How to Rise Above the Noise of the Internet & Get Noticed

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If you are a board game developer like me, you are simultaneously privileged and burdened to live in this current time. We’re in an unprecedented era of creativity made possible by the internet and low barriers to entry. On the one hand, board games have seen a massive surge of popularity, growing about 20% every year for the last few years. It seems like board gaming just broke a billion dollars as a market. Now it’s about to break a billion and a half.

Where there is money to be found, there are opportunists to ready to exploit it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since competition has been forcing board games to get better and better. Yet as a board game developer, especially one working alone or in a small team, it can feel like there are too many people launching at the same time. Marketing your game online can feel like screaming into a void.

 

That’s not how you use Twitter.

 

So many board gamers out there share the same lament. Why is it so hard to get noticed on the internet?

Before I suggest a remedy to being ignored online, I’d like to state four observations I’ve found in my 2 1/2 years as a game developer whose marketing is done almost entirely online. Understanding why it’s hard to get noticed on the internet is critical to understanding how to fix it. In fact, I’m going to spend a lot more time talking about why than how. Understanding how the modern internet organizes and prioritizes information is one of the most important things you can understand as a marketer, and arguably as an informed citizen.

 

Why is it hard to get noticed online?

 

The barriers to entry have been dramatically reduced and a lot of people are taking advantage of this. This is the root of every evil when it comes to getting noticed online. The internet, as a broad technological and social power, made it so, so, so much easier to reach out to people. Even in the early to mid-1990s, people were starting to use instant messaging and emails. You could make a website fairly easily back then with a little HTML knowledge, and now it’s as simple as setting up a Wordpress site. I know this all sounds like stating the obvious, but I’m doing this because we take it for granted. The world order was upended a couple of decades ago and we’re still figuring out what to make of it.

On top of that, the board game industry itself is very healthy. The internet has allowed us to reach out to niche audiences who are too small or geographically dispersed to cater to through brick-and-mortar stores. That includes the hobby board game market, which has been doing gangbusters ever since the mid-2000s, and arguably as far back as Catan in 1995. Kickstarter has allowed newbies to make games, make cash, and build an audience. Manufacturers have become a lot more accessible because of this growing indie market, making print runs for cheaper and for smaller minimum order quantities.

When you have all these many factors working together, the board game market has grown explosively in terms of cash. I think it’s grown even more explosively in terms of how many people are vying for that cash…but good luck trying to find hard data to prove or disprove my intuition! Basically, you’re playing hardball with both newbies and established businesses because the barriers to entry that used to make the hobby board game market impossible have been mowed down.

 

Algorithms on social media sites and search engines are biased toward established people. Because the internet opened the floodgates for information, we needed a way to organize it. Suddenly the defining struggle was not the lack of information, but lack of the ability to filter good information from bad. This is a profound paradigm shift from the way our parents and grandparents have been conditioned to think.

 

This is what determines whether you’re seen or not online.

 

Social media, in my opinion, codifies the modern form of the internet. The internet I remember as a child (I was born in 1993), was best represented as a search engine. Now it’s best represented as Facebook. After a handful of companies built up the social institutions of this brave new digital world, they had to take responsibility for organizing information the way search engines used to. That was the only way social media sites could survive long enough to evolve away from being cool little oddities.

Social media sites took a note from the search engines before them: they developed algorithms to help people sort information. One of the best ways to see what information is good and what information is bad is just to see what people say. That means the stuff that gets more likes, retweets, shares, or whatever else wins on a social media site’s algorithm. Based on my observations, social proof – how people react to content – is more important than keywords.

This is all my very long spiel to say this: established people have audiences. People with audiences get social proof – likes, retweets, shares, and so on. That means their content is prioritized on social media and on search engines. That means that yours – as a newcomer – is not. They get the fast lane, you get the slow lane.

Even people who curate content online are not immune to it. They rely on search engines and social media as sources for their content. They also want to raise their own level of visibility and build their own audience, incentivizing them to do things that will get them more likes, retweets, shares…you get the idea. It’s the hype machine at work.

 

Your potential audience has too many demands on their attention. Social media sites and search engines are trying very hard to curate content for us. The internet provides such an unimaginably vast amount of information, though, that they can’t possibly take on this Sisyphean task. The average social media user has to wade through so much garbage to see what they are genuinely interested in. You get lumped in with the garbage if you’re not smart about how you come across.

