Chick-fil-A was not made for me.
I’m a Southern woman, in my 20s, with a fulltime job. I regularly eat fast food and I love chicken.
But Chick-fil-A isn’t for me.
By this basic description, I should fit in their target market. But I’m not. Why?
For one, I have a different belief system. I support LGBT+ rights while their owners do not. Even if their funding receipts never made the light of day, I still wouldn’t be in their target audience.
Have you ever gone to a Chick-fil-A drive thru? If you have, then you’ll know how long they can get- but more importantly, how they take your order before you reach the menu sign most of the time. The employees walk around (yes, they’re walking about taking orders, there’s no intercom) with menus they can hand you, but the expect you to already know your order.
For someone like me, I don’t know what I want from them. I can say my usual order at some fast food restaurants, but at Chick-fil-A that’s the standard. Their typical (drive thru, at least) patron isn’t me. So who is it?
Their standard patron, as a previous coworker who worked there told me, were regulars. Not people who came in once every week or two- no, these were people who came daily. They don’t need a menu because they know what they want. They don’t need new items to add to the menu because their customers get the same order or two every time. These are people who have added a run by the restaurant as part of their daily routine, much like someone would add a coffee from Starbucks to their morning.
I could go into more specifics like how I prefer other chicken places, there’s not a location close enough to me, etc. but I think we get the picture. Chick-fil-A makes it abundantly clear that I am not its target audience by not providing menus. They easily could- they could install more menu signs along the drive thru, as they’re known to become lengthy, or they could train employees to first hand customers a menu. But they don’t. Why?
In a way, the topic I’m about to talk about is the inverse of a concept I wrote about 2 years ago. In that article I talked about how some companies with similar audiences team up, because they understand their customers and can guess what else they’ll like. Today we’re going to talk about the inverse- understanding what your customers don’t like and how to signal this.
So Chick-fil-A’s drive thru doesn’t have a menu readily available. Why? Because it’s a flag to people like me that Chick-fil-A isn’t made for me.
Shouldn’t we want to keep new customers, though? Why would we want to push away a potential customer?
your target audience is not everyone
Your target audience is not everyone. But in order to let that really sink in, we need to also accept the other side of the coin.
Most people are not your target audience.
Even the biggest blockbusters, the hugest games of all time, are played by only a portion of people in the world. It’s hard to accept, but most people out there- even a lot of the people you’ll approach- aren’t your target audience. They won’t have heard of your game, much less be interested in it.
Not everyone is going to play your game, much less know about it. So let’s focus on the first hundred or so people who will play your game.
who and why
What is your game about? Who are you making it for? Why are you making it?
I’ve talked extensively about finding who your target audience is. Don’t try and skip past this step, but also don’t think you have to get this right on the first try. Try things, test things, and don’t be afraid to change your assumptions.
The marketing funnel isn’t easy to set up but vital if you plan on selling anything. Basically, the marketing funnel is how people go from hearing about your product to buying it and the various steps they take along the way.
How are you approaching newcomers about your game? Are you pitching it as a visual novel with “choices that matter” and “emphasis on story telling and interesting characters”? Sorry, but that’s what most visual novel readers expect from visual novels. If you approach potential fans in ways that can be seen as condescending or just tone deaf, you won’t get far.
On the other hand, are you pitching your game with respect to your specific audience? Are you making a visual novel with an asexual protagonist and talking about relatable things for ace people? An outside attempt at this might look something like “let’s make sex repulsed jokes”, but someone speaking to the community with their perspective in mind would understand that there are a variety of opinions about sex in the community, from repulsion, to humor, to acceptance.
Let’s continue with these 2 examples and look at their flags/signals they’re showing at the awareness stage.
a “good” visual novel
You’ve pitched your visual novel as having “choices that matter”, a “focus on story”, “beautiful artwork”, etc., etc., but that’s it. This might sound like a good pitch for general gamers, but to VN players this is a terrible pitch at best and an insult pitch at worst. Why?
- All of your highlights are things VN players expect. We expect our visual novels to have great graphics (the “visual” part) and great attention to the story (the “novel” part). Where are the actual highlights of your game?
- You’ve told us nothing about your VN. We want to know what your VN is about. We don’t care if its being “innovative” so much as we want to know what the heck your story is about and what makes it interesting.
