In part 1, I discussed the runup to GenCon. In part 2, I discussed actual events at the con. Here I will discuss the outcome of our initiatives. The first two parts were a little touchy-feely, mainly dealing with my feelings of dread leading up to the con. If you don’t care about my GenCon depression and instead want some cold business numbers and analysis, then this post is the right place to be.
We bought 3 matching bowling shirts from bowlingshirt.com. They came out to roughly $70/each including shipping, so they definitely weren’t cheap. The thought, however, was that with a big logo on our backs, we would be easy to spot for any of our fans. My hope was to get more people coming up to us so we could chat with members of our community.
Unfortunately, that really only happened twice in the entire con. Both times it was really cool, but the second time was especially nice. Ryan and I were in Subway eating right before the ENnies when we were spotted. We were a little nervous about the awards, so we banked some good karma by buying dinner for the three guys who spotted us. Hopefully they all ran home and immediately signed up for Ascendant memberships, but even if not, doing stuff like that is still my favorite way of spending our Obsidian Portal money.
Ultimately, I’d say the shirts were a bit of a wash. Not the worst spend of our money, but still not a smashing success. The fact that they’re reusable for con after con is a big plus, though. There’s an upfront sunk cost, but as long as I don’t gain too much weight, I can wear the same shirt to the next con.
Of course, I had to have one of E's stickers as well
We were planning on handing out stickers, but E of GeeksDreamGirl warned us that giving out stickers was against GenCon policy, presumably because people would stick them up everywhere. However, she pointed us toward badge stickers, and I’m very glad she did. For about $80 we picked up 250 badge stickers with our name and logo on them, which works out to roughly $0.35 per-item-price.
The badge stickers were a big hit, with people wanting to grab one even if they didn’t know who we were. Plus, they served as excellent business cards. If someone was curious about the site, I would just hand them a sticker and tell them to check us out later. I knew there was a much better chance they’d remember if they saw it sticking to their badge than if they just pocketed a card or stuffed a flyer in their bag.
Honestly, I’m surprised more people aren’t printing stickers. Mayfair Games gives out dozens, but otherwise pretty much nobody does. I guess I’m glad, because it helps ours stand out more. If you’re one of the five or so people who read this blog, now you’re in on the secret.
$4 worth of tokens...
We also ordered 100 plastic tokens to give away as…well…tokens. They were just a little trinket to hopefully entice people and reward our fans. They can also be used in-game as an action point, fate point, or whatever benny your system provides.
The per-item-price on the tokens was about $1.00, considerably higher than the stickers. Were they a good buy? It’s hard to say, since we really can’t get any kind of direct ROI measure on them. My gut feeling is that they were less enticing than the stickers, and people didn’t really know what to do with the tokens. Maybe they’ll find it when going through their bags at home, but then they’ll probably just toss it.
We really wanted to get some laser etched wooden ones, which looked nicer and were cheaper (about $0.60/each at 100 quantity), but we couldn’t get in touch with the manufacturer so had to switch to plastic at the last minute. I must say I was pleased with the quality of the Dapper Devil plastic tokens, and the service was fast and professional.
If you absolutely need something to hand out, the tokens are a decent buy, but they’re pretty expensive and hard to really explain what they’re for. This is the part of schwag giving that makes no sense to me, like the rubber squeeze thingys that you get at a career fair. Does having a rubber squeezy from Microsoft really make me more likely to go work for them? Is it worth the $3 per-item-price? Others seem to think so, but I’m skeptical.
The future is coming!
Organizing and running the panels was pretty much free, which puts it right in the space of advertising I like. We didn’t collect tickets, so I’m not sure how well attended each one was, but I’d guess there were 30 or so at the Wiki panel and perhaps 40 or 50 at the Tech in RPG one.
Of all our promotional activities, I’d say this was our biggest success, especially the Tech panel. It didn’t occur to me before, but there were 2 real benefits here: a) We got to meet several tech insiders, like Mat Morton of d20 Pro and Brad Talton of Level 99 Games. Plus, b) We got to hear where these people think the future is. It was somewhat surprising to hear Mat echoing our thoughts on purchasable/downloadable content. Apparently, we’re not the only ones who are exploring this route. After the talk, he and I had a quick chat and I feel like I made a successful contact “on the inside.” Considering that “networking” was one of my goals, I was pleased to have succeeded in some small way.
