Four of the industry's marketing masters talk about how to reinvent a gaming brand from the ground up
In the interactive entertainment biz, it's no secret that it pays to regularly reinvent oneself.
What's more, the maxim is as readily applicable to any company, individual or franchise as single title or service. As industry leaders will tell you, the importance of not only establishing your brand, but consistently updating it to remain fresh and relevant, is virtually uncontested. And in terms of pure ROI, well, see for yourself: Our field's history is paved with pointed examples. For example, look at the rise and fall, then eventual resurrection of Atari; Lara Croft's recent undoing and return to grace; Acclaim's newfound focus on MMOs; and Sega's reinvention as a software maker vs. hardware manufacturer.
Just how powerful can a fresh coat of paint or total reworking of a tried and true firm, label or logo be? So much so that of a dozen companies contacted for this story, nearly half declined to supply insight for fear of helping inadvertently educate and enable their competitors. But leave it to us to connect with several of the realest players in the game. They've been generous enough to reveal everything you need to know to successfully shake up the status quo and completely reinvent your image—plus a few things you'll soon wish you didn't:
Director of Marketing for Eidos, which has been enjoying a company-wide renaissance as of late following the successful reintroduction of the Tomb Raider brand with latest series installments Anniversary and Legend.
"Ultimately, you'd want to re-brand a company or property because it's lost luster, relevance or fan base. And re-branding can be hugely effective in this regard—effects are incredibly pronounced. Before going this route though, be aware…Re-branding will result in reinvention or destruction of highlighted properties: Either way, you're not going to get a weak result.
Signs that re-branding is necessary are generally blatant, e.g. diminished retail performance. Once noted, you have to consider what happened and ask: Did we lose focus or fail to innovate? Are competitors doing something better? Were we seeing signs of fatigue with consumers?
Whatever the case, no service, product or company can overlook re-branding—it should be a function of anyone's core business plan. Life changes, people change…You have to keep the brand fresh and consumers engaged—it has to keep up with the world around them. Even if you're not failing, you can't keep saying the same thing year after year…
However you proceed, be cognizant of not shocking your core audience. And do your homework: The process of creating Tomb Raider: Legend started just 3 months after Angel of Darkness and it took us 1 years just to understand what the brand meant to everyone. Always do extensive research, and be objective…re-branding is a lengthy process, and there's no overnight success. Ultimately, every touch-point in the organization from PR to sales and development must be involved.
To get through the undertaking, you further have to be as egoless and objective as possible. Avoid committees as well: Too many people can pull you in too many directions. The best way to start the process: Assign a crack team of internal experts to define and execute the vision. And whatever you do, listen to your core fan base throughout it—they define the brand's identity. Yes, changing a brand can help it attract new enthusiasts. But desert your original fans, and they'll turn against you…and then you won't have anyone on your side at all."
Vice President of Marketing for Codemasters, an outfit whose massive corporate and product re-branding efforts have recently been paying huge dividends in the form of critical and commercial favorite titles like DiRT and Overlord.
"Re-branding should always go to the core of any company, not just translate to adding new wallpaper or a fresh coat of paint. (The consumer can always tell, since it never covers the cracks.) In our case, at Codemasters, we've pretty much knocked down the entire building and rebuilt from the ground up. And the results have been pointed: We shipped more copies of DiRT in the first weekend than [all its predecessors in] the Colin McRae series in all the years they were on-sale previously combined.
Branding is the customer's core perception of you or your company—it speaks directly to relevancy. As such, every company, every person and every individual should participate in it, whether you're a high-school student lobbying a college for admission or McDonald's trying to reach out to health-conscious diners. I come from the [EA Sports head] Peter Moore school of marketing—the #1 thing I learned from him is staying authentic to the consumer. You have to create products for and with your community: That's the leading predictor for success. Research is a wonderful thing too, as is removing the subjective from any equation. Arrogance is the death of any business, and should be avoided at all costs.
