to win them back, so avoiding any brand gaps is essential to a strong brand identity.
Building a Brand:
In most cases, Advergaming clients will have a well-established brand, and are looking to use the Advergame to build upon the messages already delivered through traditional media (print, TV, Radio, etc.). Some clients will also use an Advergame as part of their initial launch strategy. To understand how this works, it will be helpful to review how a brand is established. If consumers were to choose products in a strictly rational way, and all things were equal, only the cheapest products would be purchased. However, the world around us clearly shows this is not the case.
A customer’s rational needs are just one factor in the selection process. The way a customer perceives a product does not always occur at the conscious level. If you were to ask a customer why he or she purchased a specific product, they might typically give a rational answer. But if you were to probe deeper, you would find that feelings about products are often difficult to put into words. Often there is a relationship that has been formed over a period of time that is purely emotional. Marketing managers conduct research to probe into the subconscious of the consumer to uncover what is driving their buying decisions. A strong brand will offer the consumer intangible benefits beyond the product itself.
The brand will have a personality and a company must continuously support the brand personality to make it clear and consistent over time. If the brand offers the buyer something that is valued and the customer believes it is superior to other products you now have the basis for brand preference. Now, let’s take a closer look at these two equally important considerations - the functional and emotional aspects of the consumer’s decision. Functionally, the product has to be well suited to perform the task at hand. The product must deliver functional benefits to meet the need at least as well as the competition.
A product cannot survive for the long run without performance. While it may be easier to focus on the functional needs of your customer, do not underestimate the power of emotions in the buying process. The emotional needs include how the product fits with the customers own beliefs about themselves and their world. Companies do not buy products – people buy products. And a strong brand addresses the fear factor that comes with a buying decision. People will buy products and services that reflect the lifestyle and activities that are in tune with their own self-mage (or the self-image they hope to project). If you are trying to project an element of being hip and cool with your brand, everything about your Advergame should echo these qualities. Doing anything less with your game would simply dilute your other brand building activities, and confuse the consumer.
A well designed Advergame will emotionally reinforce the brand image. By insuring that the theme of the game, along with the visual elements and game play are in concert with the brand image, an Advergame can be a very powerful tool in the arsenal of any Brand Manager. The process of identifying customer needs is of fundamental importance in developing of a new or existing brand. Focus groups, surveys and listening carefully to the customer, with no preconceived opinions about what is important, should help uncover those needs. When building a brand, it is important to include a tone and personality which demonstrate your understanding of your customers’ needs. Successful branding requires all aspects of communication to agree with each other and align with corporate identity standards. When the message is focused and consistent across all media, your brand will be as strong as possible.
Consumers will naturally try to determine and define your brand. Remember - if you do not manage the branding process your customers and competitors will. Now that we have a basic understanding of branding, our next blog entry will take a look at the second most important element of an Advergame – the game itself.
Posted by Vic Cherubini on November 11, 2009
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