Marketing your product to different demographics in order to increase your marketshare is a trick as old as business itself. You can see it with nearly any product that’s got a his and her version as quite often they’re pretty much identical, save for the price. Others are more subtle in their approach, sometimes selling products in weird sizes or even going as far as saying that one product is actually a completely different one (when it isn’t). The latter is what has landed Reckitt Benckiser, the maker of the analgesic Nurofen, in a lot of hot water with the ACCC.
The 4 above products, which are labelled in such a way to make you believe they’re designed to target specific types of pain, are in fact all identical to their generic pain reliever. Indeed even in this picture above (sourced directly from Nurofen’s site I might add) clearly shows that the active ingredients in all of these products is exactly the same. However the price on these products was significantly higher than their generic pain reliever which is what caught the ire of the ACCC. Nurofen has since lost their court battle with them and has been ordered to remove these products from shelves within 3 months, pay for the ACCC’s court fees and publish corrections in the media.
Whilst we’d all like to think that we’d be above such manipulation it appears that the vast majority of consumers would seek out treatment for specific types of pain rather than going for a generic pain reliever. This obviously presents an opportunity to artificially segment the market in order to generate more profit, something which nearly all major analgesic manufacturers currently do. This ruling then sets the precedent for ensuring that companies don’t engage in this kind of deception. However I hope the ACCC has their sights set on others as Reckitt Benckiser wasn’t the only one engaging in this practice.
Indeed Australia’s beloved brand Panadol also has various products that are also segmented along similar lines. Their Back and Neck pain tablets are identical to their standard tablets and the Osteo and Long Lasting Back and Neck pain ones are also identical in their formulation. Whilst I’m sure this ruling will likely prompt action from all analgesic manufacturers in Australia the ACCC can’t be discriminatory in whom it targets and they’ll need to pursue others who engage in such deceptive marketing strategies.
This ruling highlights the importance of being an informed consumer. Whilst there’s been great leaps made in recent times to make the information more accessible to your average buyer (unit pricing, for example) there’s still a major rift between them and the companies marketing to them. Rulings like this help to make sure that the companies are engaging honestly with us however we still need to be vigilant to ensure they don’t get away with any further tricks.
I believe I’m not alone when I think I’m mostly immune to the effects of marketing. For the most part my purchasing decisions are based off research and my own personal requirements, not so much by seeing marketing materials. Of course I realise that I’m not totally immune to the effects of marketing as there have been several times when I’ve found myself purchasing one product over another simply because “I saw it advertised somewhere”, although I’m never happy admitting that. There is one type of marketing that I’ve found myself getting hopelessly influenced by and that’s alternate reality games (ARG).
ARGs aren’t exactly a new phenomenon being able to trace their roots back almost 14 years. Up until the last couple years however I was mostly unaware of the concept having never really participated in any of them. However back in early 2010 I got wind of an ARG that was starting up for one of the games that I was intensely excited about, Heavy Rain. It started off as just a curiosity, with a couple YouTube videos and a flash game to give you a bit of insight into the background of Heavy Rain’s story. Of course not all of it was revealed on the first day and I found myself coming back just to find out what the latest was. The ARG took on a whole new level when they set up a Twitter account and started tweeting responses out to people’s questions from a character in the game. Suddenly I found myself staying up until the wee hours just to find out any information that I could.
I knew I was hooked.
Soon after Valve released an update to Portal that added in some new achievements. Of course the community thought it was rather odd that Valve would update a game so long after its release. As it turns out the achievements were just the lure into an incredibly in depth ARG that had fans working through the details for weeks after the initial update. Whilst I lacked the capability to help push the ARG forward in any way I did follow the events unfold very closely, loving every theory that people would develop and revelling in the excitement when someone made a new discovery. Both of these ARGs drew me into the games immensely and subsequently my time with the final products was much more memorable.
You can then imagine my excitement when I came across the following trailer for the upcoming game Deus Ex: Human Revolution:
Like the main corporation of the previous games (UNATCO) Sarif Industries has their own, rather flashy site. Upon entering it you’ll find everything is normal for a while until eventually it appears to be taken over by the rebels mentioned the trailer above. After fooling around for a while you’ll find yourself in the midst of a small hacking game which upon finishing gives you some insight into the upcoming game. I lost a good hour or two fooling around on the site and with the hacking games and if I hadn’t already pre-ordered the game I would’ve done so immediately afterwards.