We use a six-phase process of checks and balances when deciding how to build new IP or licensed/re-branded IP here. Why? We know you can't simply put lipstick on a pig. A brand is not superficial—it has to touch the soul of a company to make a difference. Unless everyone on down to the mailperson at your firm can understand the reasons behind it, you're missing the point. Look at what Casino Royale did for the Bond franchise—it directly speaks to this principle, and it's the highest grossing film ever in Bond history. As a marketer, the benchmark I've always applied with re-branding is that unless you touch the core of a company, you're not really fulfilling your role."
Director, Brand Marketing for Capcom, manufacturer of decades' worth of hit titles in the Street Fighter and Mega Man series…and whose bar-raising Resident Evil 4 breathed stunning new life into what many felt was a stagnating franchise.
"You can't put a timetable on re-branding efforts—there's no formula that says that every third year you must do X. It's about having strong communication/feedback vehicles to find out from the audience what's needed to keep a property strong, coupled with constant creative vision and innovation from [the] development [side.]
In terms of re-branding, there are often hard decisions to be made, e.g. how much familiar from previous games do you keep to appease fans without alienating potential new audiences. Answers are hard to summarize: A lot come down to gut instincts as much as scientific testing. Remember, however, that taking brands places they seemingly were not meant to be can be great for extending an overall brand, but not always the best thing for an actual franchise or series. You don't want to dilute it with products that aren't of the same caliber—again, it's about balance and ensuring that each brand execution retains the key qualities and attributes that have proven successful beforehand.
Before re-branding, I recommend focus testing the demographics on broad concepts as well as making outreach to the core fan base through community efforts to yield a wide range of usable data points. Going forward, all levels within a company must also be aware of key message points and deliver on them with each execution too, be it a sales sheet, TV spot or press release. You further need to make sure the product can back up the image that is created. (There needs to be substance there, not all flash, as in the end, it's about what's in the box, not on it.)
An effective method for rolling out a new image is to make a lot of initial noise with consistent messaging around what's new, followed by a steady campaign leading up to and through a product launch. Just look at Apple. During the mid-90s some felt it had lost touch with what had made it a leader in the computer industry. With the re-launch of the iMac and the return of Steve Jobs, the company gained strong momentum that's lead to the iPod, iTunes and now the iPhone&hellip"
President, Sierra Online, which has triumphantly revived one of the most storied names in gaming and repurposed both the brand and its back catalogue to become a top provider of short-/mid-session online games (e.g. 3D Ultra Minigolf Adventures) for the PC and Xbox Live Arcade platforms.
"On a product basis, re-branding brings instant awareness and appeal. It can be a huge positive for getting someone to give [a specific property] a second look. But make no mistake…it's no guarantee of success, especially in the try-before-you-buy online space, i.e. on Xbox Live Arcade. From a marketing standpoint though, people tend not to associate companies with broad portfolios like Electronic Arts, Activision and Sierra as much with play patterns as actual game franchises themselves.
So certain decisions like reviving the Sierra Online name are oftentimes made in a corporate sense. We knew what we were doing there; we intentionally took on this name since we're proud of the company's heritage…We knew its history and success. And that same heritage leant us instant awareness amongst the gaming business and press, just one of many purposes this kind of re-branding effort can serve. For example, it also has a direct implication to the gaming industry at large about where we're headed. And I can't stress how much of it was also done for internal reasons—it's been a huge advantage in terms of morale and culture just in our group alone. There's a huge sense of pride team members feel to be directly associated with the company's history and reputation.
Be careful when attempting corporate re-branding efforts, however—it's vital you determine up-front how the message is delivered, and how to best communicate it to your constituency. (An audience that often differs and can include the business press, industry itself, consumers, etc.) Honestly, we weren't expecting the simultaneous use of Sierra Entertainment (makers of traditional, boxed PC and next-gen console products) and Sierra Online (our online PC and Xbox Live Arcade game label) to cause as much confusion as it did. My advice here: Be simple, clear and precise with surrounding communications—know whom you're speaking to, and use a scalpel-like accuracy to get the message across."