My current plan is to host the Tech in RPG panel next year, and possibly each year to come. We can examine where we’ve gotten in the past year, plus discuss what has changed about our visions. The greedy business side of me says that if we can grow the panel each year, it might become a fairly prestigious event, with people really begging to be on the panel. Then again, maybe it will just be a fun and easy way to meet other cool tech people. That would be fine too.
Gorgeous, but that didn't seem to matter
As I mentioned in part 1, there were some red flags with our print advertising attempts. In order to get a positive return, we were going to need some stellar results. As is always the case, when you believe in yourself, ignore the feelings of self-doubt, and shoot for the stars…you fall short. Often, waaaay short.
We spent probably around $3k on print advertising, between the flyer and the coupon, both in the official schwag bag. But, we didn’t walk in blind. I set up several metrics, starting with a special landing page URL to help us track how many people visited via the ads. As of August 14th, the landing page had roughly 425 pageviews. Perhaps I’m abusing terminology a bit, but to me a pageview is roughly equivalent to a click-through on an online ad. $3,000 for 425 “clicks” comes out to about a $7.05 cost-per-click (CPC). Wow, that’s really f-ing expensive.
In addition, both the flyer and the coupon had a promo code to be used on signup, which in turn helps us track the conversion rate. As of August 14th, the promo code had been used 73 times. So, our cost-per-acquisition (CPA) comes out to right around $40. Again, that’s brutally expensive for us. Of those 73 signups, exactly zero have become Ascendant so far. That means we’ve made $0.00 on a $3,000 spend.
Also, we included a QR code in both ads to hopefully make it easier for people to engage with the ads. I was really, really hoping that the QR code plus a beautiful ad would result in a big success. According to our analytics, the QR code got us about 300 visits. Out of 30,000 flyers, we had 300 hits, or a 1% “engagement” rate, or whatever the measurement is. According to our signup stats, mobile visitors converted at a 10% rate, so the QR code possibly accounted for 30 of our 70+ signups. Final analysis: A QR code doesn’t change the fundamental fact that people didn’t really care about our flyer. A neat gimmick, but no panacea.
I think we can safely say that our paid advertisements were an abysmal failure. PLEASE! Let this be a cautionary tale to you: Advertising successfully is very tough, and don’t think you have to do it because everyone else is. Buying ads is a very seductive and easy way to throw your money away. Avoid the “spend money to make money” mentality. Instead, buy a new big screen TV or motorcycle or blow it all on drugs. Buy something that will make you happy, even for a moment. It’s so much more fulfilling than the black hole of advertising.
We decided to base our final analysis on a few factors: total signups, Twitter followers, and Facebook fans. Our thought was that even if we couldn’t get people to signup, perhaps we could catch them on Twitter or Facebook. To help with that, we include some prominent links to Facebook and Twitter on our landing page, along with some text saying something to the effect of, “If you think we’re full of shit, come check us out.”
||Not a lot…
|Landing page pageviews
|GenCon promo code uses
Note that the Facebook numbers are more than a little misleading, as we ran a Facebook sponsored story ad during GenCon. We spent $250 on this, and it got us 114 fans. So the total organic fans we got from GenCon would be around 25.
|Flyers and Coupon
Now is the part where I say, “Hey, it didn’t work, but at least we learned something”, but I call that the Learning Experience Coward’s Way Out. Sometimes you fuck up, and I think that’s what we did here. We should have known better based on our experience with other advertising experiments we’ve run. I wanted to believe that we could be successful this time, even if every other time was a failure. I thought that a gorgeous ad + QR code + a sexy landing page would be the secret sauce. I should know by now that there is no secret sauce. Some things just aren’t going to work.
My only hope is that we actually can learn something from this. We keep putting our hand into the advertising fire, and we keep getting burned. More and more, I’m of the opinion that any money we spend on advertising will just be a loss.
For the future, I’m going to do my best to ignore traditional advertising channels. If all it takes is a credit card, then it’s probably going to be a loss for us. Instead, I need to pursue more difficult, creative outlets. Cross-promotion, giveaways, and social media outreach have all been successful for us, and most of the time it costs us nothing. I need to look more at these less-traditional advertising avenues and see if there’s a way to spend money to enhance them, rather than just dumping cash into a black hole.
If you know of any other creative and cheap advertising outlets, please leave a comment. If I’ve learned one thing in all this it’s that I really don’t know what I’m doing in advertising, so there’s a good chance you know more about this than I do. But for now, it’s back to making a kickass website. At least that’s something I’m pretty good at!