 

 

Internet users are given the unenviable task of having to make a lot of quick decisions. Read this or that? Should I watch or ignore? In order to make sense of their feed, people have to rely on sloppy heuristics to decide what’s worth their time. That goes back to, you probably guessed it, likes, retweets, shares, and so on.

 

Young people are resistant to traditional advertising. We don’t live in the Mad Men era. There was a very, very brief moment in existence where you could use mass media channels like radio, television, and newspapers to drill ideas into people’s heads and be reasonably sure they’d take action based on what you wanted them to do. Don’t believe me? Read up on hypodermic needle theory – this old marketing idea that people instantly accepted what you told them like you gave them a shot of medicine.

Saying that young people don’t respond to advertising is so often stated that it’s become a cliche. From my experience, this has mostly held true and young people roll their eyes at advertising. You can’t blame them. That means that in order to stand out, you have to be creative, subversive, or already popular.

All this said, social media has led to a resurgence in advertising because of its unique ability to target exclusively the people who would be interested in a particular ad. You can definitely use Facebook ads or other forms of targeted advertising to your advantage – I’ll talk about this more later. For now, just understand that you won’t be able to simply put up a bunch of fliers, take out a TV ad, or get a lot of radio play. You need to shift your focus from broadcasting to narrowcasting by targeting a small group of highly interested individuals.

 

How can I get noticed online?

 

Everything I said above ultimately circles back to the fact that getting noticed online can be extremely difficult without an established name brand or a lot of resources. There are some steps you can take to improve your situation, though. You can slowly build an audience online using the tips below.

 

 

Understand it takes time. Because social media and search engines are so biased toward the established, it will not be easy to break through the noise. It will take years of persistence to build an audience. The only way you can shortcut this is with money, either by outsourcing grunt outreach work to workers for wages OR by paying for lots of highly targeted advertising. If you are working alone or in a small group and you don’t have a lot of money to burn, get comfortable and accept that this process takes time.

 

Figure out who your audience is. Because it’s going to take time and hard work to build an audience, you need to make sure you’re spending your time wisely. To make for a smooth rise to prominence online, you need to clearly define your audience and pitch directly to them. Don’t waste a second on an untargeted audience. That’s like running a marathon in the mud – time-consuming, exhausting, and pointless.

You may want to refer to A Crash Course in Board Game Marketing & Promotion for more information.

 

Have a clearly defined marketing strategy. You can read more about that in How to Choose & Use a Board Game Marketing Strategy that Works. The short and sweet version is that you need to go in with a plan. Because it’s going to take a long time to push through the noise, you want to make sure you’re using your time very efficiently. Figuring out your audience is a great start, as is coming up with a pitch that resonates with them. That’s not enough, though.

You need to figure out what you’re going to do once you have people’s attention. You need to have a website or landing page for them to go to. You need to have a community or mailing list for people to join. You need a way to stay in touch so you can ask everybody to take action when it counts. You need to figure all this out so that your time is being used as effectively as possible.

 

Use data to figure out what your audience likes. Planning is an indispensable part of building an audience, and – more broadly – a business. It’s a shame that plans break down the moment they’re put to use. That’s why you need to rely on data.

When you’re first getting started, you need to set up a system for gathering data. Find the analytics/insights feature of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media sites you’re using. Set up Google Analytics for your website. All of these systems will help you collect the data you need to move forward. Instead of saying “this post was kind of popular, I’ll do another one like it,” you will have specific, empirical, hard facts and figures to aid your decision-making.

If your main goal right now is to build attention, figure out which metric best indicates when your content is getting attention. On Instagram, it’s likes and comments. On Twitter, it’s retweets. On Facebook, it’s shares and reactions. On your website, it’s page views. Then maximize that. What breaks through the noise on social media changes often, but the general rule of thumb you want to follow is “do what will get you seen by the most people in your audience.”

Pay attention to which of your tweets, posts, articles, and pages are the most popular. Use hard data to tell what’s doing well and what’s not. Find your top 10 tweets, posts, articles, etc. and write down the aspects that all of these things share. For example, let’s use tweets and say your most common tweets are all specific advice, 100 characters or less, and contain a photo. That means in the future, more of your tweets should contain specific advice, 100 characters or less, and a photo.

