The tools for establishing a Character Property online
For a character property the web is like a huge orchestra. It offers a rich assemblage of instruments, each offering a unique experience of sound and purpose which, if properly directed, can create a profound impression on people and through that create loyally and generate revenue. Like an orchestra it is, however, important to know which instruments you have under your baton and where, when and in which way to make best use of them. Get it wrong and you have nothing but noise and no audience. Get it right and success is almost guaranteed.
In this article we will look at some of the instruments available to establish a character as a successful online property:
Video (Attract attention, build community, generate revenue)
Videos featuring characters have immediate attention grabbing power because they represent a top-of-mind awareness for entertainment. Animated characters lend themselves to exaggerated, expressive humour and are suited to just about any theme from politics to alien invasions to selling dishwashers.
Videos with the right kind of content can have a very powerful viral effect translating in an exponential growth in exposure. Such videos become one of the most cost effective ways of drawing traffic to a website.
Online Video Statistics
- Over 40% of people watch online videos on at least a weekly basis. Over 70% at least monthly. (online-publishers association)
- Video Advertising has a strong responsiveness with 80% viewing an ad, 52% taking action, including 16% making a purchase. (online-publishers association)
- Viral video marketing campaigns increase click-through rates by 750% (MarketingExperiments.com)
- 62% of online video viewers say their favourite videos are those that are professionally produced. (MC Marketing Charts)
- 57% of people who watch online videos will pass links of these videos on to their friends and 75% say they receive links to watch videos that others have sent to them. (MC Marketing Charts)
- 31% say they watch comedy or humorous videos online and 19% watch animation or cartoons. (MC Marketing Charts)
- In 2009 Google Sites surpassed 10 Billion video views in August alone with the average viewer watching 10 hours of online video during the month.
Viral games have the advantage of significant stickiness; in other words people come back to play the same game over and over again. Every time they come back to play, they come back to your character, your brand message, your links. Viral games featuring characters perform better because they create a stronger identity for the game. People don’t just remember the game but the characters as well.
Apart from exposing users for long and repeated periods of time to a brand, it is easy to add inbuilt viral tools such as Tell-a-friend, and community building features such as high score tables and score challenges into games. There are also various deployment techniques available such as distributing one game level as a viral and requiring people to visit the site to play the other levels.
Online Game Statistics
- Over two hundred million people are playing online games. A year-on-year growth of 17 percent (comScore)
- Games attracted 28 percent of the total worldwide online population (May 2007) and recorded an average of 9 visits per visitor. (comScore)
- The total time spent playing online games have jumped 42 percent. Americans’ total share of Internet time spent playing online games grew from 3.7 percent in December 2007 to 4.9 percent in December 2008. (comScore)
- The total number of display ad views in the Online Gaming category grew 29 percent to 8.6 billion
- 64% of online gamers are female (Nielsen Entertainment)
- It is not unheard of for viral games to get over 6 million plays a month with an average of 4.5 minutes playtime per user.
- The casual online games market in the US is worth over $2 billion
- Ad spend on in-game advertising is expected to reach $ 1 Billion by 2014 (Massive Incorporated)
User Generated Content tools
User Generated Content applications allow people to become creatively involved with characters. By allowing people to create their own content based on a character brand makes the participation personal and therefore much more likely to be passed on to friends. User Generate Content tools are excellent community building content as they can allow users to submit their creations to the community to be rated and for comment.
User Generated Content tools based on characters include applications such as comic book and character creators, story makers and personalised messages. A word of warning though: only 1% of a community typically contributes content to that community so two things are important: 1) There will only be a return on investment if the community is already large enough and 2) as with everything the content has to be brilliant in idea and execution.
Images of characters are generally a lot cheaper to produce than comparative videos or games. They also have the advantage of easy distribution via email or download and have a huge range of applications from clipart, t-shirts, greeting cards and desktop themes to viral marketing images and trading cards.
Viral images is simply an image people like to pass on to their friends. An image has a more demanding challenge as it does not have the same engaging features as a game, video or user generated content tool. That does not mean it can not be a huge success, as Kit Kat has shown with its (now) famous, Jesus Kit Kat Viral Campaign that was launched last year, and was talked about on over 150,000 websites and blogs within 4 days.
Blogs are very effective way to build a character brand. Blogs allow you to easily share your character’s stories, share news about events in the character’s world and create a connection with visitors by telling them about the people that make it all happen. Blogs allow you to have fun and be creative with words and ideas but most of all it allows you to add content on a regular basis, a crucial aspect in trying to make sure people have a reason to visit your character’s world frequently.
Blogs have the added advantage of allowing people to write comments. This is a fantastic way to connect with your audience and find out what they like or dislike and for them to share ideas and make suggestions. Stronger relationships lead to brand loyalty. Brand loyalty is the basis for high conversion rates and high conversion rates translate into higher revenues.
- 77% of Internet users read blogs (Universal McCann)
- 56% say that their blog has helped their company establish a positioning as a thought leader within the industry.
- 58% say that they are better-known in their industry because of their blog
Characters are social creatures (well, at least some are and it won’t hurt the rest to be exposed to a little social attention) so making a character part of the online social media networks makes a lot of sense. When done well, a social media campaign can result in a lot of exposure, thousands of new website visitors and natural links to improve those all important search engine rankings.
Characters, especially those with brilliant back-stories and a lot to say, lend themselves to appealing content. Not all content is suitable for all social media sites (especially social news sites) so it's important to get a feel for the type of content that each community is likely to be interested in. Once the right social media sites have been identified you can share stories, news, pictures and videos with an eager audience but more importantly, get feedback from your audience.
