The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutras community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
The Importance of Grassroots Marketing as Small Studio.
In August (2016) we launched [email protected] on PS4 in collaboration with the Strategic Partnership team from PlayStation. The team at PlayStation allowed us to create the game for their platform, however we were on the hook for making the game succeed and find an audience on the PlayStation Network. As a small team making our first console title and with no budget, we had to get creative and realistic with our goals.
Why we focussed heavily on Grassroots:
We knew very early on that being featured on sites such as IGN, Gamespot and Giant Bomb, while important, would be very difficult for us as a small studio and that, while we would try, we assumed we’d get no coverage here. For a lot of people this is an immediate sign of failure, however we decided that while this was a dream goal, we wanted to focus on smaller and more focussed sites, communities and personalities for promoting our unique ASCII style adventure.
At this point we started building our strategy, with grassroots marketing a key focus. Grassroots marketing is often defined as:
“Instead of launching a message you hope will appeal to many people, you target your efforts to a small group and hope the group will spread your message to a much larger audience. Grassroots marketing often uses unconventional or non-traditional methods”
We latched onto this definition, with a strong focus being our goal to work with new and aspiring talent in the video game review and influencer space. This meant working with people with sometimes less than 100 YouTube Subscribers or Podcast listeners. We’d seen a lot of studios avoid this strategy, deciding that spending an hour with someone who would get you 100 viewers / listeners a waste.
For the following reasons, we decided this was an important method of approaching promotion for us:
- We were a 100 YouTube subscriber team: We were under no illusions we were a small team, and much like us trying to target IGN, we knew a bunch of smaller reviewers / sites / influencers would love to work with us. We felt it made no sense for us to reach for the stars with our attempts to achieve “main stream” coverage if we weren’t willing to help those trying to get coverage for their platforms / sites / channels.
- Practice makes perfect: At the initial announcement of [email protected] I had practiced, in my head, our pitch for the game, but practicing in your head and doing it on a podcast, on a stage, on a video or in person is completely different. By working with smaller content creators such as Roger Pokorny I could work on my promotion for [email protected] and learn what worked and didn’t work. This allowed me to better perfect how I promoted [email protected] in interviews, create content with passionate individuals, and cross promote with whoever I worked with – promoting both our game and their site / channel.
- Build Lasting Connections: Promoting your game as a “one off launch”, a fire and forget style of campaign, is a huge mistake. By working with new content creators and reviewers, those working to push themselves into a professional capacity, you get to work with the next wave of IGN, Gamespot and Kinda Funny employees. By being genuine, honest and upfront with what you’re trying to achieve you can build lasting relationships. We’ve been very lucky to build friendships with budding reviewer Trevor Starkey, video editor Tom Hawkins, new IGN Social Producer Sean Pitts, the aforementioned Roger Pokorny, the team at Knerds, the talented Ally Mushka, and countless others. We gained a lot from these relationships, and we believe they did too, and quite honestly, we hope to work with all of them again on our next release.
How we found who to work with:
Once we established we wanted to work with upcoming and passionate new reviewers, influencers and creators the next problem was finding them. We broke this down in three ways:
- Working with established communities: Internally we were big fans of Kinda Funny, home of the number one PlayStation podcast and the Best Friends community. Because we were genuine listers of the show we knew a select group of folks would be interested in collaborating immediately. We reached out to this group and set up podcast appearances, game previews or simple chats. With this content going live we then followed up on the Kinda Funny forums and looked for further collaborations. This resulted in several more content pieces and allowed us to share a host of content that both promoted [email protected] and promoted these new creators. We used this as a platform to extend our reach and find new creators to work with
- Cold emailing: We created a mega excel document that had 1000s of websites, content creators and podcasts and from here we began matching up the sites with contact details. We emailed each site, podcast and content creator a unique email and explained to them what [email protected] was, what we were looking to do as well as offering to collaborate with them in any way that suited their audience. This had a low % return, but again it allowed us to establish a host of connections as well as improve our use of email for outreach. This yielded some interesting results, we appeared on a radio station in Brazil, were featured in an Italian print magazine, conducted interviews with PlayStation Universe and PlayStation Lifestyle, appeared on MTV in Italy, but most notably, we had our very own Giant Bomb Quick look created. Emailing everyone individually, with unique emails, took days, infact on the first day of a holiday in London I dragged my fiancée into an internet café to help me finish the emails, it was an interesting moment, but overall I think it was worthwhile.
- Constant Content: We took a page out of the upcoming content creators book and made content constantly over 2016. For a few weeks in April we were even putting out unique and weighty content every day to drive interest and interaction. This stream of quality content (we think so anyway!) allowed us to stay in the minds of our current community and reach a new one via social sharing and, quite honestly, a lot of people believing in us and being willing to go above and beyond to promote our message.
Results, Results, Results!
I’ve spoken a lot about why we used grassroots marketing and how we found who to work with, but in the end, was it all worth it? To us, a small 8-person team from Scotland with no marketing budget, yes! We got coverage from Giant Bomb and Kinda Funny, we were picked up by every PlayStation focused website from the US to Italy. We received a tremendous amount of coverage and feedback from Twitter and YouTube.
Due to our on-going efforts to promote the game on the run up to launch we felt we had a real buzz about the game at launch from our small, but passionate, community that resulted in much larger sites picking up on us. While we never received our IGN preview or review, I do believe that all our other content was more than enough to help us achieve success as a small team doing our first PlayStation 4 game.
Grassroots marketing helped us refine our approach to promotion, allowed us to make incredible friends that we talk to even today, and ensured [email protected] stood out from the crowd on and after launch. If there’s one thing I learned in launching [email protected] it’s that you need to reach for the stars with your content and promotion, but you also need a strong foundation and for us that was grassroots marketing.
Thanks for reading, if you have any questions I’ll answer them in the comments below or you can find me on Twitter: @RetroCrumpet