"What marketing do I perform to promote my business? Uh, none really." So says the director of one of the biggest arcade chains in America. But he's hardly alone. Quite a few of his fellow FEC and arcade chain executives give the same answer. Likewise, many of America's largest street route operators perform little or no marketing. Many of the industry's leading manufacturers also say they don't market their products, nor do they assist operators in marketing them. The refrain is often heard: "It's a good game'it doesn't need marketing."
This line of thinking is seriously flawed. If McDonald's hamburgers still need marketing (which is different from paid advertising), then coin-operated games and music, as well as amusement routes and fun centers, also need marketing. In fact, the only commodities in this world that don't need marketing are wealth, health, love and sex - because everybody wants them already. Yet products and services that help customers attain these goals require aggressive marketing. If vitamins and get-rich-quick schemes have to be marketed, so do coin-op amusements.
Amusement industry professionals appear to share a widespread belief that industry products, services and facilities are "self-marketing." It is believed that amusement machines and locations will attract business simply by sitting there, catching the customers' eyes because they're located in high-traffic areas, or because the machines have colorful, flashy designs. That idea might have been true in the 1930s. The weak national cashbox of the last several years should make it clear that today's conditions are entirely different.
In an expanding industry, it might make sense to put marketing on the back burner. But this industry is not rolling in hot products that are attracting new manufacturers, operators, players and locations , we are steadily losing participants on all of those levels. As a whole, then, coin-op amusement is long overdue to embrace marketing for what it really is: a vital tool to maximize revenues from existing locations and existing machines.
Happily, there are exceptions. Hundreds of street operators participate actively in dart and pool leagues virtually year-round. Scores of fun centers routinely promote themselves to customers with everything from coupon exchanges to "tokens-for-good-grades" programs, customer newsletters, and more. And, up to a dozen leading game manufacturers market their products (after the sale) with tournaments designed to boost the cashbox by creating player loyalty. These industry leaders have figured out the big secret for amusements success: it requires an active marketing program to be built into the game's design and operation.
Beyond these admirable few, however, too many industry members don't even know what marketing is. If you ask them about their marketing programs, they start talking about advertising. Once and for all (don't I wish), advertising is not marketing. Marketing is promotional activity and free publicity , not paid space or paid airtime. The chief ingredient in marketing success is not money, but creativity. You can get a ton of free publicity without spending a dime, if you're innovative about it. You can draw thousands of customers by spending a little on promotional budgets, that will be paid back many times over.
This issue of VT contains two feature stories dealing with music and games marketing. The first article examines summer marketing programs employed by major arcades. The second, "Marketing 101 for Coin-Op Amusements," outlines marketing ideas that can be used by any amusements business. But all the ideas and good examples in the world avail nothing, if industry members do not first change their mindsets. Marketing is not a nice "option" in 2003. It is a vital necessity.