Is Zynga Marketing Dumb?

The short answer is yes.  The longer answer is yes… but it’s complicated!  A good friend of mine recently blogged that he thinks Zynga Marketing is failing because they don’t adjust pricing in a failing game.  I disagree with this statement, although he is on to something (but the problem is bigger).  Pricing is extremely complicated in social games and is based on strategy: so changing pricing at the whims of players is bad.  That said, there is a problem at Zynga with their marketing, and I’ll tell you what it is.

I’ve been in Social Network marketing since 2008, running my own business Karmaback, and recently joined venture form Creeris Ventures where I have been (and still am) consulting by running Marketing at Night Owl Games (Dungeon Overlord is the free game I run).  Anyways, in my experience in social games, the key to marketing is: 1.) know your target customer. and then 2.) MEASURE everything.

So what is Zynga doing wrong?  I’m not sure, I don’t have their data… but I think I know what is going on.  They are doing a classic mistake with branding: “Line Extensions”.  So many executives think that “we can leverage the brand we built by doing a new kind of thing with the brand.”  This is flawed thinking.  Re-using the brand to target the same customers with almost the same thing is usually fine and good.. but using the brand for a NEW product/game/service/model/target customer is bound to fail.  Colgate frozen dinners anyone?

With Zynga, their problem is not making a Pay-to-Play game and sticking to it… their problem is trying to extend the Zynga brand into pay-to-play.  The need to create a new company/brand that caters to “hardcore” gamers or gamers that are willing to pay more to play more type… Then the new brand can focus on games like that.

So, Zynga, get a clue.  Stick Zynga in your brand closet and keep it for “Ville” type games.  You need to build a NEW brand if you want to make different kinds of games for new markets and players.

The Greatest Start-up Book Ever?

I’ve read dozens, maybe almost a hundred books on start-ups.  I’ve loved many of them, but none of them really seemed like ‘science’ to me, more like opinion.  After reading The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, I now understand what I’ve been missing!  I really do feel like The Lean Startup is the greatest start-up book ever.. and here is why you MUST READ THIS BOOK NOW!

  1. It teaches entrepreneurs the “Scientific Method” for building a startup.
  2. It teaches entrepreneurs the proper ORDER of building a startup.
  3. It teaches INVESTORS the propper criteria to evaluate a startup.
  4. It explains in detail the right time to ‘get funding’ and more importantly ‘spend funding’.
  5. It explains very clearly why so many startups fail.
  6. It has dozens of examples of the process being used successfully.
  7. It truly teaches you about scale-able business models.
  8. It builds a great foundation for managing people and teams in a startup.
  9. It even applies to big organizations that want to be more startup-y.

DO NOT WAIT, get this book now.

7 reasons to Fail Early & Cheaply

Since everyone knows 19 out of 20 start-ups will fail… why not fail as soon as you can and as cheaply as you can?  In fact, recent evidence suggests that the #1 reason start-ups fail is trying to scale up too quickly/too soon.  Here are 7 reasons to FAIL as quickly as possible, and as cheaply as possible:

  1. Whenever you fail, you almost always learn more than if you succeed… especially if you start out with the goal of learning/deciding if a hypothesis will work.
  2. If you can fail quickly, you will likely have time and energy enough to try again!  (not necessarily a ‘new’ start-up, but instead another “hypothesis”/product variation to test in the current one).
  3. If you fail cheaply, you may have money enough to try again!
  4. If you fail early, you avoid spending too much time on a bad idea.
  5. If you fail cheaply, you haven’t invested too much “sunk costs” into the idea, and can let it die more quickly.
  6. If you can fail quickly, it means you have wisely set criteria for failure (a rare thing indeed!)!
  7. If and when you succeed, you KNOW you have something, because you have defined (wisely) what success is, and your past failures prove that the current situation is “Worth” scaling up!
Final word of warning: Scaling up itself is a difficult challenge, so use the term literally, and slowly increase the rate of growth, rather than step function.

Know how you plan to grow!

Here’s the deal.  If you have a business, and you don’t have a plan for how to grow.. you are already failing.  You need to at least have a hypothesis by which you believe you can achieve SCALE-ABLE GROWTH.  And there is not reason to not grow.. here are the top strategies.. the key is always test (“Is your strategy working?”):

  1. you will grow by viral behaviour.  Once you get a boost of new players, you will auto-grow because your virality is above 1.0.
  2. you will grow by advertising.  You make enough profit $$ per item/customer (after acquisition costs) that it justifies continued ramped up investments in advertising.
  3. you will grow by retention and word-of-mouth.  Similar to virailty, but more personal.  you will retain your customers so well, they keep buying more and more and even bring friends occasionally.
  4. you will grow by ‘free’ marketing.  People are searching for what you got, and your SEO will help them find you in a scalable fashion. (p.s. this is very difficult)
  5. you will grow by hiring a sales-force and hunting out the best customers.
What’s your strategy?
Got any others to add to this list?

Social Network Posts… Work.

This week Buddy Media sent an email to their subscribers with advice on how to make good Social Network Posts…  Two interesting nuggets here:  1.) Email Marketing works… I opened it, read it, and liked it.  2.) The advice is right on target.  Post short messages, use full URLs, ask for a call to action, and post outside business hours.  In fact, their findings: 20% higher engagement when posting off-hours, is perhaps conservative, (I’ve seen 75%-100% higher engagement when posting off-hours).

