Coming up with a Marketing Plan for a new TTRPG business

With a Strategy in mind, it's now time to think about Marketing this TTRPG business.

Before I get too far I want to say that a marketing strategy is going to be unique to your business. There are many approaches, and one-size doesn't fit all. If you don't believe me, believe these folks in this medium post organized by dungeoncommandr. This article covers far more than I do here, and comes from people that have actual sales to speak of.

Still though, this post will be useful though to other would-be operators of a TTRPG publishing business. You can see what I am planning to do, and that might give you some ideas how to market your own stuff. Or give you ideas what not to do.

This is Marketing 101, first day of class stuff I'm about to talk about. It's not fancy, and that's why I like it.

The importance of these basics, I'll illustrate with a simple image. Here you see a foolish vendor, who has set up shop on a plateau far from anywhere you'd ever hope to see a customer. What are they selling? No, not water, or other supplies you might need if you are out in the middle of nowhere. Books! How are they promoted these books in this terrible location? Why, with a great big sign right on top of the building! These books are on sale though, so surely the prices are so great no one could refuse. Except, any price is too much. No one wants to lug books down from that plateau. 

What you sell. In my case, it's going to be TTRPG books and related things promoting game design as a lifestyle.

Where you sell. Like most people will, I have a mix of places I'm going to sell. I'll have a mix of offline and online.

The price you sell your products for to each customer type. This is in my opinion mostly an accounting problem. You tally up your costs, figure out the potential profit margins based on your business goals, and set accordingly. I'm going to do an entire separate post about this because I and many others have lost money due to incorrect pricing. 

How you promote the products you're selling to who you are selling to. I'm selling direct to customers and to partners who will re-sell or act as a point-of-contact for our products. Selling direct to customers and selling to retail partners are two separate paths I'm familiar with. I don't want to tell you what to do, but, if you're selling physical games, you would do well to have some retail partners that suit your goals. 

These four items really encompass enough to get a tiny business like mine on the right path. 

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Basics out of the way, it's time to build some Buyer Personas, if you want to make your own click that link to a great HubSpot Tool they made just for that purpose. These are fictional representations of the customers you will focus your marketing efforts on. One of the best ways to create this personas is to interview your existing customers. Since I haven't launched yet, this isn't an option. So for me, the best way to build a person is through market research.

I've spent the last year doing market research, so I'm already done. 

I did was a combination of things. Google's Keyword Planner, Google Trends, Google Surveys, Internet Research, & Interviews. 

Google Keyword Planner is great for finding out how many people are searching for terms related to your business. It shows you related search terms, competition on ads, and is generally a great way to figure out if you can count on SEO to bring people in. 

Google Trends lets you do all kinds of neat stuff with search data. You see things from a high level view which reveals things you may not have been aware of. In my case, though I've always used the term "pen and paper game", or "pen and paper rpg". Through Trends I can see that these are not terms with wide usage. For SEO purposes, TTRPG seems like the clear winner.

Google Surveys is a simple and affordable way to get surveys in front of your potential customers. Not just that, but it helps you identify who your customer is not. The way it works is as people are browsing the web and trying to access premium content, they can take a Consumer Survey to do so. You can set criteria so you're only getting the demographics you want, or you can cast a wide net. The data you can get once you've mastered how and what questions to ask can be valuable for a lot of things. In my case, this data shaped my product and built my Buyer Personas.

Internet Research is an undervalued and underutilized component of Market Research. Forums, Reddit, Facebook Groups, Discord/Slack communities, Twitter, are all worth their filesize in gold. Neil Patel has a comprehensive guide on this. You don't even need to actively ask questions, you can often get all the info you could ever want lurking. As long as you spend your time where people are talking about the same products or services that you offer, you are set. Make sure to take an organized approach, don't just scroll forums endlessly. I'll admit I fall into that trap sometimes, and start considering things that are a waste of time.

Interviews are my favourite research tool. There are a lot of ways to approach this, but I like to be as casual as possible. Few of the people I've interviewed intitially realized it was an interview. I had topics in mind I wanted to get peoples opinions on, and when the chance came up, I'd work the topics in. Conversations last 10-20 minutes, and I've had them everywhere. In my friend circles TTRPGs are pretty common, so pretty much every social gathering or party I come away with data. I've had these same conversations with complete strangers at pubs, books stores and coffee shops. A few times at the library.

