Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Product vs. Service and Brand Dilemmas

Hello gentle readers, welcome to the latest episode of the Armchair Marketeer! In this installment I want to set up a purely theoretical problem. A thought exercise, if you will. As I sit here with a glass of cognac, puffing my cigar in front of a roaring fire (ok, it's actually 8 AM on a July morning and I'm drinking coffee, but go with the imagery, ok?) I can't help but let my mind attempt to unravel great mysteries that have plagued mankind since he stepped down from the trees and discovered AC/DC.

I was reading a post on Joethelawyer's blog, and remembering a previous post of my own, which got me to thinking about a brand and product problem.

Ok, let's say you own a brand. This brand is for a product that is traditionally viewed as static and non-consumable. What I mean by that is it's not like a bag of potato chips where your customers keep coming back for more. It's static in that the product is what it is and it's bought one time. Theoretically a customer could buy your product one time and be set for life unless it wears out.

But here's the thing -- you'd rather if your product behaved more like a consumable item, something with a shelf life. That way, people would come back to spend more money. The problem is that in order to do that you need to have a product that is less static, it needs to change, and it needs to change in a way that makes customers want to buy it to keep up with those changes. The obstacle we need to overcome in this situation is that since customers historically view this product as "static," we need to find a way to reduce product loyalty and increase brand loyalty.

What does that mean? Well, let's look at an example. I decide I haven't read The Hobbit in a while, so I go to the bookstore and pick up a copy. I'm buying the book because of the content, not the title. If they changed the title to "Short People Doing Cool Things," I might be annoyed because it's harder to find on the shelf compared to what I'm used to, but the content is the same so it ultimately doesn't matter. Another example might be if I get a headache and need a "Tylenol". I'm after the content, not the name, so I might just as easily buy the store brand.

Now, what if I go buy a book called The Hobbit and discover that Bilbo is no longer a hobbit, but instead some new race of muscled brute with horns and the ability to fart a fireball? What if I crack open a bottle of Tylenol and discover jelly beans?

I didn't get what I was expecting from the product.

That is a problem for a company that needs to change a product to increase sales. We need to somehow change the way our customers think about the brand. What if we could make it so that people come looking for the brand instead of a specific product? I don't mean we entirely change the nature of the product -- people come looking for Mountain Dew and they still get a sweet, carbonated beverage -- it's just that we can alter the product in various ways that are irrelevant if the consumer is after the brand in the first place, and the flavor second.

From now on when you buy Mountain Dew you’re getting a general genre of product, and the taste may change from week to week. In fact, as a consumer I want you to keep buying each week so you can keep up with how the flavor has changed or what new element we've added. After a while you're thinking about Mountain Dew less as a specific, static product but instead as a consumable experience.

As a company we can create added incentive in the minds of our customers. Why should they keep trying our product week to week? Well, it's not just that we're changing the product at a whim. We convince our customers that we're improving it with each change. That's right, if you (the customer) don't keep up, the last product you sampled was inferior to what we're offering this week. All your friends have tried it this week, and if you don't you're behind.

This example isn't perfect.

So let's talk about what we're really talking about. Let's say we own the Dungeons & Dragons brand.

What if "Dungeons & Dragons" were less about a product and more about an experience? What if we can dispel the entire idea of "editions" from consumers of Dungeons & Dragons? The edition angle worked for a while, but the mileage on that is running out. Is there really going to be a D&D 10e? No, it just won't work. The whole paradigm of editions suggests a "reboot" and the expectations that customers will have to buy the exact same material again and again, though retooled for however the rules have been changed. I think we can convince people less often that our new edition is "the best ever" every few years. This seems to lead to a significant proportion of consumer resentment. We have to reconcile the need for consistent consumption with the customer expectation of a static product.

So, instead of producing a game that's marketed as done, complete, and improved from before, we simply market D&D. The very nature of the game itself will remain in flux to facilitate a subscription-based consumption plan. This way, customers always expect to be paying money and so long as the content changes can be integrated into the subscription plan there are few problems. Customers need to be retrained to think of the game rules and character options as less fixed. That way they expect the game to keep changing and they return to the brand no matter what form it's in. We still give them a static product -- we always call it Dungeons & Dragons -- but customers are loyal to the brand, not the product.

I don't know, sounds like a pretty good idea to me.

Friday, July 16, 2010

ENnies voting has started!

There are a number of old-school publishers represented this year, so be sure to go vote! James Raggi has a module up, and there are several publishers up for fan's choice for best go make your picks here! Note that you can select several publishers.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Friday, July 9, 2010

Labyrinth Lord Gets an Honorable Mention for the Ennies: Best Game

As anyone who follows the ENnies knows, the category of Best Game always has very tight competition. I entered Labyrinth Lord: Revised Edition into the ENnies this year. It got Honorable Mention for Best Game, beating out a lot of other fairly high profile games, such as Hackmaster Basic. I'm very grateful and humbled by this, and I thank the judges for the mention. I think this just further shows that our collective work and efforts to preserve old-school games is being recognized more and more. Thanks in no small part to everyone's wonderful support of Goblinoid Games and Labyrinth Lord, making it just one representative of old-school gaming that is picking up traction each year. Speaking of which, the print run for the Advanced Edition Companion is almost sold out -- better order some more!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Labyrinth Lord: Revised Edition Third Printing Now Shipping

I just wanted to give a heads up to everyone that the third printing of LL has reached the warehouse and distributor back orders will now be filled. If you've been waiting for your local store to be able to order it you should be able to do so soon. Alliance and ACD, among other distributors, are carrying Goblinoid Games products.