Even though I no longer have the free time to consider myself an avid gamer, I do like to stay updated with trends and new announcements. More than most other industries, gaming companies have begun to do some exciting things with digital marketing and mobile integration. Video games have a long history of exciting advertisements and promotions, but a recent campaign resonated with me, both as a marketer and casual gamer.

Video game marketers in particular have understood for years that people crave information that will deepen their experience with a product or service. Take Halo: They have consistently created video diaries and interviews throughout development to give players ownership in a shared experience.

Like Halo, the BioShock series is known for its inventive storytelling and immersive gameplay. The first-person adventure games tell the story of an alternate history, allowing the player to explore a strange city and gain special powers. The strength of the games’ worlds is how richly realized the games’ stories and environments become.

Although the new game, BioShock Infinite, does come with a traditional ad campaign (beware of some salty language and violence) that includes a trailer with scenes of a fantastic floating city in the sky — populated by gun-toting robotic versions of George Washington, always a plus in my book — it’s their web marketing that has really grabbed my attention.

In January, Irrational Games published the first part of a faux documentary about the floating city the game will explore. The video shows nothing about how the game works or how it will work, a classic tactic for video game ads. Instead, it gives potential customers a deeper look into the game’s story or possible encounters than a trailer of pre-rendered cutscenes ever could.

Maybe it’s just because I used to love the show Unsolved Mysteries, but that ad does so much more for me. The commercial trailer gives a sense of what I may do in the game – but shooting strange enemies isn’t exactly new ground in a video game. The documentary trailer ties the game to the real world in a way that the trailer never could. It builds the lore of what is the most interesting aspect of the game – its mysterious floating city.

For a game that is so dependent on drawing players into a fantasy world, it’s invaluable and ingenious to draw back the curtain on the parts of the game that are most interesting to gamers. It’s a sound strategy for engaging consumers via digital and social media.

Commercials that show explosions and high-flying fun are great for grabbing attention, but while every gamer will experience that action in their own way, the story they will interact with is a constant. As a casual gamer, I’m more hooked by the peek at the game’s unique story than explosions that just happen to be in an exotic environment.

Many business owners – and even most SEOs – forget that the biggest advantage of social media is democratizing information for your audience. Most digital marketers forget their audience at one time or another. We’re getting better, but social media isn’t just a way to push out your message to users. It’s a way to get information. While there may seem to be value in using your social media just to let your Facebook fans know what your daily specials or deals may be, it does nothing to truly engage a customer with your brand.

The BioShock video succeeds precisely because it delivers a look beyond just the great graphics or cool mechanics that any other company could replicate. The true value of social media is more than simply throwing “valuable” information at your audience; it’s providing a way for your audience to feel like they are more than just a customer.

We make a big push for storytelling. Like video games, businesses are trying to tell their own story, but every customer will interact with that story in their own way, creating their own user stories. One of the most powerful ways to create meaningful engagement with your audience is to allow them to use your online real estate to tell a story around your product, whether that’s in a user-generated content section of your website or on your Facebook page.

It can be intimidating to allow shared ownership of the message, but we should never be afraid of letting our audience see us in a new light or take ownership in our message. Opening up your Facebook with more personal content isn’t the final step, but providing a forum for users to interact with your brand or create their own content can build trust and a connection to your company.

At the end of the day, only a handful of brands can create customers who are loyal to just a product. Apple, Starbucks and Xbox can inspire die-hard fans on product alone, but the rest of us have to deliver a great, shared experience to create truly loyal fans.

Photo Credit: Dunechaser via Compfight cc

Mike Cushing

Mike Cushing is a marketing strategist and social media manager at 352. He has worked in the non-profit and business community in Gainesville since 2008, but mostly he’s just a writer out to make the Internet a better – and more grammatically correct – place.

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