What Board Games Can Teach Us About Content Marketing Strategy

In case you didn’t know, we’re in the midst of a board game renaissance. Every month sees the release of new titles with clever design, high production value, and marvelous strategic depth. It’s a great time to be a board gamer with enough space to store it all and (amidst the pandemic) bubblemates to share in the fun.

The marketing strategies of the board game industry are quirky to say the least, and probably not terribly applicable to most other industries. But the games themselves can teach us valuable lessons about how people think and how to achieve success.

One of my favorite board games is practically neolithic by today’s standards. Alan B. Calhamer created Diplomacy in the 1950s. In classic Diplomacy, seven players take control of seven major European powers at the turn of the twentieth century. The game is played on an abstracted map of Europe, with each power controlling a mix of armies on land and fleets at sea.

The game’s mechanics are quite simple, with one important innovation: each turn the players write down their orders and simultaneously reveal them. The game’s simultaneous resolution of each move leads to enormous tension and – inevitably – outrageous betrayals (“stabs” in Diplomacy parlance). Over the decades it also has spawned dozens, if not hundreds, of imitators.

Between turns in Diplomacy, players negotiate. The Black Sea separates Russia and Turkey: do they demilitarize it, or do they risk letting the other player take that critical space in the name of friendship? England and France face similar issues with the English Channel. The game’s drama hinges on whether players follow through on their promises, or simply exploit the trust of their erstwhile ally to gain a stronger position.

I confess, I’ve snuck into the English Channel a time or two after promising not to.

Collaborate or perish

Diplomacy can be pretty brutal. In face-to-face sessions it’s often the case that one player is eliminated quickly enough to take responsibility for running out to pick up lunch for everyone else.

Experienced Diplomacy players understand that success in the game depends on having at least one strong ally. Trying to go it alone is a sure path to elimination even for the best tacticians. Until very late in the going, even the game’s strongest position will collapse if the rest of the board unites. Knowing when to bring out the knife against your game-long ally, and when to spot a stab coming, is one of the skills players must develop to earn the coveted solo victory.

Fortunately for content marketing professionals, our industry isn’t as cutthroat as a game of Diplomacy. But the success of our work hinges almost entirely on effective collaboration, with the goal of basking in the glow of a client’s victory.

Every marketing team needs a marketing team

Most businesses don’t have the resources for dedicated in-house marketing departments. Even those that do tend to ask their beleaguered crew of one or two people to deliver the work of a dozen.

Outside support is essential both to the business getting by without anyone dedicated to the marketing function and the company squeezing ten-thousand gallons of marketing demand through a straw. In either case, they need an ally to win.

At Red Mallard we’ve worked with in-house teams of one or two who are managing global campaigns across dozens of product lines, with localized flair and sensitivity to each regional office’s style. More often, we’ve worked with companies who have hit a ceiling using seat-of-the-pants marketing, and they need modernized marketing to get where they want to go.

The keys to marketing success

In each case, collaboration is how we make the magic happen. Like in a game of Diplomacy, where allies work together for (almost) the entire game to help each other grow and thrive, a content marketing engagement involves a lot of back-and-forth. Optimally it’s grounded in a few core principles you’ll find in the game and in our work:

  • Creativity. Partnering with an outside firm is all about fostering a flow of strategic and tactical insights that otherwise might be slow to develop without the outsider’s perspective. Your ally might see things you don’t, and vice versa.
  • Communication. Getting to know each other is important. We want to know everything we can about our clients, so we can learn to anticipate their needs.
  • Trust. Frank conversations and an openness to each others’ areas of expertise is vital to getting the most from what we do.
  • Longevity. We can handle one-off projects, but our specialty lies in building up a brand over time, leveraging our clients’ expertise to create content with lasting value.

What are your business’s goals for 2021? We’d like to be your content marketing ally. And we swear, we aren’t going to steal your home office. We’ll leave moves like that for game night.

Send us a quack and let us know how we can be of service.

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