Week 9: Indie Marketing Techniques

As you may recall from previous weeks where we talked about Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas, figuring out your ‘customer segments’ is an important part of your business model.

Who are your customers?

  • Employers?
  • Investors?
  • Publishers?
  • Agencies?
  • Venues?
  • Players/users/listeners/audience?

Customers are the people paying you. You most likely will have people that pay you, and people that experience your creative output. They are not necessarily the same. You could, for instance, be paid to create a website or film production or game by a company, that is then experienced by a different audience.

Your users and your customers are not always the same people.

Think about all the people who may be your customers and audience. This includes all the ways you can be drawing income (as we’ve spoken about before, this will most likely be a wide range of activities), and all people who you think will be experiencing your projects.

Now that you have a list, you may need to think of different ways to target them. You may have two different websites for instance, or a strategy behind networking for some and promotional campaigns for others. But before you implement any of these, you can think about how you will present yourself or your project to others. A first step in this process is ‘positioning’.


Chris Wright of Australian games and technology specialist PR and marketing agency Surprise Attack Consulting runs workshops to assist indies to learn marketing principles. In this workshop (see video below), Wright takes you through techniques you can use to figure out what is different about your game. But these techniques can be applied to any creative project and even further to yourself as a freelancer or employee.


Essentially, Wright looks at ‘positioning’, which includes:

• What is interesting about your game, film, website, album, product, service…?

• How does it fit in with other projects?

• How does it fit into the consumer’s life?

• Why should they care about it?


Think of a purple cow. Now think of the purple cow amongst all the other cows in a field. In his book, Purple Cow, well-known marketing advisor Seth Godin argues that the key to success is finding a way to stand out. You need to not just be a little different, but really different. You may recall The Mac versus PC ads? They were playing with differentiation.

One of the exercises Wright takes us through is the “It is…It isn’t” activity. Go through the area listed below (what is relevant to you), and think about your project or your skills/services. What it is you do, what isn’t it you do?

• Platforms
• Distribution channels
• Business model
• Genre
• Age rating
• Development process
• Team
• Art style
• Narrative style
• Play experience
• Subject Matter
• Mechanic
• Input method

Competitive Variance

Another activity you can do to develop your positioning, is competitive variance. Here is where you look at your competition: focusing on what your customers will see as competition. Start with projects or people that are similar to what you’re doing.

Think about:

  • What do you do in your project that you do less than them?
  • What do you do more than them? Eg: I do 10 more levels, I do a whole album, I do…
  • What is the thing you’re doing differently?
  • What is the thing I’m doing that is new?


You can think about the personality of your project, product or service too. Is it happy, sad, angry…? What are the top 3? If someone met your game or film or poster or game engine or live event or mix in a bar, what are the 3 words they would use to describe your project?

You can develop the nature of your work even further by thinking about what your project, product, or even yourself is. If my film was a car, it would be…? If my game was clothing, it would be…? If my website was a lolly, it would be…? And so on.


Once you have a deeper idea of what your project is, or who you are (!), then you may delve into the dark arts of persuasion. Unfortunately, most people don’t make decisions about whether they want to buy your work on deep thought. Most rely on markers that help them decide. This is where persuasion techniques come in to play.


Given these techniques, let’s start with how most people assess you or your projects.

Your website(s)

As an independent creator, freelancer, or potential employee, someone will be looking at your website to make decisions about you. One of the important factors in this process is ‘credibility.


In his paper on “ Prominence-Interpretation Theory: Explaining How People Assess Credibility Online,” B.J. Fogg talks about how people assess your credibility on a website.


The ‘Prominence-Interpretation Theory’ was developed from a study of 6,500 participants. They found (and this makes sense of course) that if people don’t notice the elements that lead to your credibility, there will be no credibility assessment. For instance, if you have company information (such as an address or company number) but it is too small to read or hidden from view, then that element cannot assist in people’s assessment of you. Likewise, if elements are more prominent, then they will be noticed and assist with an assessment of credibility.

Fogg continues, explaining there are two elements to impact of your credibility, ‘prominence’ and ‘interpretation’. You want elements to be noticed (otherwise we have the problem cited above). So, in order for elements that help your credibility to be noticed they need to be prominent. But there are factors that influence the likelihood of those elements being noticed.