I did things more formally a few times, but I found the quality of data and cost of getting it less agreeable that the casual way. People are just more honest when they aren't worried about answering correctly. In a more formal setting I waste a lot of time just getting the person comfortable in their answers. When they know it's an interview, they worry that their answers are too short, or too long, or too emotional, or petty, or whatever. But that's the good stuff! You want as close to an unfiltered opinion as possible.

There's another great place to gather info through interviews. The good old fashioned internet. 

With my market research data in hand I was able to pinpoint some interesting stuff I never would have realized had I not done my research. 

Some key takeaways I found became the basis for my Buyer Personas.

Cordell Quist
I found in the range of 18-25, there were a large number of veteran TTRPG players. More than I realized. Their educations varied, but there were a surprising number of Associate Degrees. They were most often in more practical creative areas, like Music Production, or Graphic Design. Pretty cool so far, but it just got cooler. There were a lot of musicians, ranging from amateur to damn good. Turns out a lot of them make beats. And almost all worked at a store of some kind. Know what else? A ton of them were non-binary. In this particular age range more than any other, the cultural backgrounds were endlessly varied.

Rosa Figueras
From 26-35, I learned there was an influx of TTRPG players with only a few years experience. Again the range of education varied, but there were a lot of Masters Degree's, especially by women. Many were swimmers and runners and rock climbers. Pretty much everyone had a cool creative hobby. Lots of jewelry designers, illustrators, writers, more musicians. Many people in this group work in IT, and many of them are managers. Women of colour really stood out here as well.

Bill Desrosier
More surprises for me, with 36-45 range there were a lot of people that always wanted to get into TTRPGs, but never did. There were plenty of veterans, but I had assumed people in that age range would have their opinions formed on TTRPGs. Just goes to show, never assume anything about groups of people based solely on their age, or any other factor. Talk to people, instead. Bill's group also had a lot less education than I assumed they did. Almost all were video gamers. A lot of them played team sports, or cooked, or baked, or brewed craft beer. A lot of them also owned businesses, or were partners in businesses. Always small, independent ventures. Not a single franchise owner found. And I wasn't too surprised to find most of them were white men.

After I found of these things, I noticed each of them reminded me of a few people I knew in real life. I reached out to some of them and told them what I was working on, and asked if they would talk to me a little bit to help with that. Luckily everyone was keen to help, and I was able to ask them all some more detailed questions. These responses were the final pieces I needed to craft my Buyer Personas.

And so, my real-world contacts became the visual representation of my Buyer Personas. I changed their names of course, borrowed those from other people I know.

For the data I have, and the areas I'm planning to sell, I feel like this is a good trio to start with. These are all people I would like to make products for. A black, non-binary musician that helps people buy instruments. A filipino illustrator that manages an IT department at a hospital. A trans cafe & bar owner that dropped out in their first semester to instead get an entry level job at a bakery. The real life people I talked to are cool as hell, and so too are the Buyer Personas they helped to inform.

When I am making decisions, I'll have these Personas to guide me to the right path. Because there are so many options, a good grasp of one or a few Buyer Personas can be a really effective tool to help me decide what to do.

If I have a product I think Cordell would find interesting, I'll approach it differently than I would Bill. Cordell and Bill may have some things in common, but they also access information in different ways, even on the same platform. When Cordell picks up a Scraps Burgers book, they have a lot of expectations based on 8 years of experience looking at other books like it. Bill however, won't know what he's looking at. He knows he likes looking at it, but doesn't know what any of it means.

Rosa sits somewhere in the middle, and she will have some expectations and understanding of TTRPGs. From my research, she probably plays D&D, but is open to new systems.

Now as useful as I think a set of Buyer Personas can be, it's important to note that they can and will change over time. Especially in the case of new businesses like mine, I may find the people who I expected to be customers might not be.

As my business grows and I start making sales, I'll be able to get a clearer idea of who my ideal customers are.

If you already have sales, look at who your best customers are. Try to learn as much as you can about those customers, and craft a Buyer Persona around them. The more you understand about them, the more you can craft your marketing strategy to getting more customers like them.

