“I love advertising!” That’s not a sentence you hear spoken out loud often. Advertising has a reputation for annoying people with messages that aren’t relevant to them, relentlessly wearing them down with half-truths broadcasted over TV networks and on billboards.
Thankfully, that’s not the whole truth. The relieving truth is that advertising is one tool in the marketing toolbox that small businesses can benefit from. Like any tool, it must be used correctly and judiciously, with an understanding of its purpose and its limitations. Whether you’re just spreading the word about one game or whether you’re building a whole long-lasting business from scratch, you should consider advertising as part of a larger marketing plan.
Why advertising is good
Advertising is the fastest way I know to bootstrap a company. Think about it. There are three ways you can build your audience for the first time. You can reach out to people individually, you can create content for them to consume and come to you passively, or you can advertise on an existing platform. The first one is great – you’ll make a lot of contacts, and even a lot of friends. It’s also slow and it doesn’t scale well. Making your own content is good, but doing so with no outreach will make you feel like you’re screaming into a void. Advertising is much faster, though it does cost money.
If you want to get your feet wet in advertising, the best way I know to do that is through Facebook. Once you’ve built up a Facebook page, you’ll gain access to Facebook’s incredibly robust Ad Manager. That will let you target your ads to really specific audiences, tailoring messages specifically around people’s tastes. What’s more, you’re provided with tons of metrics that help you optimize your ads so you get what you’re paying for.
Let’s assume for the sake of discussion that you use Facebook for advertising. You’ll want to think of your objectives before you start any ad campaigns. Do you want to get web traffic, social media engagement, or emails? Don’t think in terms of “getting the word out there.” Build a system that pushes people where you want them to go – a sales funnel. Then use your advertising to get people into the sales funnel.
Nuts and bolts of advertising
The most important part of any advertising campaign is the audience. Think about the age, gender, geographic location, and interests of the people you’d like in your sales funnel. You only want to attract people who would ultimately be interested in your product. For example, if you’re creating a fantasy area control game, you could target people in countries that speak the language used in the game and target people whose interests include both “board games” and “fantasy books.”
Most online advertisements have three parts to them: the copy, the image, and a call to action. The copy is simply the text on the advertisement. The image is exactly what it sounds like. The call to action can be a button, a link, a sign-up form, or something else like that. You take out the advertisement with intention of getting people to heed the call to action.
Making great marketing copy takes a lot of trial and error. I often have to try three or four different variations of my copy on simultaneous ad campaigns to see which one performs best. After a couple of dollars in each simultaneous campaign, I go with what performs the best. Some general rules of thumb to follow:
- Keep it short.
- Make it clear.
- Make it exciting, intriguing, or otherwise cool.
- Experiment until you get it right. Use that data!
Images also take a lot of experimentation to get right. Here are some rules of thumb you can follow when choosing an image:
- Make sure it is the right size for the ad.
- Use a high-quality image.
- Have a clear object in focus.
- Use contrasting colors.
- Match the copy to the image.
- Experiment until you get it right.
The call to action is pretty simple. It needs to be clear like “click here,” “sign-up here,” or it needs to simply be a link. Don’t be overly clever with your call to action.
Advertising and experimentation
I must reiterate how much advertising involves testing. Gather data and keep experimenting until you make the most effective ads you can. If an ad is clearly not performing well, pull it and don’t spend any more money. On Facebook, the direction of an ad is usually clear enough after $5 are spent.
You’ll notice that all this testing has a side benefit. Advertising provides an empirical way to analyze how good your ideas will perform in the market. Advertisements that perform well tend to go alongside games that will perform well. If something inspires people enough to click, it’s more likely to inspire people to buy (provided your game is a good value). This is such an underrated quality in advertising. You can use it to gauge product-market fit as well as build an audience.
Naturally, advertising is no replacement for real human interaction. While it can bootstrap your company quickly, it doesn’t pay to be friendless. You want to get to know people, make some connections, and make some people’s days better. Genuine human connection is a much sought after quality in a noisy digital world. Advertising will help your game sell, but connecting with others will help your game be remembered. The importance of the latter cannot be overstated.
Where to advertise board games
You must first understand the reason for advertising, how to get started, and the importance of experimentation. Once you arrive at that point in your understanding, it’s time to put your new skills to use. The next logical question, then, is “where do I advertise?”
I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating that Facebook is the best place to start. You don’t have to put a lot of money into it, you can target very narrowly, and you track success and failure easily. I can personally vouch for Facebook because I used it extensively for the Tasty Humans Kickstarter campaign.
After that, I would recommend Board Game Geek. I cannot personally vouch for it, but I’ve heard pretty consistent good feedback online about it. It makes sense, too. Board Game Geek caters to a highly targeted and engaged audience. It’s not as accessible or cheap as Facebook, though, so I would recommend practicing on Facebook first.
Other ways to advertise board games
You’re not just limited to digital advertising, though. As much as I love digital marketing, I must admit that not everything must be done by Facebook, mailing lists, and social media.
Indeed, you may have success advertising in your local news. Even if they’re not a good place for advertising, the act of contacting your local news may lead to some favorable press coverage for you. The same basic principle applies to local radio, too.
We could go into a discussion about national radio, news, TV, or billboards. But I’ll be direct with you. Board games are an extremely niche item for a clearly defined hobby audience. I advise against using these means to push your games.
Not exactly advertisements, but worth considering
Lastly, I want to mention other forms of outreach as well. People tend to think advertising and outreach are the same things. They’re not, but nevertheless, other forms of outreach in tandem with advertising can form the basis of a very good marketing plan.
Other forms of outreach to look into include:
- Reviews and videos
- Conventions, whether small or large
- Reddit, if you have content worth sharing
- Kickstarter itself
How much to spend on advertising
Overall marketing costs will vary based on the nature of your campaign as well as your goals. Once you master the basics of marketing and advertising, the amount of money you spend will quickly become a very important factor in your overall return on investment. Generally speaking, more money is more leverage.
To help you learn more, I’ve written an additional post to help you decide how much to spend on advertising.
Advertising can be a great way to draw some attention to your game quickly. Used wisely, advertising allows you to spread ideas faster than you can on your own. It can also help you test your ideas with an audience, refining them until you find something that fits with both your vision and others’ willingness to buy.
Have you ever taken out ads for your game or games? How’d it go? Let me know in the comments below 🙂