You may not have played Pokémon Go, but millions have. It was literally the hottest game last summer and fall. It created a community that any startup with a new product would be amazed and thrilled to have, and it achieved that within just a few months.
Game designers seem to have a better understanding of how to build a community than many businesses do. Granted, their purpose is mostly for entertainment and competition, but the principles of engagement are really pretty universal. And isn’t that what every startup with a new product wants to build – engagement with and among enough people to kick-start that products’ popularity?
Here is what new product startups can learn from game designers.
Before a new game is designed, there is a lot of gaming to be done. All other related games must be dug into – and dug into deeply – to consider combinations of the best features or to come up with a twist on existing ones. Likewise, an entrepreneur considering a new product must do the same.
Design the product
Game designers consider not just the design itself. Part of design is knowing the community for which it is created, and crafting all of the features to appeal to that community. They design an “engagement” strategy (sometimes called a playbook) that sets up the rules for play.
As a product designer, what is your playbook? What are the uses for your product? How will it fill a need or solve a problem that your target audience has? When you can identify these things specifically, you will begin to understand how you will engage your community.
Building the prototype
Game designers know that their first prototype will not be their final product. In fact, they may design several smaller prototypes and test them out with a small audience, getting feedback and stimulating discussion among those community members. They learn what appeals and what does not. The beginnings of a community are being established.
As product prototypes are built, having a community of product testers is a grand idea. You will then know what works and what doesn’t before you go full-on into production. You will make changes, no matter how small, based upon that prototype community’s responses. These testers are your early community. If they remain engaged with you, they will be the first to help spread your brand.
Leveraging existing resources
Game designers’ use engines that already exist to help them design faster and to get their game out to their community. They don’t build their own engines. They also remain current on game design itself, perhaps enrolling in some courses offered by video game design schools.
In product design and manufacture, start-ups have to look at what resources they have to grow their communities quickly. Obviously, social media is a huge resource.
Consider Nathan Chan, for example, creator of Foundr Magazine. His biggest resource was Instagram, an existing and wildly growing social media platform. He began posting on Instagram 10-12 times a day in the beginning and continues to post several times a day even now. His community grew from 0 to 10,000 followers in just three months. He had a theme for his posts and he stuck with it – followers came back over and over again and brought their communities with them through sharing his posts.
A product launch is great. Staying current on the strategies and tactics of resources for promotion of that product is a critical element of growing a large audience/customer base. Native advertising is just one of many newer promotional tactics that should be explored.
Game designers use analytics
Once a game has launched, even just an MVP, game designers rely on analytics. They track user experience to discover what might be too easy, what might be too difficult, where players are getting stuck, etc. They then have the data to make the necessary revisions.
A startup that has launched a new product must do the same. Where in the purchasing journey are likely customers getting stuck? What can be changed about promotion strategies or content that can “un-stick” them? How can more conversation and buzz be created? If you do not have this data, you cannot grow your community and ultimately increase sales.
Studying interactions among users
Game designers carefully watch the interactions among the members of their communities. Is there bullying going on? Is there too much profanity? And, have players found ways to cheat? All of these things they must monitor and fix.
Startups that have launched a new product must monitor the conversations among their community members, as well. It is not enough just to get a nice bump in sales based upon your content marketing, offering discounts, free trials, etc. What you want is a permanent, satisfied community that is willing and happy to share their experiences with your product.
Monitoring all conversation about your product is critical. You will need social mention tools that will alert you any time your brand is mentioned. Access those conversations and respond, join the conversation, and address any issues or problems your customers have. This type of engagement develops relationships, credibility and trust. Remember, you are selling an experience, not just a product. People need to experience your brand through your involvement.
Thinking like a game designer
As you design and launch a new product, following the conceptual processes of game designers provides a pretty good model to get that product crafted and for developing a loyal customer base. If you can think of your product as a game – something you want many “players” to come to know and love and to have great experiences with, you may just find that you grow your customer base faster and much more effectively. Staying power is what it’s all about.
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