With my Buyer Personas taken care of, it's time to put things together into an actionable Marketing Plan

To start, I need to consider everything up until now and how it all fits into my potential marketing plan. A plan should have a clear mission, a strategy, initiatives and objectives..

My mission is to expand awareness of and promote making and playing TTRPGs.

My strategy will be to emulate skate and snow companies. I will treat game designers, writers and artists like underground stars. Their names will be on merch and in advertisements and promotions. They are the pillar of what I'm trying to do with this business and without them I'd have nothing. I will treat my customers like future stars. Each of them capable of making wonderful games.

My focus will be on three key initiatives, which each have objectives.

Build Brand Awareness
Gain 1000 Followers per year
You may think this is low. It intentionally is. Because I'm making products with finite numbers made, I don't want more customers than I need. If I grow too fast, I run the risk of unsatisfied would-be customers. I'm not trying to build the TTRPG equal to Supreme. I'm not doing limited runs to increase scarcity. I'm doing it to underline my stance that everyone is a future star. As far as I'm concerned, the books Scraps Burgers publishes are cultural artifacts. They are objects of art, created by many hands, each the main character in their own epic tale. Their price will reflect that. The materials will reflect that. Effort will go into spreading this idealism to everyone that encounters me or this brand. And 1000 people per year is probably more than I need. But it's a good number, not only is it low enough to be manageable, it's high enough to alert me to performance issues in my marketing efforts.

Build Street Team
Inspired once again by skate, snow and adjacent brands, a Street Team will be a crucial element of marketing this brand. I'll be utilizing this marketing technique more in the guerilla style. For example, something I would NEVER DO, OFFICER, is commission some Scraps Burgers street art. 

No, just kidding, that's exactly what I'm going to do. Only it will be in partnership with whoever owns the walls I want said street art on. And by street art, I mean putting up flyers and stickers in local community spaces where permitted. And by stickers I mean stickers still on their backing. So like, you can take it home with you and stick it wherever you want. Just a free gift. Well, free advertisement. But let's not get too technical here...

Seriously though, street teams will be on and offline friends of Scraps Burgers. They take part in receiving and distributing marketing materials. In return, they receive cash money in the form of an hourly rate. And probably some sort of exclusive hat or something that tells everyone else in the world how extra cool they are.

Create Content for other businesses
I'll happily exchange labour for advertising space. With the right partners it can be mutually beneficial. I'll partner with other key small businesses in need of fresh content, and trade it. I'll mention the 1000 followers per year again here in that I don't want a bigger audience than I can handle. I need to be careful not to reach too high too fast, because you never know when that dream contact accepts your pitch.

Increase Leads
Attend Markets, Conventions, & Make Pop-Ups
My leads are both customers and people buying into the idea I'm trying to sell that they too can and should be a game designer. Sales aside, I want to build relationships with people that have an interest in making games. I want to be an encouraging voice to those people. But I do have a responsibility to the game designers I'm representing to sell every last book. So getting out there at key events will be key to selling books and selling the lifestyle.

Build In-Store Catalogs for Retail Partners
I've had a couple retailers express interest in a catalog-style consignment deal. The catalog would be on display and people would be able to order a product directly from the store for pickup at a later date. This is nice for me because my inventory is so limited. I don't want to have my limited supply out on consignment because that's a big risk. Damage and theft potential hurts too much when you only have a few hundred of a thing. It may end up being that customers aren't receptive to this, but that's part of the fun of this for me is experimentation. Testing novel ideas, old ideas, ideas from other industries. Being small means I can do this kind of stuff easily and at a scale that fits my tiny budget.

Set-up affiliate program for Online Partners
The Online Partners I'm looking at won't necessarily be exchanging money with customers. So they will have their own individual coupon codes where when someone buys as a result of their suggestion they get a cut. 

Close Deals
Secure Retail and Online Partnerships

I need to close some deals with retail and online partners. Because the time I have to work on this is so limited, it's important thatI make the best use of that time. Securing these key partnerships will help me sell more. More than that, they will help me with my mission to expand awareness of TTRPGs. I am going to be putting these books in places you wouldn't normally expect to find a TTRPG. This is a risk, but one I can afford to make as a tiny operation.

That's the gist of my plan at this juncture. Things might change as I go, but for now this is where I'll focus my efforts.