ARGs are probably the only bit of marketing that doesn’t break my rule of avoiding the hype for unreleased games. Since the majority of an ARG is back story and doesn’t contain spoilers or over the top marketing speak it adds to the experience rather than detracting from it. I’ve all too often found critical pieces of games ruined by online commentary since, even without knowing it, reveal key pieces of information that sculpt my game play in a certain way. ARGs, since they have to operate as stand alone narratives in their own right, avoid doing this quite well although there is still the possibility to go too far.
I think the reason I get so hooked on these ARGs is that they increase my level of immersion with the end game significantly. Instead of going into the game without any background I’ve already got a decent investment in the story and you get a much better feeling for the characters and their motivations. Since my level of immersion plays a very big part in how much I will enjoy a game then it follows that ones marketed with an ARG aspect are far more likely for me to find enjoyable. Indeed my reviews of games with ARG marketing are above average and I definitely remember them more clearly than the multitude of other games that I have played.
If there’s one defining feature about Web 2.0 is that the focus shifted from one way information delivery to user centered interactions. Primarily I’d attribute this to the resulting fallout from the dot-com crash that fostered an environment for innovators to rise from the ashes of the former Internet giants. Such companies didn’t have the built in following that the companies that preceded them did so their best bet for success was to focus on drawing users into their various services. Once it became the in thing to be big on the Internet we saw the explosion of user centric services we see today and the current starlets of the Web 2.0 stage are of course the social networks.
Owing their success to people’s inate desire to belong and a non-obvious competetion element (read: the friend/follower/whatever counts) the social networks started out as just that, a place for you to keep in touch with real world friends. However as their popularity grew they inevitably attracted the attention of big business who, after many years no longer had the bitter after-taste of the dot-com crash in their mouths, saw a large and as of yet untapped market. From there it wasn’t very long before the user centric service became yet another essential part of every marketing campaign known to man, save for the few who see the social web as a passing fad.
For the most part though this actually increases the allure of social networks for most people. The fact that there’s even a tenuous connection between you and the celebrity du jour or your favourite company, whether it be following them on Twitter or becoming a fan of them on Facebook, gives the Web 2.0 generation that same sense of belonging that they craved when they first joined their social networks. This also works well for the other side of the equation too (the celebrities, Internet starlets et al) as there is little disconnection between themselves and their fans, meaning that they are much more able to command the attention of their audience. When your audience numbers aren’t big enough for you to command your own research and marketing teams social networks become your lifeline to staying in touch with your audience and hopefully keeping them on as fans.
However after using the top tier of social networks for a couple years I’ve started to notice an interesting yet puzzling trend. For the most part people will usually settle on their network of choice which is largely centered around what their highest percieved value of said network is. For the wide majority the pervasiveness of Facebook amongst a wide demographic makes it the best for connecting with friends. Others crave the constant stream of consciousness that is Twitter whilst some may just prefer to see videos from a select bunch of people, thus gravitating towards Youtube. For those on the other side of the equation, those looking to exploit the ability to capture an audience, it seems that you can’t be as choosy with your social networks. You’ve basically got to be on all of them.
Readers of this blog may or may not know the many different ways I promote it, but I know how many of you come through my different channels. Taking a gander of my Google Analytics reveals that about 11% of you have this site bookmarked (or type the address in manually every time, you sadists!), 9% come from Facebook and a mere 2.5% come from links on Twitter. The vast majority of people who get here come through searches, just under 50%. But as many marketer’s will tell you ignoring the long tail can be quite foolish and that is the exact reason why I’m publishing myself through all of those mediums (hey come on I never made it much of a secret that I thought this blog would be my shot at Internet fame and fortune :P).
For many of the current generation of Internet starlets they are in the exact same position. The place that I see this being most prevelent is on Youtube with every single big channel littered with links to follow them on Twitter and fan them on Facebook. They know that if they deliberately abstain from being available through these mediums they’re losing a potential audience. Never mind that the content that they delivered is what made them popular in the first place the fact that someone doesn’t participate in a certain social medium says more than “I can’t be bothered” to the social networking crowd. They would seem to take it as you don’t really care about them, almost tantamount to ignoring them in public.