Social Network Statistics
(Web Strategy by Jeremiah Owyang)
- Total Registered Users: 100 Million
- Global Monthly Unique Visitors: 16 million
- USA Monthly Unique Visitors: 6 million
- Daily Users: 3.5 million
- Monthly Page Views: 7 billion
- Twitter has 50 million tweets per day—that’s an average of 600 tweets per second.
Sites and Micro-sites
A character needs a home, a place where all the elements such as videos, games, news articles and social media pages can point visitors to so they can find all the other parts of the project, including the character’s community of fans. The character’s website ensures that the project does not fragment and that the various pieces of content support and enhance each other’s effectiveness in building brand loyalty.
Sometimes a character’s website might be called a micro-site. This is when the character’s purpose is to channel traffic to a company website. The micro-site therefore complements a company’s main website. As such they are small, highly focused websites tied to a unique domain URL to promote a service, incentive offer or product.
The character’s site or micro-site allows you to focus everything on the character, its world, fans and products. Micro-sites are highly entertaining experiences that are focused on building a fanatical following and ensures revenue.
Web comics and cartoon strips
Web comics combine visual excitement, easy reading, easy distribution and cost effective production into a single package. Being much cheaper than animation and less complicated than games they are an effective way to generate regular content to a growing fan base. Web comics are also very easy to distribute through blogs and social media websites.
Web comics offer a wide variety of formats; from a simple, single strip or one page images to multi-page comic books or infinite canvases. They can be static or interactive, contain sound, animation and even interactive content such as games or multi-path storylines where the user chooses the outcome of the story.
Podcasting is like blogging out loud! It gives your character a voice that can be heard across the web, iPods, or other MP3 players. For the character a podcast is the modern version of your traditional and much loved radio stories, except that people can listen to it at any time and anywhere. A podcast can be anything from a series of engaging story episodes to a collection of stand alone comic sketches. You can even produce reviews, interviews, express ideas, give your opinion, promote a cause, and more.
This process of accessing the podcast’s web feed, checking for updates, and downloading new files in the series can even be automated so that new files are downloaded automatically to the user’s podcaster.
- 7% of online consumers in the UK listen to podcasts at least monthly. [Source: Forrester, May 2008]
- 19% of internet users (in the United States) say they have downloaded a podcast so they could listen to it or view it later. This is up from 12% of internet users in August 2006. [Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project, August 2008]
- The total US podcast audience reached an estimated 18.5m in 2007. [Source: eMarketer, Feb 2008]
- Overall, podcast users subscribe to an average of 3.6 podcasts per head, and over 50% subscribe to between 1 and 5 Podcasts. [Source: RAJAR, July 2008]
Newsletters are brilliant at keeping people informed about your character’s world. People have such an information overload that it is easy for your character to fall through the cracks. However, people are aware of this problem with information overload and that is why they sign up to newsletters. They want you to let them know about exciting new content such as animation and games, noteworthy events such as the launch of a new competition and things happening in the community of fans and announcements of new products. It is an easy and cost effective way to keep your character alive, build relationships and ensure your character’s fan base remains informed.
- 49% of email marketers said their newsletters routinely justified themselves in terms of ROI.
( MarketingSherpa “Email Marketing Benchmark Guide.” 2008. www.marketingsherpa.com )
Advertising your characters through search engines and display ads is another way to get them noticed. In essence this means getting your characters’ advert displayed on the search engine page based on the keywords the user has typed in for a search. What makes this effective is that the user is already looking for something your character might be offering. The second option is to display banner ads on other, relevant sites.
One of the best systems around is Google’s AdWords program for displaying ads on their search engine pages and Google AdSense for displaying targeted ads on the pages of Google's vast network of advertisers. Your character therefore makes an appearance on other websites that are suited to your audience's interests and from there they can click through to your micro-site.
The Big question
The big question is how to make money from characters grown online. The traditional route of licensing a character has well established revenue models but it can become very complex and it is best left to an agent who knows what they are doing. It is a very difficult market to break into, especially for a new and unknown character property.
Growing a character on the web has two key objectives:
- Create a large, growing and loyal fan base so the character becomes attractive as a licensed product.
- On route to becoming a licensed product, generate revenue that can be re-invested to grow the character brand.
The web offers five basic ways of generating revenue:
- Charge a fee for premium content. If you're creating premium content with real value for the target audience, you can either sell or charge a subscription fee for accessing the content or see additional content such as game add-ons.
- Sponsorships and advertising. There are sponsors for all kinds of topics and you can sell advertising space on the character’s micro-site, in-game, in-video, on your blogs, everywhere.
- Join a network that pays for your content. Typically this would be online companies that share advertising revenue with you.
- Sell merchandise. Create merchandise such as t-shirts, mugs and stationary featuring your character. This will not only be the first step in creating merchandise for future licensing but will help get the character more exposure while earning you some money. Although the margins are low you can set up a print-on-demand store for free.
- Pledges and donations. If everything else fails, you can always ask for pledges and donations by appealing to the generous hearts of people who love your characters and would like to see more of them. Explain that you're spending a lot of time and effort on developing the character property and that the donations will help you to do more. You can use a PayPal donation button.
Generating revenue from premium content is the absolute ideal but you will have to have some truly exceptional content. The content needs to be good enough to attract substantial numbers of visitors and convince them it’s worth paying for.
Premium content is usually based on giving some of the content away for free and then requiring payment to access the rest. E.g. you can have one or two free videos or comic books that are part of a series and require a subscription fee to access the rest. Another example is to have a free game but sell additional characters, weapons or levels.
The second most likely revenue stream will be advertising. Internet ad spending was expected to be $56.8bn for 2009 (Source: ZenithOptimedia via MediaPost, July 2009) so advertising can be a potentialy good source of revenue. There are two important considerations though: the advertising should not become too much of a distraction from the entertainment value of the character property and the advertising should be appropriate for the character brand values.