By Jesper Norgaard, Senior Strategist at Forever Beta
For as long as I can remember, I have been drawn to the pixelated worlds of wonder. It would probably be an understatement to say that a significant portion of my childhood was spent in front of a screen playing games like Crash Bandicoot, Need for Speed and Counter-Strike. But had you told me back then that this passion of mine would become as big a business as it is today, I would have laughed you out the room.
Now, in 2020, there’s no longer any doubt that gaming is a massive opportunity for brands. The number of gamers worldwide is set to exceed 3 billion in only a few years. The tournaments have moved from dark and dodgy dorms to the O2 and Madison Square Garden. And the most recent Fortnite World Cup champion won 3 million dollars – decent pay day for a 16-year-old. It’s big business!
However, it’s important to acknowledge that gaming isn’t for every brand. For example, if you are looking to engage with pensioners, you would be wasting your money. But if you want to engage with the younger part of your audience or perhaps even introduce your brand to new, young people, gaming is for you.
Over the past few years, brands have started entering the space and many have done so in exciting and innovative ways. Nike partnered with Fortnite to bring Jordan shoes into the game. Gucci recently collaborated with esports organisation Fnatic to create a limited edition watch. And Reporters Without Borders created an entire library in Minecraft.
But despite all the innovative and creative approaches, many brands still adopt a more traditional sports sponsorship approach when trying to carve out their place in the world of gaming – and it’s not difficult to understand why; it’s familiar territory. But I think there’s a better way, especially for smaller brands that might not have big budgets.
As marketers, there are two things that are crucial to understand in order to be successful in this space. Firstly, when we as an industry talk about gaming, we often talk about it as if it’s one world – and that’s just not the case. The reality is that each game has its own world, consisting of a unique community, talent pool and language – some even have their own memes; try googling Leroy Jenkins.
Secondly, if you spend time with gamers in their native environments (in-game, Reddit, etc.), you will quickly find that they are very passionate and rather protective of their game and community – gaming is often part of their identity.
So, if your brand wants to engage with gamers on their territory, it’s crucial that you do so in the right way – with respect and authenticity – which I don’t think can be done with a generic catch-all approach. That’s why I strongly recommend that you go beyond the traditional advertising and sponsorship approach and start playing a real role in the world of gaming.
It all starts with finding your community – which world within gaming are you going to play a role in? You could focus on the community around one specific game. You could focus on a small community with a strong link to your product offering. Or perhaps you could focus on a community that goes across multiple games.
Once you have identified your community, I recommend following three golden rules:
Golden rule #1: Commit to the community
If you are going to do it, do it for real. Make no mistake – gamers are smart. They know that brands are starting to pay attention to them and their communities, and they will see right through you if you’re only there to make a quick quid.
Golden rule #2: Participate in the community
To be successful, you should be an active participant in the community – you can’t just be a fly on the wall. By interacting with the gamers through honest and open conversation, you will get to know them and what makes them tick. And imagine what would happen if you brought them into the development of your initiatives – it would give them a chance to take ownership of the idea and become true advocates for your brand.
Golden rule #3: Be an enabler of the community
To connect with gamers, you should bring real, tangible value to the community. This can manifest itself in many different ways. You could host tournaments, develop the talent base or perhaps help the community grow in popularity.
By taking this grassroots approach and following the three golden rules, you can build a meaningful relationship with gamers; a relationship that is built on trust, mutual respect and authenticity. And having positioned your brand as part of the community, you can grow with it as gaming continues to take over the world. Game on!