What works for your audience will be different than what works for my audience. That’s the magic of collecting data, though. There is a lot less guesswork this way and you can focus on doing what works.

 

Play the algorithms. You cannot beat the algorithm unless you are a Kardashian. (If you are, then I’d like to welcome you the hobby.) If you want to build up a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Google searches, or any other site that I can’t think of or doesn’t exist at the time of this post’s publication, you need to do one thing. You need to do this for every single website you want to build up a presence on too.

Take 30 minutes to browse each site and see what conditions cause posts to get popular. On Facebook, posts with a lot of comments and reactions are prioritized. On Twitter, it’s retweets. On Instagram, it’s likes and comments. On Google, numbered list articles tend to rise to the top. Every few months, review the conditions that cause posts to get popular. These conditions will always change. Make your content meet the conditions. In doing so, you won’t automatically get noticed, but you will dramatically improve your odds.

 

Once you perfect your message, use highly targeted advertising. Remember how I said a few paragraphs ago that “the only way you can shortcut this is with money,” referring to the process of breaking through the noise? Advertising, particularly on Facebook, is the best way I’ve found to do this. Facebook ads are a great force multiplier if you have the cash. You have to know your audience, know what they like, have a strategy, and tweak ads based on what the data tells you. If you do this right, though, a couple hundred dollars can put a lot of eyes on your projects.

I know a lot of game developers don’t want to spend money on ads. I know it’s expensive to self-publish games. If you’re clever, though, you can get an email address for every $1 you spend on Facebook, and as many as 5-10% of the people you email might end up buying your game. That can add up really quickly.

One method I’ve found particularly useful is to set up a giveaway contest on Facebook. Give away some game or some gift that will attract people who would like your game. Take out anywhere from twenty to a few hundred dollars to boost the post. I’ve gotten emails for as cheap as $0.50 each, once you consider the price of the giveaway prize plus shipping.

 


 

Sharing your thoughts online does not have to feel like screaming at the void. You need a clear plan, time, hard facts and figures, and an understanding of how the internet curates information. Keep at it for a few months, experimenting and tweaking as you go along. At first, nobody will notice. Then a handful of people will notice you and your audience will grow to dozens, hundreds, and thousands with time. Work smart and be persistent!

The Raw Emotional Reality of a Kickstarter Launch

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Dev Diary posts are made to teach game development through specific examples from my latest project: Highways & BywaysJust here for Highways & Byways updates? Click here.

 


 

Launching a board game on Kickstarter is an extremely nerve-wracking experience. So much so that a working title for this post was “Kickstarter Launches are Decadent and Depraved” – I was going to write it in gonzo style. However, I think it’s better to write openly and directly about what is one of the scariest thing creators can encounter: Kickstarter launches.

 

 

When you launch a campaign on Kickstarter, the specter of failure hangs over the whole thing from the beginning. It is very possible to fail, especially when you’re new. It is very possible to fail, especially if your game doesn’t fit into the small box game or heavy-with-minis molds. It is very possible to fail no matter how big your audience is. Things happen and you, being an intelligent, thoughtful person, know that when your finger is hovering over the button. You know that when you’re trying to sleep the night before (or the month before). It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness. That is life.

Immediately after your launch, you’ll need to do a bunch of things in rapid succession. I talked about that last week. What I didn’t mention is that you’ll be exhausted, afraid, frightened, excited, and ecstatic all at once while doing 20 different things in rapid succession. Odds are, you’ll get a ton of attention. (If you don’t, that’s a pretty big warning sign.) This is an exhilarating, terrifying rush.

All of this so far makes Kickstarter launches sound like hell. That’s not far from the truth, but that’s not quite right. Kickstarter is a lot of fun. Even if you don’t meet your goal, it’s fairly likely that with a good marketing system, you’ll surge to 10% or 20% early on. It’s a massive ego boost to raise hundreds or thousands so quickly. You get to feel like a rockstar, and that’s an amazing feeling.