Partially this is what spurred my current conquest of aggregating a whole lot of information from across the Internet. Whilst I’m under no delusions that I will be the next big thing on the Internet I’m finding more and more that the delivery of information doesn’t seem to matter as much as the people and places that it is coming from. Whilst I’m still aghast to calling my current project a social network (although I will admit I’m about to cave on that point) the high value information streams come from said networks. Thank the Web 2.0 gods for the mantra of being open and accessible or I probably wouldn’t be working on the application at all.
I guess what I’m really getting at here is that the segmentation of social networks would on the surface appear to be capturing different markets when in reality it’s just the same market duplicated several times over. Hats off to them for doing it though as traditional industry couldn’t of fathomed capturing the same market 3 times over but it feels like there’s so much duplication of effort for little benefit.
Maybe it’s the engineer in me seeing redundancy when its not needed that has lead to this feeling of wasted effort but every time I see those familiar icons on the side of a blog or whatever page to link up via various social networks I always twinge a little inside. We live in an age where information is so accessible yet we seem intent on erecting walled gardens everywhere that serve no purpose but to make dissemination of that information harder than it needs to be. Maybe I’m wrong and the simple act of providing an aggregate interface to all these services will change people’s view of such networks, but if that’s the case I’m one genius kid in a garage away from being over taken as the aggregator to use on the Internet.
Back in my teenage years I was a retail employee at an electronics chain called Dick Smith Electronics. It was a pretty good job for someone like me, since I had a keen interest in all things technical and the customers that frequented my store were known for their technical expertise. I put this down to the shop being right in the middle of industrial estate, since most of the customers would be other businesses. I worked there for a grand total of 6 years and I saw many technological trends come and go, but there’s one that really surprised me at the time and it still sticks with me to this day.
Most of the stuff I would sell was low end consumer goods and electronic components. Back in 2000 when flash memory was still expensive (and 512mb of ram was considered a decent gaming rig) MP3 players were few and far between. I remember on a trip to Japan in 2001 there were 512mb MP3 players for a tad less then AUD$700, and I couldn’t believe that we’d come that far technologically. It was probably around 2003 that I started to see the first of these devices start to trickle down into my retail chain, and some customers starting to look at them seriously.
Then enter the iPod. A classy little number that, whilst not the greatest spec wise (when compared to a Nomad), had a something that a lot of the other models I stocked lacked. Initially the take up was pretty minimal, since Apple had decided that everyone had to use a Firewire connection to transfer files to it. Although after a few generations they started to include USB 2.0, which was a good move but it would be naive to think that a mere connection change was responsible for the iPod’s success.
Apple did what they always do with their products, they marketed an image:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yF9s3TpncAo
It is interesting to note the differences and similarities between this, the first ad for the iPod, and their current incarnations (which just happens to showcase my favourite band, Daft Punk):
The first thing to note is the strong focus both ads have on either the iPod itself or Apple’s technology. The first ad shows a regular person using a Macbook and an iPod and although it’s not shown all the time, you’re constantly aware that it’s there. The second generation of the iPod ads does this more blatantly, pretty much elminating everything except the iPod from your view. The second major element is the enjoyment of the use of the technology, which is what a lot of marketing campaigns for products like this build off of.
So, you may be wondering how something like the iPod has helped progress technology in any way. Well I can tell you from my experience in retail once the iPod hit critical mass, it wasn’t just the sale of iPods that increased. Most people would come in asking for an iPod but balk at the cost (the cheapest where circa $400, a bit much for a birthday present for your teenager) but we had several others which were kinder on the pocket. Apple noticed this fact and started churning out models like the Shuffle and Nano, which quickly took over this market segment. It was very much a build it and they will come scenario, since there was little demand for these devices beforehand and it is now a booming industry.
This has me experiencing quite a bit of cognitive dissonance, as I’m not the biggest Apple fan (although an iPod shuffle made its way into my life by way of a corporate gift) but I love the way they pushed and industry into the spolight. The first drove the hard drive manufacturer’s to make larger capacity small form factor drives so that their iPods could be smaller, lighter and better than their predecessors. More recently their demand for flash memory has driven the market to a point where solid state drives are now a consumer item. It truly is amazing what Apple has done for these markets.
