As we all get more accustomed to working from home, board games provide a great mental break. But beyond offering a fun distraction, board games can teach us some very useful things. Whether you’re a connoisseur or just an occasional dabbler, here are five valuable marketing lessons from board games.
Codenames: Make Each Word Count
Codenames features a 5×5 grid of cards, all with one word on them. Two clue givers try to get their team to guess the words that match their color by giving a one-word clue. Sometimes, a word fits multiple clues; for example, the clue “fly” might work for both “mosquito” and “ball.”
Where Codenames gets tricky is in the words that don’t belong to your team. An incorrect guess may land on an empty spot, which is generally harmless. But your team may guess one of the words that belongs to the other team, or, in a worst case scenario, they guess the assassin space, causing you to lose the game immediately.
It’s crucial, then, to make each word count. Thankfully, in marketing, we tend to have more than one word to get our message across. A smart marketing professional will carefully craft a story, choosing the proper words that offer the most benefit. You don’t want a message to get convoluted because of poor word choices or confusing sentences.
Embracing the power of words works whether you’re writing a blog post or creating a graphic for a newsletter or social. You want your message to make a positive impact, so take the time to hone it.
Clue: Read the Room
Besides being one of the few movies that showed alternate endings to theatergoers, Clue requires paying careful attention to what’s going on around you. Before you accuse Professor Plum of using the lead pipe in the Billiard Room, you better be darn sure you’ve got things right. Making an incorrect accusation prevents you from moving your piece or making any other suggestions or accusations for the rest of the game. If you share your message (of murder) too early, you may find yourself shunned.
In the wake of COVID-19, you’ve probably gotten an email from a company—or more likely, every company you’ve ever made a purchase from—sharing their response to the pandemic and how they’re working to help customers get through it. While it’s certainly noble that brands want to offer themselves as a resource, it’s not always necessary. The coronavirus may be the most recent example of companies trying to insert themselves into a popular conversation, but it’s not the first.
Before jumping into a conversation, ask if it makes sense for your brand to do so. Certain events, say, the Super Bowl, are well known across the nation, and brand interaction with customers is expected. But on other occasions, it might be a stretch to get involved.
Many people argued the widely panned Pepsi commercial featuring Kendall Jenner trivialized the Black Lives Matter movement, wondering why a soda company was suddenly commenting on issues of social justice. But even a less divisive issue—like a solar eclipse—doesn’t mean you have to hop on the bandwagon just because you sell a somewhat round product.
Read the room before sharing something online. Consider your industry, your customers, your marketing channels, and your brand voice. If it still seems like a good fit, feel free to engage with a trending moment. But if you’re a B2B company that rarely uses social media, it’s going to look silly when you’re suddenly showing everyone how your office is trying to plank everywhere.
Wing It: The Game of Extreme Storytelling—Embrace the Power of Creativity
Wing It is kind of a mix of Apples to Apples and Mad Libs. Players are given five resource cards, and on each turn, they must use exactly three of them to help navigate the situation card for the round. For example, the situation card may put you in a flooding bathroom, having to stop the flow of water before it leaks downstairs onto your neighbor’s exotic stamp collection. Meanwhile, your resources may include simpler items like an ice axe or a chalkboard, or more advanced things like an “overly peppy customer service representative” or a “very strong rubber band the size of a doorway.”
You then tell a story using your resource cards, trying to impress the round’s judge with the best story. Maybe you used the enormous rubber band to fling the chalkboard at the source of the flood, creating a barricade and stopping the flow of water. Then you drew a smiley face on the mirror with your one piece of chalk that survived the flight.
You can have a very funny resource card but if you don’t use it creatively, you might not win. Alternatively, your list of resource cards might seem fairly subdued, though with a few clever sentences, you can score a point.
Storytelling is a critical tool for any marketer. Whether you’re writing a press release, dropping a tweet, or leading a team meeting, think about the most impactful way to get your message across. What will cause a potential customer to stop and actually read what you’ve written or listen to what you’ve said?
Much like Wing It is better with multiple players, there’s also power in sourcing your colleagues for advice. Can’t quite figure out how to word a key sentence? Run it by your deskmate, or ask someone who’s not involved with the project for their take. Sometimes an outside perspective can help you see something you’ve been missing—and the end result will be improved because of it.
The Settlers of Catan: The Same Thing Won’t Work Every Time
You could play The Settlers of Catan a hundred times and encounter a different game each time. That’s largely due to the randomness of rolling dice, but also the board itself, which is laid out in a random configuration every game.
In Catan, the goal is to be the first player to reach 10 victory points. Points can be scored through building settlements, cities, roads, and earning development cards. At the start of the game, the different land hexes are randomly distributed. You can also randomly assign the numbers that correspond to the dice rolls. Each turn, a player rolls two dice so that resources (wood, brick, wheat, ore, and sheep) can be distributed accordingly. The resources are handed out based on the settlements and cities you have built that are touching the number rolled on the dice. That level of randomness can have an impact on your strategy.
For example, let’s say you had a settlement that was touching two forests and one hill, giving you an abundance of wood and brick. Those are the resources needed to build roads, so you might try to go for the Longest Road card, which gives you bonus victory points. In another game, you might find yourself heavy on wheat, ore, and sheep. This time, your bread and butter will be with development cards, or you might try to work your way to a port so you can trade in your ample resources for ones that are more scarce.
You’ll need to adjust your strategy based on the situation in front of you, just like with any marketing campaign. What worked perfectly last time may not be as efficient this time around. Twitter may do something like remove Audience Insights, and if you used that tool for a previous campaign, you’ll have to find an alternative. The entire digital landscape may have changed, too. Just look at current times: a two-month campaign launched in January is going to have a completely different strategy and messaging than a two-month campaign launched tomorrow.
Using different strategies can be a good thing, though. You should constantly be evolving your thinking, and trying something new that makes sense for the situation is a great way to stretch those mind muscles.
Guess Who: Build Audience Personas
The premise of Guess Who is simple: you and your opponent are both looking at the same set of 24 names and faces. Each player picks a card from a deck of 24 cards with the same images. You take turns asking elimination questions, such as, “Does your person have brown hair?” and try to figure out who’s on the card.
In essence, you’re building a persona, which is a sound strategy for any business. While in Guess Who you’re figuring out if your person wears a hat or has a big nose, in marketing, you’re using personas to flesh out your target customers.
For instance, a restaurant with a frequently changing menu that offers both sit-down and grab and go options might develop two audience personas. Lisa, a 45-year-old mother of three who loves sharing new food with her children, earns $80,000 a year, and plays tennis on the weekends would be an ideal sit-down customer. Meanwhile, Matt, a 26-year-old grad student who hates cooking and balances evening improv classes with schoolwork would eat up the grab and go options.
Using a mix of customer data, audience research, and industry trends is a great way to start building your personas. When you imagine customers as individuals, it becomes much easier to engage with them. That can lead to improved sales and smarter strategy overall.
Image by MorningbirdPhoto