From my observations, the most successful Kickstarters tend to raise around half their funds on the first day. There’s a lot of variance, but this is a fairly reliable heuristic. It’s easy to get caught up in the exciting emotionalism of the launch day. The reality is that the most important lessons for you to learn will come between day 2 and day 7. That’s when you know if your conversion rate is low or high. That’s when you know if your pitch is good or bad. That’s when you know if your game idea has been validated by the market or rejected wholesale.

What does all this mean for the game dev? It means you wait. You wait and wait and wait. There are limits to the number of subreddits you can post to, late press releases to send, Facebook groups to post to, and so on. You’ll have to respond to messages throughout the day, but there is a new question for you to answer: “watch the campaign or do something else?” Neither is the wrong answer as long as you check in every hour or so.* You have to do what’s healthy for you.

*All bets are off if you are tracking for a $100,000+ campaign. At that point, you need to either watch it off and on all day or find someone to help you.

 

 

That’s the key word: healthy. You will have to get your work done for sure, but there will be limits to how much you can push. What comes next is a very personal question: “do I want to watch it every moment or let it passively continue with some consistent upkeep?” After I launched the Highways & Byways campaign, initiated the launch sequence, and posted to some Facebook groups and parts of BGG, I got up to mow the grass. I checked my phone every few minutes and the campaign was chugging along nicely without my constant vigilance. It was a relief, but to many others, it would be a nightmare to be away from the campaign for so long.

Kickstarter launches are pleasure and pain rolled into one. They come with a massive amount of life experiences crammed into a very short period of time. It can be a lot of fun! It’s also okay if you find it miserable, frustrating, frightening, disappointing, discouraging, infuriating, or depressing. We all react differently to this level of visibility and many among us are big-time dreamers working on passion projects, myself included. No emotional response is wrong. No emotional response is bad unless it causes you to harm yourself or others.

To all my creative souls out there, all the dreamers and doers, this is what I say to you in the heat of a big, scary moment like a Kickstarter launch:

  • I hope you make it. I really do.
  • It’s okay if you don’t.
  • It’s okay to feel bad on your big day.
  • It’s definitely okay to feel good on your big day.
  • Win or lose, you’re one step closer to success.
  • If you win, that is amazing! But don’t get complacent.
  • If you lose, you can always pivot.

 


 

Most Important Highways & Byways Updates

 

How to Use Content Marketing to Sell Board Games

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One of the greatest forms of marketing, my personal favorite, in fact, is content marketing. The term “content marketing” gets thrown around carelessly on the Internet way too much and with little meaning attached, but the basic idea is simple. Content marketing means you market your brand or your product by sharing information with potential customers. The Wikipedia definition I’ve included below is even more insightful.

 

When businesses pursue content marketing, the main focus should be the needs of the prospect or customer. Once a business has identified the customer’s need, information can be presented in a variety of formats, including news, video, white paperse-booksinfographics, email newsletters, case studies, podcasts, how-to guides, question and answer articles, photos, blogs, etc.[5][6][7] Most of these formats belong to the digital channel.

 

 

To get your creative juices flowing, I’m going to cover 12 common types of content marketing in board gaming. I’ll talk about what they are, how and why they work, and the pros and cons of each:

  1. News Sites/News Feeds
  2. Review Sites
  3. Videos, Prerecorded
  4. Live-streams
  5. Podcasts
  6. Blogs
  7. How-To Guides/Books
  8. Interviews
  9. Newsletters
  10. Social Media – Photos
  11. Social Media – Tips
  12. Social Media – Groups/Communities

 

News Sites/News Feeds

 

Starting up a board game news site or news feed is one way to promote your own content. News sites and news feeds help people stay on top of news in the board game industry. For example, you could compile a list of all the upcoming Kickstarters and help people know which ones they might be interested in backing. An example of a news sites in the board game industry would be the Dice Tower.

Starting a news site is good for gaining attention for some unique reasons that other forms of content marketing don’t benefit from. News sites naturally use trending words and phrases, such as upcoming board game releases, which helps bring in people organically through search engines and social media. Furthermore, starting a news site can bring in a lot of people if you’re a good writer, especially if you have a unique angle.