This is the kind of trend that needs to be set by companies in order to further the progression of technology if they want to move faster than they ever have before. Whilst creating a cultural icon isn’t easy we know it can be done with careful marketing and nuturing of current installed base of consumers, and there are a few candidates, apart from Apple, who can do this (and already have):
So in essence the secret to technological innovation is to build a dedicated consumer base and then start releasing new technological ideas to them. As you build momentum you’ll see that people start craving the latest from you no matter what it is. Whilst this can lead to technological stagnation it will still generate a large following, spurring on technological development.
I can only hope that Virgin Galactic’s foray into space becomes as popular as the iPod.
I initially wrote this as a response to a forum post and after spending an hour on writing it up I thought I’d share it here.
So what does it take to make a successful MMORPG these days?
Taking a look at some of the biggest MMOs gives us an idea of what makes a MMO successful. Just because there’s not really a better figure than active accounts to judge this we’ll have a look at the biggest ones by this number:
So what does each of these games provide that attracts so many people to it? Well I’ve had experience with all of these so I’ll give you an overview of why they are so popular.
Runescape is free to play and only requires that you have a web browser to play it. When I used to work in childcare many of the kids there would play it, since they could all play with each other for nothing. The idea of being able to try something out for free with your mates without even having to install something is a powerful marketing tool, and it’s obviously working extremely well. It’s this extrodinary mix of portability, availability and socializing that has made RuneScape what it is.
Second Life provides a massive sandbox for you to share with many other people. It takes online chat that one step further, allowing people to alter their persona and appearance online and then communicate with others. Linden Labs has made headways in marketing the base client for free whilst giving people the oppotunity to buy land or items from each other for linden dollars which can be exchanged freely with real US cash. This idea has attracted several different niche players, some who wish to free themselves from the real world and those looking to turn a profit from virtual goods. Its this combination of sandboxing and real world value that brings people to Second Llife and keeps them there.
WoW has become the benchmark for all new MMOs due to its popularity and dedication in development from Blizzard. Starting out with the phenomenal IP that is the Warcraft universe Blizzard kept on its track record of releasing highly polished games with specifications so that nearly anyone could play it. After keep it in beta for well over a year the hype was definitely ramping up and the launched, whilst riddled with problems on high population servers, showed that Blizzard had the infrastructure ready to handle a massive playerbase and continued to improve their services over the coming years.
Initially WoW focused directly on the crowd that all MMOs traditionally marketed to; the hardcore MMO crowd that would play new content until it was beaten and then eagerly await the next big challenge. This was easily demonstrated by the first few big content patches that released big dungeons such as BWL, AQ and later Naxxramas. Whilst they tried to cater to the smaller groups with things like Zul’Gurrub there was a definite disparity between hardcore players and casuals, leaving many casuals behind in terms of both PVP and PVE content.
The BC set out to address these issues and made large headways in doing so. Blizzard gave up the idea of trying to make horde and alliance balanced, but different and gave Shamans and Pallies to their respective opposing sides. Whilst this initially met with friction it broke down many walls that kep Blizzard from improving gameplay in other ways. Additionally the introduction of Arenas, Dailies and two-tier dungeons (Normal/Heroic) allowed casual users to get a look in at the content whilst giving the hardcores something to shoot for.
Now we come to WotLK and the focus has shifted directly towards the casuals. Why did they do this? Well I can tell you it is the same reason that Nintendo designed the Wii, to convert non-gamers into players. WoW has consistently grown its userbase by targetting the largest untapped market of MMO players, the ones not playing it. With things like Recruit a friend its no wonder people are constantly drawn to this epic MMO.
In short, WoW is targeting non-gamers and as such has a larger target audience then the traditional MMOs. Should they continue down this path they will start to lose the super-hardcore players to other MMOs, but this does not bother them. Their bread and butter is the mum and dads with their 2 kids playing together whenever they have a spare couple hours. They are the ones who will spend $15 a month to play for only a fraction of the time of the hardcore people, thereby increasing their profit dramatically. This lets them develop more content driving up their interest even further.
Each of these popular online games provide a dramatically different experience and as such targets a different niche of the market. The trouble with many new MMOs is they try to replicate one or more parts of these already succesful business models and don’t try to bring something new to the table. Whilst many of them will succeed in obtaining a loyal userbase (which by all accounts is success) none of them will make it “big” until they bring in a paradigm shift as all of these MMOs did.