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Viral marketing is a technique in which a company attempts to increase the popularity of its service or product among a group of people through buzz creation and word of mouth transmission in the targeted group and its network. Like a virus, it spreads fast and requires minimal direct transmission by the source after consumers receive the message. The audience does marketing for the organisation if they feel inspired enough to do so. Stakeholders in the toys and games industry require marketing strategies that could exploit new online market segments as well as augment their clout in traditional industries; viral marketing could be the ultimate solution.
Why the toys and games industry needs viral marketing
This sector is rife with competition and constant innovation. Video and online games now challenge traditional toys as a new favourite for buyers (European Competitiveness and Sustainable Industrial Policy Consortium, 2013). Furthermore, organisations are under increased pressure to introduce electronic components in their toys. As if this is not enough, many teenagers and children now use smart phones and tablets for leisure purposes (Patino et. al., 2012). A number of them like the interactivity of games in these platforms. It is for these reasons that organisations in the sector are now embracing new product ideas or facing additional pressure to remain relevant. In the wake of such competition, they require unconventional marketing techniques that will cut through the fluff.
Other trends affecting the toys and games industry include declining birth rates in the UK and the EU in general. This is also true for the US and other western markets. Additionally, children mature early, so they are likely to leave traditional games for online or video-based ones (Grimes, 2013). This market is also shrinking because children only play outdoor games marginally. Indoor games like puzzles may continue to report consistent growth while the latter will keep changing (Henry, 2003).
These variations are causing toy firms to look for new ways of maintaining profitability. Some of them are currently combining electronic devices with traditional toys. Furthermore, companies like Jumbo that produce board games are now using electronic platforms to offer their services. Some (such as Lego) rely on electronic gadgets like iPhones to give children ideas on how to build things with traditional blocks. Therefore, cross-over toys merging both worlds are becoming popular. Alternatively, new ways of playing traditional games are now emerging (Euromonitor, 2013).
Issues with distribution may also become a problem in the future. Specialist stores are facing competition from grocery stores as well internet channels like Amazon. It is now common to find a wide array of toys and games in large retail chains (Wong and Hvolby, 2007). Sometimes even competitions are held in these premises. As a result, organisations in the sector have to redefine their channels of distribution or risk extinction. Nonetheless, not all is lost as increases in licensed toys exist in mature markets. Entertainment companies like Disney licence the production of their goods to toy manufacturers. Consequently, toy manufacturers are able to minimise challenges associated with seasonality (Johnson, 2001). In just the UK alone, licensed toys account for 25% of market share (European Competitiveness and Sustainable Industrial Policy Consortium, 2013).
Toy manufacturers will be unable to remain profitable if they do not mould their marketing practices to suit these new developments. The shift towards electronic distribution and electronic products implies that marketing processes chosen ought to be captivating, yet affordable enough to accommodate declining revenues. Additionally, it needs to be uniquely suited to the internet, where most demand is shifting (Wu & Wang, 2011). Companies should be able to tap into a vast network of consumers relatively easily in comparison to traditional methods of marketing. Also since innovation is the order of the day, these organisations ought to have an effective method of telling their consumers about their new products. However, in order to minimise resistance, which is firmly engrained in western consumers’ minds, marketing techniques should be captivating, unique and witty (Dahlén et. al., 2009). Viral marketing appears to fit the bill in these entire fronts.
Viral marketing, as defined in the introduction paragraph, is relatively aggressive in comparison to conventional marketing techniques. It connects with consumers at a deeper level than mere advertising due its use of emotions (Tamilia, 2009). A viral marketing message is surprising and captivating. It draws consumers’ attention and causes them to unite with the organisation. While traditional techniques try to get to clients, this practice causes customers to come to the company. Viral marketing is not an attention-grabbing gimmick as this approach would not be sufficient to induce consumers into spreading the message (Schulze et. al., 2014).
Several features make the strategy ideal for the toys and games industry. First, this approach requires concentration of resources into creation of brief dominance. An organisation engaging in a viral marketing campaign ought to focus on one large promotional activity rather than several forms of marketing in different avenues. Toy sellers require such an approach in order to convey the message that their products are indeed superior (Brennan & Binney, 2010).
Secondly, the approach requires a combination of both an ideology and a product. This means that instead of merely getting the customer’s attention for the product, a company must sell the brand too. Viral marketing works not by concentrating on one item but by packaging the organisation as the brand of choice. It seeks to merge the consumer and brand in order to turn them into ambassadors (Caemmerer, 2009). Stakeholders in the toy industry could benefit from this fact because one toy may be insufficient to reach vast networks of clients. Firms ought to think holistically when selling their wares.
