Words and interview by Simon Bland
It’s an age-old adage that’s no doubt been bandied about in creative teams across the world: if something’s a success, it’s all thanks to the creator. If something’s a failure, it’s entirely the marketer’s fault for selling it all wrong. Well, what if these two important processes weren’t separate workflows but instead part of one symbiotic creative exercise? After all, without knowing how to authentically market your product, who to market it to and where on the web your potential future customers are hiding, your creative endeavours aren’t going to get very far.
It’s this issue that Kat Welsford, Digital Analyst at Square Enix, wanted to hit home during her recent Screen Growth digital seminar – and it’s something she knows a lot about. Before she was part of the team behind gaming megahits like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest and Tomb Raider, Welsford served as a Senior Digital Marketing Associate at ChannelAdvisor where she oversaw marketing strategies for heavy-hitter clients like BooHoo, H&M and Debenhams, ensuring their products got seen by those who needed to see it.
After a chance trip to a gaming conference, her skills were repurposed and put to use in the video game industry, helping indie studios find, keep and nurture active audiences. “I look at ‘How’s this marketing working, what’s working well, what’s not and what can we improve?’” Welsford tells us of her current role. “Unless you’re a marketing person, doing marketing always feels a bit odd. Just because somebody is a fantastic artist and creates beautiful pieces of artwork doesn’t mean they’re good at selling their own work,” she argues. “Sometimes you’ve got to take away the humbleness and brag a little bit about what you’re doing.”
It’s this expertise that we invited Welsford to share during her recent virtual workshop designed to help bridge the gap between creating and selling, while demystifying the processes of marketing creative work. Sound like something you struggle with? Don’t worry. According to Welsford, it’s a problem that impacts almost all start-ups. “I feel like a lot of people either fall into the ‘I’m a creative person and marketing is the dirty bit of creativity’ camp or the ‘I’m a scientific person and marketing is all fluff’ camp – and I sit right in the middle,” she smiles. “Marketing obviously works because companies with good marketing become bigger and better.”
According to Welsford, the main reason behind these marketing misconceptions is an urgency to get your product into the world. However without integrating marketing techniques into your daily workflow ahead of time, you’re going to be left struggling when your ‘next big thing’ finally debuts. “When you’re starting a business, you’re the expert in terms of your product and you want to make it first, before you market it,” she explains, “but a lot of places don’t stop to think ‘how do I market it’ whilst making the product – and that’s where it falls apart a little. People think they don’t want to do marketing because it gets expensive very quickly but then it’s too late for you to actually do any marketing and you struggle trying to ramp up your marketing to reach the scale you’re working on.”
Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to prepare, like having a clear vision. “A big part of it is having everybody on your team understand what your marketing goals are,” suggests Welsford. “Is the goal to reach other people? To sell a lot of items? To make people want to talk about your product? Most people don’t really understand which one’s which and they won’t talk to each other because people see marketing as an after-thought or something that’s not ingrained within their company,” she adds. “Marketing isn’t just luck. There’s a lot of luck to it – but you have to generate that luck and put yourself in the situation for it.”
One of the most obvious examples of this is going viral on social media – and despite being the primary goal of most creators, many don’t really know how to achieve it. “When people hear talk of marketing, they say, ‘I’ll go viral so I don’t need to worry about it’ – but actually worrying about it is what causes you to go viral,” says Welsford of the pre-planning involved. “You can’t just hope for virality, you have to make a good product then put that product in the places where the people who want it will see it. Squid Game is a great example of something recently going viral,” she says, pointing to the Netflix hit which rode a word-of-mouth wave to become the platform’s most successful show ever earlier this year. “Netflix put it in front of everybody and its trailers were geared to tempt you,” she explains. “There’s a technique to it.”
Finding the right audience for your product and ensuring you speak their language is another key factor that can’t be rushed. “People are very good at realising when marketing is not legit,” admits Welsford referencing those who try to inauthentically sell their products to captive audiences. “If you’re advertising something on Facebook to people who are on Reddit, they’re not going to come to Facebook. By that same argument, if you’re advertising on Reddit about something that realistically everybody on Facebook would want to own, that’s not the right place either. Not knowing your place is going to damage your brand in the long-term,” she says. “Whenever you see Facebook adverts that aren’t relevant to you, that’s because the company behind them doesn’t know who they’re marketing to and they’re wasting a lot of money doing it.”
Research – and be authentic – and for the latter, Welsford suggests using your own expertise as a starting point: “If you’re a small studio, use that to your advantage,” she advises, pointing out the playful flexibility that comes with being relatively unknown. Plus, get your elevator pitch nailed down – it’s something that’ll help others do your marketing for you. “It’s kids’ games and if you lose, you die,” says Welsford, once again using Squid Game to illustrate her point. “It’s two sentences, there’s intrigue, everybody knows what you’re talking about – and it means that other people can use those same words to explain it to their friends.”
However when it comes to the one big takeaway Welsford wants you to bear in mind, it’s simple: “Spend the time to make a strategy,” she urges. “If you spend one day in January making a year-long marketing strategy, that makes the rest of your year very easy. Having that planned out saves a lot of time in the long-run but it’s also about giving yourself time every week to do the marketing. Turn it into a habit that happens like anything else. When you’re doing things, take photos and Tweet them – because people love to see behind-the-scenes development,” smiles Welsford. “Make your life easier in the future by doing things now – because doing a little bit every week is much better than panicking three weeks before launch. You’ll just get stressed and you won’t have time,” she laughs. “If you plan things ages in advance, it makes everything a lot easier.”