Can playing games really help your brand? Perhaps they can. As long as you’re not the one playing them. You might actually be able to help your brand by encouraging your community members and your target audience to play games. Building brand identity online isn’t just about getting your name “out there” on the Internet with the help of advertising, social media profiles and press releases spread far and wide.
Building brand identity includes an element of community building, and engaging your audience on a variety of levels. Your customers need to feel as though they are interacting with you in some way, and that you are providing them with a satisfying experience. Social gaming can help you engage your audience while creating brand awareness. Indeed, the recent IPO of social gaming giant Zynga illustrates how popular these games are becoming and how much people have invested in these games, emotionally and financially.
More and more people are interested in social gaming. Indeed, social gaming is becoming an essential part of the fabric of online interaction. From collecting badges on their favorites web sites, to competing with their Facebook friends while playing Bejeweled Blitz, to building an agrarian empire with FarmVille, social gaming is one way you can build your brand. You can even, if you are ambitious enough, build your own social game, meant to encourage your customers to engage with each other on your site, or your Facebook page.
1. Build a Community
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The benefits of building brand identity in an online community aren’t immediately obvious. This is because the value of your online community can’t be readily translated into dollars. However, a community that comes to your web site regularly, and interacts with your brand, because of a social game, can eventually result in dollars. At the very least, your brand has the potential to be better recognized and develop a loyal following. Your audience is probably going to be playing games. You want to make sure that your brand is part of that reality.
Community members are more likely to be loyal fans — and loyal customers. You want your audience to feel as though it belongs to something special and something “real.” For many, cyber interactions are just as real and intense as those experienced offline. As a result, creating a space for people to feel a part of your online community, with the help of social gaming, can really help you grow your brand.
2. Turn Your Brand Into a Game
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Provide your audience something fun to do on your site — and access to exclusive information. Many companies are adding badges to their web sites. Users have the chance to “earn” badges — and share them on their Facebook profiles. This provides community members a chance to feel a sense of achievement, and then share it with members of their network. Not only does it encourage repeat visits by people who are already customers, but badge-sharing can mean that your brand finds a new audience through the power of social networks.
You can also create a point system, or a system in which badges “unlock” certain features. This allows you to provide “premium” or “exclusive” content to some members of your community. Audience members will be more likely to engage with your brand if they can feel special in some way. Providing game high-performers with the ability to “unlock” features and maybe even win free stuff helps your audience members build an investment in your brand. Adding a gaming element to your brand can tie them tightly to your brand, and even spread the word about you, especially if your game “levels” include special features and prizes when your community members bring others into the fold.
3. Use In-Game Ads
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Another, more practical, use for social gaming is direct advertising. You can include your brand in social games that others enjoy playing, offering special deals, or the chance for players to buy your products (virtually or in “reality”). In some cases, social gamers are willing to pay real money for virtual goods. In these cases, it is possible to earn money without providing a physical product. If you can provide virtual products that appeal to your audience, you are more likely to encourage them to return, and invest more in your company, offline as well as online. That’s brand-building and customer loyalty on a new scale.
Directly reaching out to those playing social games can provide you a way to expand your brand, and perhaps even bring in direct sales. Anymore, users expect to see ads and “sponsors” everywhere — even in games or the other media like on the sticker printing. You can use this to your advantage with the help of in-game “product placement.”
4. Build Your Reputation for Philanthropy
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Finally, it’s possible for you to build your brand by participating in fundraising efforts through social gaming. Some social games allow players to use actual money to purchase special items in games. The proceeds then go to charity. You can associate yourself with such efforts, pairing your brand with efforts to fight world hunger, support under privileged local kids with scholarships, or provide earthquake victims with relief. While this doesn’t directly put money in your pocket, it still helps your brand, and when you are building your brands identity, a little positivity can go a long way. People like to see that companies are doing good around the world. Building goodwill with customers and community members can help you gain their loyalty, while at the same time helping you position yourself as a leader in local and global philanthropic efforts.
Social gaming represents a growing trend. Indeed, social gaming is a trend growing at a rather rapid pace. People are connecting all over the world, and integrating games into their every day lives. They compare scores with their friends on social media, and play games together. Your brand has a chance to take advantage of this growing trend. You can build brand identity, and cultivate a loyal online community, simply by including a little more social gaming in your efforts.
Cover image credits: facebook by pshab