There are some drawbacks to starting a news site, though. For one, it’s tough to break into because people don’t need an infinite number of sources of news. Unless you find a good niche, you can easily be replaced by a better, faster, more comprehensive website that’s working with a bigger budget. Worse still, the news itself doesn’t have a lot of “heart” to it, so people get disengaged easily. Becoming intensely interested in a game developer, blogger, or YouTuber is common. Becoming intensely interested in a news site? It’s not the same.

Build a big enough website, though, and you can mention your game in an article or banner ad and watch the money roll in.

 

Review Sites

 

 

Reviewers such as ManVsMeeple and Rahdo are staples in the board game industry. With so many games coming out, providing an opinion to consumers is an easy way to create value in their lives and establish trust. Plus you get to share your opinion and people listen to it and make purchasing decisions based on it – that’s all pretty cool!

A lot of people become attracted to the possibility of reviewing games to garner attention. There are, in fact, a lot of benefits. For one, you get a lot of free games. If you have a solid angle, you can build a very big audience. Similar to news sites, you work your way up organically because you use trending words a lot, especially if you work with a lot of brand new games.

Reviewing doesn’t come with a lot of downsides, but there is one that’s very big that I think you should know about. If you want to promote your own board games and you do so through reviewing games, it can create a weird conflict of interest. Sure, it is possible to objectively review others’ work and still push your own, but a lot of people won’t be convinced of that fact. You need to be aware of that.

To use review sites to sell, it works just like a news site. Mention your game in an article or banner ad, and you can bring in cash passively if you have a big enough audience.

 

Videos, Prerecorded

 

Whether live or prerecorded, people on the Internet love video as a form of media. This can mean YouTube, Snapchat or Instagram stories, or video done through your own website. People love video when it’s done really well. It can break through social media incredibly fast and effectively. It leaves a long-lasting impression on others, too.

The trouble with video is that it’s time-consuming to make and edit. It is more difficult to make good prerecorded video than any other medium I know of. That’s why a lot of creators opt to do live video instead of prerecorded video – just because it’s more time-effective.

To actually sell games through prerecorded video, build an audience and wait for the right time to ask. Ask at the right time, and this can be an incredibly effective form of marketing.

 

Live-streams

 

Live-streaming can be done through services such as Twitch, YouTube, and Mixer. The basic idea is that you can do live video – of yourself on camera, or yourself playing a game – and people can watch it and chat with you in real time.

People love streams even more than video when they’re done well. They leave lasting impressions, people find them highly engaging, you can leave a lasting impression, and build relationships quickly. They can also bring in serious money very fast.

Live-streams come with lots and lots of downfalls, though. They require a lot of time to set up and perform. They’re technically difficult to arrange and they require good hardware. Streams don’t break through social media quite as well as polished and complete video, and frankly, this is because streamers tend to be spammier than your average person on social media.

Live-streams make it easy to sell, which is why I believe they’re such good money-making tools. During the stream, if you’re streaming your game live, you have carte blanche to link your sales page or Kickstarter campaign. You can tell people where to go to buy and there is a good chance people will do it right then and there.

 

Podcasts

 

 

Podcasts, such as Shut Up and Sit Down, more or less act like a modern form of radio. People tend to listen to them on their commute, while working, or at home. Radio has always been an intimate form of communication, or at least as intimate as mass media gets. People get to know you when they hear your voice. It resonates with people for some reason. Podcasts also open the door for you to collaborate with other creators and media personalities.

Podcasts come with unique challenges, though. The critical caveat is that they don’t get indexed in search engines very easily. Audio is hard for people to search for online. That means it requires lots of promotion to get anywhere with podcasting, and that can be a gigantic pain.

Like many other forms of media, once you build up an audience, you can talk about your product or company. That is often enough to get people to take action.

 

 

Blogs

 

Blogs are a way of creating and sharing articles. This is a blog. As far as internet media goes, blogs were among the first to catch on, and it’s no wonder why. They’re highly shareable, they have great visibility in search engines, and they are a classic format for sharing information.

Blogs come with one major fallback, though. Too many people have them, and breaking through the noise of the “blogosphere” takes a lot of time. They share better on social media than podcasts do, but the truth is that it still takes a ton of grinding for a blog to go anywhere. Once you get that hard-won audience, though, you can use blog to push people to landing pages related to your products or company. You can use it to ask for emails or to talk about your products. There is a lot of potential.