  1. Involvement of the user (ie: the motivation and ability to scrutinize web site content)
  2. Topic of the web site (eg: news, entertainment?)
  3. Task of the user (eg: are they seeking information, seeking amusement, or making a transaction?)
  4. Experience of the user (eg: are they are novice or an expert regarding the content or technology?)
  5. Individual differences (eg: a person’s need for cognition, learning style, or literacy level)

Interestingly, Fogg explains that the most dominant factor affecting Prominence is most likely user involvement. “When a user goes to a Web site with a high level of motivation (e.g., seeking an answer to a critical health problem), he or she will notice more things about the Web site.” So how can you influence this? Think about how they find out about your site. A business card? A link one of their friends has shared? A special package they were sent?

So what are some examples of ways you can communicate credibility? Sometimes people respect the nature of the projects you’ve worked on based on the clients behind them. So for instance in this portfolio the brands and clients are listed on the top-level of the website along with the thumbnails (prominence):

People also assign credibility according to third-party validation. How can you show that? You can, for instance, show if you have any awards, like the Melbourne developers (Loveshack Entertainment) behind the game Framed:

Another third-party validation technique is testimonials. If you’re on LinkedIn, for instance, there is a system for showing these on your profile.

But also outside of these elements is just the basic things you need on your site. The Stanford Web Credibility Guidelines explain what these are:

  1. Make it easy to verify the accuracy of the information on your site
  2. Show that there’s a real organization behind your site
  3. Highlight the expertise in your organization and in the content and services you provide
  4. Show that honest and trustworthy people stand behind your site
  5. Make it easy to contact you
  6. Design your site so it looks professional (or is appropriate for your purpose)
  7. Make your site easy to use — and useful
  8. Update your site’s content often (at least show it’s been reviewed recently)
  9. Use restraint with any promotional content (eg: ads, offers)
  10. Avoid errors of all types, no matter how small they seem

But these are all outward-looking approaches to communicating with your customers and audience.

Launching Your Project

Once you have your project and audience research done, along with a website, you’ll need to prepare some more elements: your press kit and events.

Press Kit

If you’re hoping to be covered by the press, then you’ll need a press kit. Press kits are traditionally a tangible product, with booklets, posters and images and the DVD or USB. But more and more, and especially for indies, the requirement is more to have a digital press kit.


A digital press kit includes all the key elements that you always include: information about the project framed in a manner that it is helpful to the journalist. You’re giving them the words they can use to contextualise what is interesting about your project. It includes information about your company and the people involved, as well as hi-res images, trailers, quotes, distribution information, and awards. A digital press kit is easily accessible and includes links to your social media. There is a free digital press kit template created for game developers that can be used for any discipline. Created by Rami Ismail, it gives you the html so you just need to enter the text and your images and videos (see an example below).


Launch Events

It doesn’t matter if you’re having a live launch or not, you’ll need some kind of event to celebrate and inform people of your project. As Jon Reiss, a filmmaker and marketing consultant talks about in the video: you need to have some kind of campaign...and an event is a crucial part of that.


What sorts of things could you do for an event?

  • Industry panel
  • Thought leader talk
  • Crew interviews
  • Outdoor screening, outdoor playing
  • Live playing of music
  • Live remixing of music
  • Live remixing of videos
  • Live playing of game
  • Streamed live…

So think about the ways you can make your launch memorable and urgent. And remember too that to think about the journey around the event too: how your audience will find out about your event and what they will do afterwards. The Australia Council for the Arts researched audience behaviour for arts events for their report ‘Connecting:// arts audiences online’ [PDF] . They found that audiences are doing particular things at each stage of their journey:


Now, we have covered a few of the important things you need to think about in preparation for your project marketing. These are all things you’ll be using in your Studio work shortly. But before we leave, let’s take a look at one last piece of advice.

What makes a bestseller?

Kathy Sierra worked as a game programmer, interaction designer, and learning specialist. Her best-selling work has informed her understanding of how best sellers happen. She has distilled these insights into a clever book titled “Badass: Making Users Awesome”. Here are some pages from the free sample [PDF], that introduce the critical idea that can transform the way you approach the design of your projects:


Further Resources: