You have paid retail for the last time.
The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at children's games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up. - GKC
Since my last thread on intellectual property rights was so well received, I thought I'd share some tips in another area.
Congratulations! You've designed a game, conducted hundreds of hours of playtesting, worked out the final kinks with your suppliers or publishers, and the game is going to be released to the public.
The easy part is over.
Marketing and advertising is the most difficult aspect of any product delivery, and regardless if you self-published or are working with a publisher, marketing is your responsibility as a designer.
What follows is my experience that I've learned over the last decade from my own business, some lessons were more expensive than others. Please feel free to share your own tips and questions in the thread.
There are a few resources on marketing/selling I highly recommend:
Guerrilla Marketing - books are usually available at your library
The Warrior Forum - a little more focused on selling than I like, but a great think tank for online marketing
If they can't get it, you won't sell it.
Your own website
If you have many products, I recommend looking at zencart, a free web store software, if you know what you are doing. SuperiorPOD uses zencart.
I myself have moved to e-junkie, since they handle all updates, security settings, integrate well with aweber, and can deliver digital content (like print & play games). It does cost a monthly fee, but it's less work for me and more secure. E-junkie also works anywhere you can post the code, and can work on several sites at once. If you use coupon code MEVIO when signing up, your 30-day initial trial gets extended to 120 days.
Amazon & eBay
If you're going to set up a store, you want to set up where shoppers pass by, right? So in addition to your own web site your product should appear regularly in major shopping avenues.
eBay is pretty familiar to most everyone by now. But even if your product is available elsewhere, it is worth listing on eBay continuously! eBay gets indexed by Google. People searching eBay are in the mood to buy. Make sure you are there!
Few people realize that anyone can add an item to Amazon's catalog. You do have to be a Pro seller at the time ($40 a month) but once your item is added, you can cancel.
I have no experience selling to game distributors, so looking for tips from others. I have bought from distributors as a game store manager, and can vouch for the ease of ordering.
Not a lot to say specifically for advertising (that is, paying for exposure), since people are becoming trained to ignore advertising. I would focus on advertising in venues where you know visitors are interested, such as here on BGG.
Facebook advertising is on the rise, but you should know what you are getting into. I found the newly-published Facebook Marketing for Dummies very informative, and if you buy it, it includes $50 in free advertising.
Google Adsense seems to be hit or miss. Personally, I'd not recommend it for game advertising as most people looking for games will land on BGG anyway.
This is why the advertising section is so short - you should be focused on marketing, not advertising!
If you're already a member of BGG, you know the power of a community. Creating a Facebook page for your game, your company, or yourself as a designer can create a smaller community in a larger pond in addition.
Getting involved with bloggers or running your own blog is another way to connect. I help sponsor bloggers by offering a 25% affiliate commission on all my products. Plaid Hat Games is run by some of the admins of the popular Heroscapers.com website, and by the time their game launched they had a groundswell of support that was hard to ignore.
Be careful, though. Your actions on social media are ALWAYS marketing, even when you are not being a good example. I remember Pirateer being put down in some discussions, and I initially thought it was because the game was disliked. As it turns out, it was the designer that made some users grumble. Games Workshop has irked many by their actions, while Privateer Press is praised for their community support.
You should keep in touch with your biggest fans regularly, and reward them for staying in touch. The best way to do this is with an email mailing list. I recommend aweber or Constant Contact, which are 2 rather different beasts. There is a good free option, phplist, but running your own server is more likely to be viewed as spam by some webmail providers, and makes it harder to get your messages to your readers.
Interestingly enough, the internet is making snail-mailing cheaper and easier. Click2mail.com, endorsed by the USPS, can mail out postcards, flyers, or catalogs for less than the cost of 1st class postage. All you have to do is upload your document, addresses, and pay. They print, fold, sort and mail!
Conferences and Trade Shows
Setting up at a conference or trade show is a great way to generate leads of people who are interested in your products, and meet them personally. Unfortunately my experiences have nothing to do with board gaming (book fairs and homeschool conferences), so it'd be great if someone could fill us all in on what goes into showing at Gencon, Essen, or BGG.CON
I'll keep updating this as more explanation is needed or I remember more, or as the thread gets bigger to keep some of the best ideas in the first post.
One of the four tenets of marketing is Product. A product serves one purpose -- to solve a problem. Consumer problems range from needing whiter teeth to having an app that locates nearby vegan restaurants. Knowing what problem a product solves makes a potential customer into a consumer.
Naturally, products sometimes fall flat while others develop cults of personality behind them. Why? Good marketing knows its two audiences -- the hardcore and the casual. The hardcore is the vocal group that will commit word-of-mouth marketing for the product -- be they grognards, LARPers, otaku, PS3 fanboys, Mac heads, what-have-you. They keep excitement for product releases high, updating people that have not invested as much value yet. The flip-side audience -- the casual -- do not put an intrinsic value on a product but will use the product from time to time.
How this fits into games? All games have at least a meager theme, often used to tie mechanics together and appeal to gamers. Fantasy, Historical, Colonial, Expansionist, Management are all popular themes used to appeal to gamers. But its often which theme is applied that will develop the audiences that follows it. A marketer knows that a Lord of the Rings themed game will attract a different following than a Hannah Montana themed game.
So the takeaway is that when it comes to marketing, be mindful of what type of consumer will be looking for your type of game. Consider that finding a great game is a problem to the average gamer and your product is there to solve his dilemma. Look at similar interests, common trends, and what your potential hardcore audience member is saying he wants from a game.