 

 

How-To Guides / Books

 

How-To guides and books (online or offline) are a great way of building authority. Nothing says “authority” quite like a 20 page guide, a big PDF, or a printed book. They’re extremely useful for people and they are a good way for people to remember who you are.

Unfortunately, these are really hard to write. They take a long time and a lot of research. They’re not very likely to grab people in large numbers, but the people they do bring in are much more likely to be committed.

To sell your game or company with online materials, you can link them to your website. If you use printed materials, be sure to include a URL that you are 100% certain you can keep up for a long time.

 

 

Interviews

 

Interviews are not a standalone form of content creation, but rather one you can apply to other forms of content marketing such as podcasts, blogs, or videos. I’ve been known to do interviews such as this insightful one with an artist and an artist manager. Interviews are great for collaborating, they establish credibility fast, and it allows you to “borrow exposure” from other people’s established outlets.

Interviews can be tough, though. It’s time-consuming to work with others and you might have to do a lot more editing when you’re dealing with others’ work. Then there is also the problem that you will likely have to work with small fries first, unless you know somebody or are already a big deal.

Interviews often aren’t used to directly sell products, but they can increase your reach to sell your products through other means.

 

Newsletters

 

 

When I refer to newsletters, I’m talking specifically about email newsletters. If you want to see what one looks like, read mine every Friday at 10:30 Eastern. I really like using newsletters – they’re good for clicks and they’re good for sales.

Newsletters can be kind of a pain in the butt, though. People get a lot of email as it is. That means people won’t give you email addresses without an incentive. For me, offering access to my Discord server with over 1,000 game devs usually does the trick…but even still, I meet skeptical people sometimes. That said, if you can get email addresses, your newsletter can become one of the most powerful selling tools you have. All you have to do to sell things on an email newsletter is add a pretty picture and ask nicely (and concisely/clearly).

 

Social Media – Photos

 

There are a lot of ways to build a social media following, but by far, the easiest way to build up a following fast is just to post pictures of board games on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. It’s so simple, it’s easy to maintain, it gets a lot of likes, and it’s a low effort task.

The trouble with this is that followers and likes don’t convert to clicks and sales without laying the groundwork first. As an example, look at my very untargeted War Co. Instagram account. It’s got around 34,000 followers right now and it’s practically useless as a selling tool.

 

Social Media – Tips

 

I’ve seen a lot of game developers and board game personalities use social media to share their knowledge. This is a really good way to do some low-key content marketing, and it’s a big part of my approach with the Brandon the Game Dev Twitter. It makes people’s lives easier, establishes credibility, and can get good exposure if what you say is shareable.

Unfortunately, a lot of people are also doing the same thing. You have to be somehow distinct from them, and that’s really hard to do. That’s something even I’m working on myself. Then there’s also the fact that you have to have knowledge to share it in the first place. Much like sharing photos through social media, it’s also really hard to direct sell using this approach either. Having a big social media presence acts as a force multiplier on other sales initiatives and forms of content you create, though.

 

 

Social Media – Groups/Communities

 

 

Last but not least, you can use social media to create groups or communities where others share their own content and their own knowledge. Depending on who you ask, this may or may not qualify as content marketing, but hey, bear with me for a second 🙂

You can use Facebook groups or chat rooms like Discord (which is what I do). This can be one of the best forms of marketing because building a community is so useful if you can get right. It puts you in a powerful position, can give you incredible reach and exposure, can build up your credibility, and generally introduce you to a lot of opportunities.

Building a community is also a great way to sell. Once you earn enough respect, you can ask people to buy something you’ve made. Many people will take you up on that.

Unfortunately, community building is extremely time-consuming, even more so than video. You may have to deal with toxic and negative people in a polite, straightforward way that leaves you looking friendly and reputable until the end. Plus it requires a certain mindset that a lot of people don’t have. Building a community takes COMMITMENT that other forms of marketing require less of.

 

 


 

Creativity is one of the noblest impulses. Creating content and sharing it with the world can be an extraordinary form of marketing. I’ve listed out some options to give you ideas with pros, cons, and examples. This is not an exhaustive list, though. Get creative, do something new, and test your own ideas. There are lots of ways to make your voice heard and content marketing is one of them 🙂