Tools & Techniques for Audience Research

Pixels & Profits: Chapter 2

In our last conversation, we dove deep into understanding your audience. We touched on the Job-to-be-Done (JTBD) theory, and the importance of Demographics vs. Psychographics. This chapter will guide you through various methods and tools you can use to collect data about your potential audience. We’ll also talk about how to utilize these insights in your marketing strategy.

How to Research Your Audience

The first thing to know is: there are loads of methods, techniques, and tools to collect data about your potential audience, and most of them are unnecessary.

All you really need is a spreadsheet, or something to log notes with, and commitment to the process.

As for where and how to do your research, in the early stages we recommend the fly-on-the-wall approach to community research. Meaning, you work to find the communities where you guess your audience spends time online, or in-person — and listen to the conversations happening there. 

Don’t engage, just listen.

Pair this approach with a careful study of relevant user reviews, and you’ll gain an authentic understanding of your audience’s feelings and thoughts.

Becoming a Part of the Tribe

Being involved in games yourself gives you a huge advantage here.

From personal experience, I can say there is a huge difference between being one of your audience, or just being an outside researcher. 

In fact… it isn’t just a huge difference… it’s a chasm, and if you aren’t part of the tribe, the only way you’re crossing is with a frayed rope bridge and a prayer.

For instance, you can learn all about riding a bicycle from talking to people, reading books, and watching videos… but… if you’ve never actually ridden a bike, you have laughably little hope of understanding the Downhill Mountain Biking community.

I’ll spare you the additional examples and leave it at this:

You’re better off becoming part of the tribe, rather than staying an outsider.

Tribes don’t generally trust outsiders.

Thankfully, you’re already involved in games, right?

Gathering Audience Insights

So, you already have a sense for where your people hang out. Go there, and start listening for what they need.

Remember, for the first few days (or weeks, or months) of that research, you’re a silent observer.

You listen and take notes.

You do not engage.

What I’m talking about here is the very groundwork that enabled us to earn your attention.

Get involved. Feel it for yourself.

If you already are your customer, great! Now, remember what the problem was like for you before you solved it.

Those are the insights you’re mining for.

Translating Insights into Strategy

So, you’ve gathered all this information about your audience — now what? 

How do you translate these insights into a concrete marketing strategy for your indie game?

We’ll talk more about all this throughout the series but, for now, here’s the high-level overview of how it works:

Personalize Your Content

If you know your audience, you can tailor your marketing content to speak directly to them. This includes the tone of voice, the aesthetics, the channels you use, and even the time of day you post.

If Wabbit’s avatars, Larry and Jasper, are our target players, we’d want to use platforms they frequent — probably Reddit and gaming forums. 

When engaging with them, we’d use a voice, style, and tone that resonates — probably something casual, occasionally funny, and very informative.

We might know from our research that Jasper doesn’t spend a lot of time on socials, but Larry does. 

Why does that matter?

You’re about to find out.

Highlight Features That Matter to Them

When you’re doing this work out in the chaos of the real world, it becomes clear quickly that we all care about different stuff, at different levels.

Meaning, we can’t talk to everyone in the same way.

We might change the tone a bit.

We might use different imagery.

We might highlight different points.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

Thanks to all our efforts in (genuinely) seeking to understand the minds of our people, we suddenly become able to discover highly-nuanced insights which demographics alone could never provide.

With a clear understanding of your tribe, you can pinpoint game features that they’ll find most appealing and easily emphasize these in your marketing.

For example: Earlier, we identified that Jasper doesn’t spend time on socials but Larry does. 

At the most basic level, executing on this idea could be as simple as: If there’s a feature we believe Larry will love, we highlight it on socials, and leave it out of messaging when talking to Jasper.

Some people respond more favorably to striking art, others to compelling narrative, and so on… which means that we need to meet them where they are, and show them what they need to see. 

Community Engagement

As you deepen your relationship with your tribe of players, you will use your growing insights about that audience to foster a sense of community. 

As most gamers will confirm, we appreciate when developers are actively involved and responsive.

With respect to the time that must be spent actually developing the game, engaging with your community can be as simple as replying to comments on social media, or as involved as hosting in-game events or contests. 

What matters most is your consistent effort to engage.

Keep in mind that the community you build is your most valuable asset — it will be your best source of sales, and will also serve as a valuable source of feedback for future improvements as the game grows.

Test, Refine, Repeat

Let’s wrap this up with the engine powering the whole machine: Iteration.

Understanding your audience is an ongoing process. 

All of entrepreneurship is an ongoing process.

An infinite game.

Assumptions turn out to be wrong, people change, interests evolve, and new trends emerge. You’ll want to regularly review and refine your understanding of your audience and adjust related aspects of your marketing strategy accordingly.

We’ll come back to that point later in this series.

Remember, test (and keep testing) different approaches to see what resonates best with your players. 

Use techniques like A/B testing on your social posts, email campaigns, or in-game promotions to understand what works and what doesn’t.

Unfamiliar with testing like this? Add our series on Paid Traffic to your reading list. We cover it in-depth there.

Tying it all Together

Understanding your audience should directly influence every aspect of your marketing strategy. It can guide the development of your game, helping you understand what features will appeal most to your audience. It can shape your branding, positioning, and voice, ensuring that your game stands out to the right people.

Your content strategy should revolve around what your audience finds interesting and engaging. 

For example, if Larry is our target player, we focus on content that highlights the strategic depth and competitive elements of our game, because we know that’s what he loves. 

We also consider the best times to post content, not from what the trends tell us, but from what our data tells us about our people  – for Larry, he’s only looking after work hours.

I’m going to repeat this for emphasis: 

Whether we’re talking about game design or marketing strategy, understanding your target audience is the fundamental first step. 

Doing so allows you to create an engaging and resonant game experience, and to communicate its value effectively to those most likely to enjoy it.

Yes, this is a lot of work. 

Work that is completely, totally worth doing, because…

Knowing your audience is the single most powerful tool in your inventory.

That one thing will guide your decisions and significantly increase your chances of success better than anything else. 

In fact, I’d argue this one simple thing will set you so far ahead of the majority of developers that it’s almost laughable.

Because most won’t do the work.

But that’s not you, is it?

And that’s why I’m writing all this for you.

Because you’re different. An edge case. A rare outlier.

So, it’s your turn. Take a moment to outline who your Larry and Jasper are.

Are they teenagers, adults, seniors?

Are they fans of RPGs, FPS games, or puzzlers?

Do they play daily, or only on the weekends?

What are they aching to experience?

Ask those questions and more. 

Get as specific and granular as you can.

Once you have your guesses figured out, go find those people. 

Start immersing yourself in their world. 

Remember, you’re listening to truly understand them.

No preconceived notions.

No confirmation bias.

If you haven’t already, go read the Entrepreneur’s Quest series — once you see what we are doing in that content, it will change how you view this work, and your connection to your audience.

In the next chapter, we’re going to talk about scale, virality, and why you don’t need as large an audience as you might think.

Click the button below when you’re ready to continue…

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