How do you post off-hours? Why not use my tool?  It lets you schedule posts for whenever you want (even when you are out of office). It also gives you awesome options such as photo upload posts, and more…  Try it Free! 🙂

Learn Quickly the Cost of Acquiring a Customer

One of the most common advice I give to aspiring entrepreneurs about their business plans is to Learn as fast as possible the true cost of acquiring a customer.  Why?  It tells you quickly how viable your business is AND helps you to focus your message.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to run a test ad campaign with several simple landing pages.  Can you convince some (hopefully targeted) web traffic to convert into interest? Can you convince them to become a buyer?  How much did it cost to get 10 customers?  (divide that cost by 10 and you have a rough idea how much it will cost to acquire customers in the future).  Too high?  Consider A/B Testing new landing pages, or being more targeted… or maybe even improving the offering (the product).

Get Busy!  Test. This book (which I thought was quite good, especially for engineer-type thinkers) may help:

Make Sticky Products & Sticky Marketing

I’m fascinated by Marketing.  It’s super hard.  That’s why I love it.

Please, make my job easier… make products that stick!

This book is a good place to start:

Now, this is a marketing book, but it contains ideas that product people should know…   Since you product folks may not read it… here’s an interpretation for you:

1. Products need to solve a problem people have, a need, or a desire for something not previously possible.
2. A clear vision is established that inspires the development team to reach for it!
3. It needs to deliver on any promises implied. (no buyers remorse)
4. Ideally it is “worthy” of people talking about it after they bought it.

Then, work with your favorite marketer to make sure:

1. Everyone really understands what the product is.
2. Stories are developed around the product that inspire people to buy it.
3. Credibility is built in to the product.

Redefining Marketing: Marketing is science buried inside Art.

Marketing has never been about Advertising.  This is not really a redefinition of Marketing, as much as it is a reminder of what Marketing has always been.  Advertising is a tiny, often outsourced, part of Marketing.  It is the least of what we do.

True Marketing starts with the People.  It is an understanding of the customer -> how they think, what they like, how they shop, their demographics, their psychographics, and as much data about the customer as can be compiled.

It continues with the Product.  What benefits are desired.  What benefits are conveyed.  What to make.  What features to add and CUT. What it is.  What it does. How we talk about it.  Why it was built.

And moves into Pricing. What value is delivered for various customer types.  Pricing Strategy. How to capture the most value per customer type.

And on to Place.  Where to sell.  Where to put product in easy reach of customers.

And finally Promotion (note: this is not advertising)… to include how to let people know about the product.  Packaging.  PR.  And yes, some small bit of Advertising if necessary.

Beyond this, you enter the realm of what I call Marketing Fantasy…

Marketing Fantasy is where some Marketers go… thinking they actually can control:
1. branding/brand awareness
2. style/design
3. predictions/future trends
and more.

These things are Fantasy, because Marketing might be able to measure these things, finding direct controls of these things is nearly impossible.

Why do I love Marketing?  Because…   Marketing is science buried inside Art.


Skeptical About Fake Social Marketing

Fake Social Marketing = the kind of contrived, half-hearted attention you try to garner by having a Fanpage or Twitter follower… but it serves no purpose other then as a huge mega-phone.

You are just saying nothing to people who don’t care.
Real Social Marketing = when you have people that *actually* care… and that you have an interactive conversation with those people, and actually listen and react to what is said.
I am skeptical of the value of “Fake Social Marketing”.  I think it has ‘some’ value, actually… at least you are making some effort, even if it is not social.  Fake Social Marketing is more like a “Blog” than an actual social site.  I think most companies take this approach because “Real Social” is harder and more risky.  These kinds of companies might use tools (such as those available by my own company: ) to rapidly grow fans & followers, then spam them with messages but ignore any responses.  That was NEVER the intent of how to use Karmaback….. I am a much stronger believer in “real social”.
Real Social Marketing is when companies use Karmaback to REWARD their existing fans/followers with a sweepstakes or discount/coupon… and a side-effect of the Reward is that you get a few more fans/followers… (it’s not necessarily the primary goal).  Meanwhile, Karmaback’s PostOnTime tool is used to help coordinate when messages get said/planned messages… but someone STILL should be interacting with the comments/responses after the post has been made.  Incidentally, the posts themselves should be useful/helpful/informative/or conversation starting… A great example would be asking your Fans/Followers if you should have a certain feature or not.
So, consider this when you are planning your Social Marketing campaign… Focus on the “real social”.  Don’t just blindly post… read and respond.  And don’t bribe, but reward.

A Marketing Basic: Speak & Write Plainly!

Speak Plainly.  Seems obvious, but us marketers often get into the habit of “word-smithing” till the text on the page is unrecognizable by normal humans (and worse, by our target customers).  Writing regular Facebook or Twitter updates for your company SHOULD be part of a solid Marketing campaign (try our own tool to help:… but keep the writing simple.  Here are a few examples to avoid, and better alternatives.

  • Don’t say user:   “Users can now log in via our web interface”
    • Say instead: customer or you.  “You can now log in via our web interface”
  • Don’t say best, most, or other false-ly colorful exaggerations: “This is the Best interface ever.”
    • Say instead: we think you will like. “We think you will like our interface upgrades.”
  • Don’t use acronyms:  “Anyone who wants higher marketing ROI should click here”
    • Instead, use simple terms: “Anyone who wants to get higher profits for their investments in marketing should click here.”
Remember, short is sweet, but complex, obtuse, or marketing-speak is sour.