As mentioned earlier, market segments are shrinking. Children are maturing quickly, so several of them stop playing with toys even before adolescence. Furthermore, those that do play with toys do so in combination with electronic devices. Traditional toy manufacturers must be aggressive in order to fully capitalise on this shrinking group. Therefore, they need a marketing strategy that is unique. Viral marketing works by use of new patterns that have never been seen before. Promotional styles ought not to be replicated or else they would lose their touch (Mazodier et. al., 2009). If an organisation uses a terrifying baby doll to scare consumers into purchasing their products, then a competitor should not use the same strategy. This implies that companies should always strive to do something unique, which will keep them relevant in their respective markets.
Perception filters are firmly engrained in consumers’ minds today. Many individuals listen to hundreds of advertisements a day, so it is natural that they would block out advertising messages. Viral marketing requires sellers to do something surprising by challenging people’s defined notions about things (Ferguson, 2008). Toys and games are ideal for such unconventional strategies because consumers already have so many options. They receive several messages about these commodities, so they need to see something unexpected in order to be encouraged to act. This initial buzz will cause the message to spread exponentially like a virus.
How toy and game organisations can use viral marketing
Toy and game organisations can choose any location to launch their promotional activities. Regardless, of the platform they select, their message should be surprising and sensational (Grifoni et. al., 2013). For instance, when selling an action figure like Spiderman, they could have a real-life person dress up and pose in certain shops. This person could wear makeup that causes him to look like a mannequin. Thereafter, the model could scare passersby by moving. Toy companies should select unusual locations for this. Since the digital world is so crucial to their business, secret cameras can record people’s reactions and the videos posted to YouTube, target websites and the organisations as well (Jennett et. al., 2008). The message should create surprise and then be merged into the electronic world.
A company needs to have a means of diffusing the message. One way of achieving this is through the surprising effect of the communication. Additionally, selection of the right location in which a vast majority of people, especially those with children, can be exposed to the message is vital (Ay et.al., 2010). These individuals are likely to be prompted into telling others about the message. The use of digital media for purposes of transmission may also prompt individuals to diffuse the message.
Posting the message online is part of the strategy. Toy companies ought to take advantage of online sharing sites to further distribute the message. Facebook, twitter, Instagram and many more may be used to get the buzz going. Customers who connect with the message are likely to tell their friends through these platforms. Therefore, the toy and game organisations ought to have visible prompts that encourage viewers to share viral videos on their social networking accounts (Hinz et. al., 2011). They may also put incentives in place in order to encourage this diffusion. For instance, consumers could win certain prices for having the most connections to the viral video.
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Organisations should be cautious when designing their viral marketing messages. Since they need to be creative and surprising, sometimes some firms may choose fear to achieve this effect. However, consumers could get irritated and put off from the brand completely (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2011). There is a fine balance between being unconventional and irritating. Marketers should do proper research in order to ascertain that their messages do not cause unwanted reactions among audiences. This is the ultimate risk in employing such strategies. It places control over diffusion of the message in consumers’ hands. Therefore, organisations may not be able to alter how individuals perceive their messages.
The digital world makes it relatively easy to copy and imitate one another. Therefore, some analysts warn that there could be a possibility of one day having viral clutter. Consumers may get overwhelmed by these surprising messages to the point of losing the incentive to pass them on (Bryce, 2005). In essence, their viral character would be lost. It is thus incumbent upon toy manufacturers and games stakeholders to refrain from overusing this strategy just so that it will not saturate the market.
Perhaps one of the trickiest aspects of this avenue is making the distinction between customers and users and tailoring one’s message to them. If toys and games providers sell digital commodities, then their primary clients will be internet-based. This implies that they need to distinguish between the above two categories. A user is a person who interacts with the organisation and uses their free services while users are those that pay for services. These gaming firms ought to focus on users when preparing viral messages as these individuals are likely to understand the message and be converted into customers (Pousttchi & Wiedemann, 2007).
The process of combining this project was an insightful one. I learnt that sometimes certain marketing words may sound similar but are not synonymous. I understood the difference between viral, buzz and word of mouth marketing. The assignment also caused me to learn that not all product types are suitable for this strategic approach. Utilitarian products are best sold through more conventional marketing methods. Toys and games do not fall in this category, so they were quite appropriate.
I also found that one needs to immerse oneself in several forms of literature in order to complete a project such as this. Sometimes some articles may merely mention the topic in their literature review but do not apply it directly in their study. Therefore, one has to collect a number of such articles in order to get a comprehensive picture. The assignment has increased my research skills by making me selective about my subject matter.
Academic work can sometimes be abstract in nature. When learning about the toys and games industry, I thought about it in isolation. However, the assignment has shown how organisations in the real world have to merge numerous academic disciplines in order to solve problems. This will make me a better professional by exposing me to the complexities of the corporate world.
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