Word of mouth marketing – what does that even mean?

Last week, I got to have an overdue hangout session with my friend Amy. When she’s been gaming lately, Overwatch has been her game of choice.

My husband, brother-in-law and myself have been back on the World of Warcraft train for the past few months and switched servers to start over again. Horde just wasn’t doing it for us like it used to, y’know? And my brother-in-law happened to choose a high population server with a low number of Horde players on it (who would’ve thought Proudmoore… named after Jaina Proudmoore…one of the main members of the Alliance… would be an Alliance-heavy server…) so the end-game was non-existent.

I talked with her about how we’re playing again and she was interested in the developments that’ve taken place since she left around a year ago. The Broken Shore questline is finally realistic, Argus is neat, all that jazz.

By the end of the day, she ended up rebooting her subscription and making a new character on our new server of choice.

Word of mouth is a hell of a drug, my friends.

Gamers play games with their friends

It’s been proven time and time again by many prestigious market research firms that gamers will almost always choose to play games with their friends.

Now, single-player games are kind of out of this equation – however, recommendations are still heavily influential when you hear them from a friend rather than from a website, a press release, or any other format.

In 2009, this stat made the rounds but nearly a decade later, it’s still applicable –

“Gallagher’s advice here is something that politicians have been using for ages. You don’t have to influence everyone – just the ones who influence everyone else. Words to market by.”

Enabling word of mouth marketing

So the example I used up at the top of this article is just pure word of mouth. There’s no real marketing at play here – I’m motivated to get my friends to play with me so we can have a better time enjoying the game itself.

World of Warcraft is an MMO and I fall very, very solidly into the Socializer square of the Bartle Test. If I’m going to keep enjoying the game, I want to interact with people I enjoy.

For word of mouth marketing, what it boils down to is enabling the influencers. There are a few different approaches to how exactly you can plan to do that but at the end of the day, you’re giving people who enjoy your game the tools to spread the word through their networks.

These days, however, it’s insanely hard to enable the known influencers. Most every blogger who can spout their social media follower counts has a fee attached to their review system and getting on the bigger sites requires some sort of ad spend.

People have gotten way more savvy about being influencers. How can you still reach them without spending your entire marketing budget?

Some tactics to consider

If word of mouth marketing is what you want to try to focus on, there are a few bootstrap approaches you can take to help seed conversations. Note – if you’re doing this, do it ethically. You always want your evangelists or supports to disclose if they’re receiving any sort of funds from you in any capacity. I’m looking at you, Sony.

  • Set up an affiliate marketing program
    • If you’ve got a WordPress site, this is a very, very manageable thing to do these days.
    • Referral programs makes things measurable and makes it easier for them to spread the word (check out existing ones like ReferralCandy, LoyaltyLion, Influitive, FriendBuy and WooBox).
    • You want to reward loyalty. It’s not going to be feasible to go the route of Nintendo with their sometimes well-run, sometimes poorly-run Club Nintendo program – but you can at least help incentivize your supporters who are already cheering you on.
    • Offer discounts, free gifts, or exclusive updates in exchange for support. If you really want to go all-in, consider setting up a specific part of your site for your fans (and require email sign-up in exchange for access).
  • Start the conversation yourself
  • Seek out very specific influencers in your niche or near your niche
    • You don’t necessarily have to talk to gamers. Get creative and think about who all might really enjoy your game.
    • Be strategic with your demo codes.
    • Do not badger influencers or journalists with calls or emails. They get enough of that. Take time to learn about them (you’ve probably already been following them for years) – open a dialogue in a way that works for them.
  • Support people making user generated content (UGC) – you know, Let’s Play videos, screenshots and other content, like mods.
    • They’re influencing others on your behalf. Yes, there’s some fine lines here but it’s best to err on the side of supporting them.
  • Ask for reviews
    • Ask your users for reviews, whether it’s through an in-game notification or an email campaign or something else.
    • Bad reviews are still useful (think of how some restaurants have done a beautiful job featuring negative reviews.)
      • One of my favorites:
    • You just want to get reviews, if possible.
  • Choose a small number of social channels and stay on top of them
    • If you’re a small studio, you don’t have to be everywhere. Hell, the same goes if you’re a big studio. Choose your battles and think of social channels as customer support channels – they’re a direct line.
    • Lesser known channels can give you more of an opportunity to appeal to specific people. Again, it depends on your niche, the kind of gamers who might like your game, etc.
  • Host or attend events
    • Gross, right? In-person interaction. But this is how you can meet new people and share your game.
    • One of my favorite examples was a local studio in NC used to go and sit at the DMV with their mobile game to get people to test it out. They had a very captive (and very bored) audience to interact with and it didn’t involve paying $500+ for a booth at a show where the attendees are already being bombarded by other game devs.
  • Track things
    • Marketing of any sort, whether it’s word of mouth or paid social campaigns or what have you, is useless if you don’t track it.
    • Always try to ask “how did you find out about our game?” if nothing else in your sign-up process.
  • Break the mold, if possible
    • Do something different. Discoverability is at an all-time low because everyone’s trying to do the same thing all the time. It’s mind-numbing. My heart goes out to the game journalists of the world who are dealing with a flood of pitches for the next big quiz app, the newest indie thriller, blah blah blah.
  • Be honest
    • If you’re reading this, you’re most likely a smaller developer and you can’t afford to weather some sort of scandal or discovery of dishonesty within your brand – it’ll break you.
    • Be honest and authentic whenever possible.

At the very least, do me a favor – think about the games you’ve loved and enjoyed over the years. How did you start playing them? Or what got you to play the very last game you’ve touched? Was it friends or a demo or an ad, or something else? Let me know in the comments. It’d be interesting to do our own mini-survey here.