December 10, 2020

What the Gaming Industry Can Teach You About Branding

by Marilyn Wilkinson

A few years ago, gaming might have conjured up images of a nerdy teenage boy glued to a console in his bedroom. In reality, the gaming industry is one of the most competitive and dynamic industries with an estimated value of $200 billion by 2023.

Marketers in other fast-paced industries, such as tech, can learn a lot from the branding strategies of gaming companies who made it to the top and managed to stay there. We decided to analyze the top companies in the gaming industry – according to data – and explore how they have been successful in building a strong brand during times of extreme change.

Using insights from our brand tracking software, we compared brand awareness and brand usage to discover the secrets behind the success of the iconic Angry Birds brand and how Epic Games managed to win over Generation Z.

Gaming is for nerds, right?

Wrong. 65% of all US adults play video games, 46% of gamers are female and 52% are college-educated. As gaming is now the leading form of entertainment today, the “gamer” stereotype is fast becoming extinct. After all, we don’t have a specific term to describe people who watch movies or listen to music. So what changed? In a word, mobile. Making games accessible to everybody changed the face of the industry forever. People no longer need to buy special hardware; almost anyone can just whip out their smartphone and start playing. The massive shift to mobile has inspired new distribution and monetization strategies, a trend also seen in other industries such as finance, healthcare, and retail.

So, let’s dive into the brand awareness and brand usage of the top gaming companies and take a look at how they successfully navigated dramatic changes in technology and user behavior.

Which companies in the gaming industry are winning at brand awareness?

Angry Birds enjoys the highest level of brand awareness, scoring 79% among the general population and comfortably beating FarmVille, who ranks second at 48%. Epic Games (45%) and Bejeweled (45%) tie for third place and Farm Frenzy just makes it into the top 5 with 27%. The three brands with the lowest brand awareness among the general population are Glu (5%), Signal (4%), and EVE Valkyrie (4%).

Brand usage tells a slightly different story, with Epic Games taking the top spot with 57%, followed by Glu (41%), Angry Birds (37%), and Bejeweled (29%). Despite FarmVille’s high brand awareness, their brand usage is much lower at 23%.

Let’s take a closer look at the top three gaming companies with the highest brand awareness and explore what brand managers can learn from them.

Angry Birds

Angry Birds boasts the highest level of brand awareness across all ages and genders. The game became famous overnight after Apple promoted it on the homepage of the app store. Yet Rovio, the creator of Angry Birds, had launched other online games before that you might not have heard of.

So, what made Angry Birds so successful? Firstly, the concept behind Angry Birds is straight-forward yet engaging: launch the bird, hit the pigs. The simplicity draws you in, and then the variety keeps you hooked, with Rovio constantly designing new levels and creating new challenges for users. Who doesn’t love a challenge?

The Angry Birds brand is one of the most recognizable in the world because it is so ubiquitous. Taking a leaf out of Disney’s book, they have essentially built an empire around their product. Why stop at a game when you can have branded merchandising, a movie, and a theme park? (That is not a joke -the Angry Birds movie came out in 2016 and you can even visit Angry Birds Land in the city of Tampere, Finland.)

FarmVille

FarmVille enjoys the second-highest level of brand awareness, reaching 48%. However, their brand usage is much lower, scoring 23%. So what happened? A decade ago, every time you logged into Facebook, you could expect to be poked (or forked) with a notification from a farmer. FarmVille was the most popular application on the most popular social network. Lady Gaga even released songs from her new album Born This Way on FarmVille!

However, as an early pioneer of social gaming, FarmVille struggled to adjust to the shift from social to mobile. The rise and fall of FarmVille show companies need to make the user experience a priority in order to build and sustain a strong brand. As technology continues to evolve, users’ expectations grow with it and today’s customers expect effortless brand experiences at their fingertips.

Epic Games (Fortnite)

If you haven’t heard of them, you are probably over 25. Epic Games, the creator of Fortnite, is the most popular brand among young people, both male and female. Achieving the highest level of brand awareness (76%) and brand usage (76%) among young males, brand usage rises even further among young males with low education (80%). It is not just a “boys game” though, scoring second-highest brand awareness (65%) and the highest brand usage (57%) among young females.

Why is Fortnite so popular with Generation Z? Firstly, two of their three games, Battle Royal and Creative, are free-to-play; only Save the World is pay-to-play. Fortnite’s monetization strategy revolves around V-Bucks, the in-game currency that users can either purchase or earn through completing missions and other achievements. Secondly, players can move from their PlayStation to their smartphone and back as it suits them.

Offering the games for free and on a wide range of devices reduces the barrier to entry. What keeps users hooked is the fast-paced, Hunger Games-style experience, with one hundred players competing in a no-holds-barred deathmatch.

Similar to Angry Birds, Fortnite has reached the level of ubiquity where it is far more than just a game. Fortnite is so deeply entwined with youth culture and popular with celebrities such as Drake, it has become a lifestyle and identity statement for Generation Z.

Key takeaways for brand managers

  • Stay ahead of new trends in your industry. As the FarmVille example shows, today’s customers are spoilt for choice and have high expectations around User Experience (UX). If you don’t provide effortless user experiences at the touch of a button, your competitors will.

  • Think outside the box. The best-known gaming brands leverage celebrity endorsement, influencers, merchandising, movies, and even theme parks. Going beyond your core product to offer customers something new and fresh can take your brand to new heights.

  • Make it easy for customers to start using your product. Offering a basic version for free and on a wide variety of devices was key to the success of many of these games. Breaking down the barriers to entry helps turn people who have vaguely heard of you into actual customers who use your product.

  • Brand awareness does not always correlate with brand usage. Even established brands need to drive engagement and retention, as users can be fickle. A brand tracker makes brand awareness, usage, loyalty, and advocacy measurable, so businesses can tap into how their target audience perceives them.

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