Both of these are flags. They tell visual novel players that this project is made by someone who either has not read many visual novels or worse, looks down on visual novels. We’ve seen people use these phrases before- they’re people who don’t read VNs, so we associate this wording with people who don’t have our best interests in mind.
These flags might interest non-visual novel players, but you’re alienating people already in the community. These are not flags you want to mess with.
Don’t call your visual novel “not like other visual novels” without giving us a good explanation of why.
an ace visual novel
You’ve pitched your visual novel as not just a visual novel, but specifically a visual novel with ace representation for ace people. You talk about relatable things for ace people from the viewpoint that understands the community. This pitch isn’t focused on visual novel players, but rather ace people who might be interested in visual novels.
- You’re not pandering or offending the community. Whether you, the marketer, are ace or not, you’ve taken the time to understand ace people. You’ve taken the time to see what the community likes and dislikes and how they feel about representation.
- People not interested in ace fiction know it’s not for them. You’re upfront that the story will talk about being ace and feature ace characters. Most people who disagree with that will be pushed away.
The first flag is for your target audience. It lets them know this game is for them, that you know something they’d like.
However, the second flag is for people not in your target audience. It tells them that this game isn’t for them. “This doesn’t interest me” isn’t a bad thing. You want some people to immediately turn away if it’s clear they’re not your target audience.
negative flags are positives
Why waste your time guiding someone down the marketing funnel for your game when they won’t be interested in the finished project? Now, scale that up. What happens if you end up spending most of your marketing efforts on people who aren’t your target market? People who would’ve left the funnel earlier on if they’d seen the right flag?
We only have a limited amount of time, a limited reach, a limited amount of resources for reaching people. If you can, don’t waste it on people who don’t care.
Fine tune your pitch. Don’t be afraid to throw it out and change it. Always ask this:
Who are you making your game for? Who are you not making your game for?
wrapping up, part 1
I’ve been going through a rebranding of sorts the past few months. Call it a realization, a mid-20s crisis, whatever you want. I realized I was tired of making dating sims and games that are primarily boys/girls love for the time being. Instead, I want to make queer action games, games that don’t focus on being queer but rather are fantasy stories that feature characters that are gay, trans, and more.
My games are for people who grew up reading Shounen Jump and still love chuuni stories, but want to see less heterosexual gaze. My games are not for people who dislike common chuuni tropes or want a focus on romance rather than plot.
Crimson Waves on the Emerald Sea features an adult gay couple, but I don’t pitch it as a boys love game, because it doesn’t fit the picture that the tag “boys love” paints in people’s minds. I pitched it as a Victorian vampire character drama that’s a little gay, and over 40,000 people in the awareness stage liked that.
It’s not for people looking for a romance-focused story, so I don’t call it that. It’s also not for people who don’t want gay romance in their stories, so I clarify that.
To end the discussion part of the article, I’ll leave a personal experience I had a couple months ago.
One of my friend groups is a group of talented, passionate game devs. A lot of us also happen to like anime and have anime-looking avatars. One day, I hear about something- a game dev I’d heard about wanted to meet us, but immediately turned away. Why?
They saw we had anime avatars.
I thought it was a joke at first, when another person told me this. But they continued- the game dev had assumed that, because we like anime, that we would be bigoted. This was a laughable assumption for my friend group, as over half of us are LGBT+. For this game dev, though, it was a real concern and they immediately turned around without getting to know us or even see what we talk about. This was a flag to them, a flag that in the past had told them “these are people who I won’t fit in with”.
Obviously, people shouldn’t go around and assume anime = bigot. But the point I’m trying to make is that everyone has their own assumptions. Everyone has their own beliefs, their own flags that have been shaped by their world view.
You cannot please everyone. So, at least, try to be a decent person and please yourself.
wrapping up, part 2
Like I said, I’ve been going through a rebranding as of late, so I wanted some new reading material. I picked up This is Marketing by Seth Godin, a marketing master who’s abbreviated seminar I took last year. While I enjoyed it, I can’t wholly recommend it to the average developer. I can see his style of writing frustrating developers as he focuses on iteration-driven businesses rather than creative endeavors. However, if marketing interests you, pick up the book and check out some more of his work.
A lot of us can feel stuck in the marketing funnel, like we’re just throwing posts out there to the wind. Like we’re the only ones who care about the game we’re making. Stay passionate about your game! You’re the only one who can bring your vision to life in your own unique way. Someone out there will appreciate that.