There are a multitude of similarities between the sectors of online gaming and video gaming; each driven by the latest generation of technology; skilled teams looking to create hit graphically charged games; boasting multi-million budgets and followed by a dedicated base of players and fans. However, according to Giles Thomas, founder and partner, MIMO Brands, the similarities are as nothing compared to one striking difference - where video gaming has its iconic brands such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Lara Croft and Call of Duty - there are, in his opinion, few if any defining brands in online gaming yet. Mr. Thomas is a branding expert with experience across a range of different categories and has acute knowledge of the video gaming sector as the former European Marketing Director at SEGA, having also worked in the same role for MTV Networks Europe. His view is that all marketers can benefit from the learning and experiences of their piers in other sectors, and that an insular approach can only lead to isolation to a sector, including potentially igaming.
Brands People Love
"If you look at the brands people love, the ones they most associate with, you’ll find none currently from the world of igaming, which I believe is a missed opportunity given the size of the online gaming business” states Mr Thomas. "The online gaming sector is at the point the video gaming industry was before the arrival of brands such as Sonic, Tombraider, Harry Potter and Call of Duty. These new brands were driven by a different approach to brand development and marketing, and they set new benchmarks for their industry. iGaming marketers can choose to embark on a similar path to create brands with meaning and value, to spark their own brand revolution, or to continue to rely on the trench warfare of free trial and incentives."
Mr. Thomas references numerous industries in which the creation of brands redefined the sector. Mobile phone industry branding and marketing were revolutionised by Hutchinson Telecom launching the Orange brand that promised a brighter, wire-free future in a sector previously content with fighting a coverage and price war. In so doing the brand created customer preference and enormous value for then and future parent companies. Apple changed the multiple clone PC sector into the biggest brand on the planet. And the question is, can the online gaming sector do the same? "Online gaming can enter a new phase and begin to think bigger about brands - it needs to move from 'look what we can do' into customer orientated brands whereby players think - 'that's the brand for me,'" states Mr. Thomas.
There are strong parallels between the igaming sector and the early years of the video gaming sector; each with very fragmented markets. However, as we saw in video gaming, the online sector will consolidate and as that happens the combined budgets allow for the creation of a different type of branding. It's not entirely budget led - but the desire to build long-term properties is about more than quarterly revenue figures. "Currently, the online gaming sector appears to be dominated by the short-termist view, whereas building brands requires quite opposite thinking," explains Mr. Thomas.
Current iGaming Campaigns
If you look at some of the advertising campaigns currently promoting igaming businesses, there remain massive cliches and stereotypes that are actually being encouraged by the companies involved. Actors renowned for playing gangsters help to reinforce perceptions of the category held by the wider public. "The semiotics of gambling communication have not only remained largely the same, but usually been reinforced - the strong common visual language that portrays poker in darkened rooms, betting conducted by hard men, and a sector that celebrates a slightly seedy image," said Mr. Thomas. "Given the technology behind many of these sites is much the same, every brand has the opportunity to think about building their own unique attributes. The makers of fizzy coloured water in cans can create brands as different as Coca Cola from Pepsi. Lager is very similar whatever can it is poured from, but the way the brand is perceived by the public is down to the way the owners have branded their products, injecting attitude, meaning and values that differentiate the product experience."
The negative public opinion surrounding betting and online gambling isn't something that phases Mr. Thomas or dampens his view of the potential of brands in igaming. "The video gaming industry received an enormous amount of stick over the last 15 years for its pedalling of increasingly violent games, partly aimed at young people," outlined Mr. Thomas. "The igaming sector must tackle similar challenges by really engaging with their customers. Branding helps define how you talk to your customers and behave around them - understanding your customer relationship is key, and the relationship between players, games, money and the emotional benefits of igaming. For example, there are many different types of players from novice to hard-core gamer, all playing for a slightly different combination of reasons. Businesses need too understand everything they can about their customers and build their brands around these insights."
"In my view, PaddyPower has demonstrated best an intention to create a differentiated brand. They have adopted some of the language of lager brands to create preference, and in so doing have managed to stand out from the igaming crowd. Their communication is usually unmistakably their own, which is a claim that few if any other igaming providers can make. This is a sector currently occupied by ‘brands’ where the customer is selecting their product of choice through promotion and convenience, rather than through brand association. Which is a shame, because there are multitude of opportunities for them to differentiate. Frankly, if insurance companies and price comparison sites can successfully differentiate, then you can bet that igaming brands can."