How To Build A Phenomenon When There’s Nothing There Yet?

If this would be a perfect content marketing post, it would consist of a list of ten self-evident “tips” about focusing on quality content and partnering with influencers. Instead, you’re reading greetings from Mt. Everest of Marketing Phenomenon. We’re going to take over the whole mountain, but for now, I hope to be able to shed some light on how to get to the base camp.

I’m a marketing and communications enthusiast with almost two decades in the industry. I’ve been working for big brands and small brands and many in the middle. I started out working in my home country, Finland, but got an opportunity in the early 00’s to move overseas where I built my career with companies in Latin America and the US. Retail, media, entertainment, EduTech, fashion, SaaS, apps and now, gaming. Name a field and quite possibly at some point I’ve probably dipped my fingers in it a bit. However, no matter how broadly and hands-on I’ve worked or how many industry awards I have, I haven’t discovered a master recipe on how to make a bullet-proof marketing campaign or how to “go viral”. Instead, I’ve learned a thing or two on what makes a killer phenomenon.

Know your audience, measure your impact

Working at Wondershop has been a healthy and humbling experience for me. Don’t get me wrong, my brief was simple and comprehensive enough; to tie our brand to worldwide phenomenon. Of course, there was no phenomenon yet, no brand yet, and no game yet. No biggies, I thought — that’s not the first time for me to start building!

I threw myself into learning about game marketing and communication and was impressed by how polished it is these days. There’s the ever decisive split to core and casual target audiences, mastering of the selling platform and channel optimizations, immersive storytelling to woo the players and of course, the growing need to engage and motivate for realz, through a perfectly orchestrated community management. There seems to be either a ton of marketing money to throw in or bootstrapping to the level of art. Regardless, it’s all targeted to swoon the players deep into the funnel and get them to stay there as long as possible. Having spent my past years with large digital retailers and apps, this sounded familiar.

The art of brand building, customer acquisition and securing retention, however, lies on how it’s done. All the marketing and sales peeps around the globe, also we at Wondershop, are constantly trying to understand what their audiences are like, where they are hanging out, what motivates them and who they are listening to. The fancy ad campaigns and creative activation stunts you see are the tip of the iceberg on top of a hard and, yes, never-ending groundwork of the aforementioned.

At Wondershop, we have identified three audiences to start with; purchasing organizations, community hub teams and the industry. We realized that we have to be able to transmit our game’s impactful value to all of them from the get-go. So, our message needs to be tweaked to be relevant, distributed in the right channels, in the right order and include creative elements that motivate each one of the audiences to trust us and join our movement.

Your team is the best brand asset

There are many industry cliches thrown around in marketing, and one classic is about companies always selling either old milk in a new carton or new milk in an old carton. Either way, they’re still selling milk. In that context, what are we selling and what kind of company is Wondershop? Disruptive, like a certain Swedish company selling plant-based milk alternatives?

While being called disruptive can sound tempting (if it weren’t another, overused buzzword), it got me thinking, what does it really mean to our audiences? Our game team, Samu, Antti, Essi, Marina and Leyre have all written about how we are not making alternative games or creating a new niche. We are just making the best, most impactful games. Our games are on the next level, not just an option for the existing ones. In that light, it started to look like Wondershop is a leader rather than a disruptor.

So, how do leaders market the next level? How to tell about the societal impact of our games to the hoi polloi without milk or a carton? In our case, we started assessing what we got on the table so far. The greatest achievement we had were the first game team members we had managed to hire. However, to build the best and most impactful game, we needed more. We studied what in our brand and narrative had attracted our talent the most and how to use those findings in developing further our message. Eventually, this exercise led to drafting of the first version of our brand’s Tone of Voice and to defining the best industry communication channels and key marketing metrics.

Building the team has resulted in an excellent opportunity to iron-clad our sales pitch and a channel to get our message out. Every contact is an opportunity to leave a positive brand experience and kick the Wondershop ball to roll further. Today, our top team really is also one of our best valued brand assets and a proof that our brand makes sense and resonates with one of the key audiences.

"The only way to get stuff done, is to try stuff out."

Leave Room For Experimentation

There are some major differences that impact on Wondershop marketing and communications planning, compared to a traditional game brand. Firstly, our community games will not be sold or played through the traditional game sales channels like app stores or Steam. Secondly, instead of trying to maximize the game time on the digital world, our game team is working hard to gently push the players to the real world, and only spend a limited time in the digital game. This means that we cannot simply plug and play marketing tools, metrics, or strategies that are commonly used in the industry.

The only way to get stuff done, is to try stuff out. Naturally, that leads to making a ton of mistakes. Without mistakes however, there would not be room for experimentation and development.

Everyone in our company understands the self-reflective and iterative value of mistakes, or should I say, surprises, despite the impossibility of predicting when and how often they pop out. Our role in marketing is to make the most out of these surprises by communicating openly about the unfinishedness, also on the level of the phenomenon-building.

Letting Go

The hardest part in the phenomenon-building is letting go to make room for the audiences to experience it. Best brands are made at the hands of their audiences, when they make an emotional connection and become experienced with trust and passion.

Ultimately, a phenomenon refers to an occurrence that can be observed. I believe that a brand becomes a phenomenon when it reaches a level of emotional connection that goes beyond its initial target audiences. It evokes emotional connections and becomes observed even by people that haven’t actually consumed the product or service behind.

To get to that level, we will need to make Wondershop simply unignorable to the world outside.

"Best brands are made at the hands of their audiences, when they make an emotional connection and become experienced with trust and passion."