If you grew up in the 80s like me, thinking back on your childhood is like a walk through Nintendo’s Hame of Fame. From beloved plumbers to skyscraper-climbing gorillas, Nintendo has been synonymous with video games since the industry went mainstream in the early/mid 80s. For decades, Nintendo was the pink elephant in the video-gaming room. A position it held by constantly introducing its customers to new, innovative ways to integrate its hardware with its software — running characters now magically took flight, two-buttoned boxes learned how to hear, and horizontal 2-dimensional interactions would be experienced in 3D (well, kinda). With the launch of Mario Bros Run, early signs seem to indicate that Nintendo has lost its way.

Nintendo’s empire was built on the backs of designers and engineers who cared deeply about their customers, obsessed over figuring out how to delight them, and probably had a lot of fun in the process. Look at their customer feedback on their newest title however, and you quickly realize why their current 2.5 star rating on the App Store and plummeting stock price (according to Wall Street Journal) come with little surprise given Nintendo’s interesting customer acquisition strategy with the launch of Mario Bros Run. Despite the giant sum of nostalgia points accumulated over the decades from a loyal fanbase and despite launching on the heels of another recent success in Pokemon Go that rivaled on hysterics, with the long-awaited release of Mario Bros Run, Nintendo’s newest mobile game and debut of Mario to iOS, Nintendo blew its moment to delight its customers, to the chagrin of mobile gamers and procrastinators alike.

So, what can we learn about marketing and branding from Nintendo’s clogged introduction to iOS?

That’s a Lotta Coin to Shell Out

Nobody enjoys having the rug pulled out from under them and surprises are rarely fun in purchase decisions. App developers entice their customers to spend with them by offering creative ways to position their value. Apps no longer are just free or paid, they can fall into a complex spectrum of payment plans and tiers. The challenge for developers is twofold: they need to stay profitable in a very competitive space but as importantly, they need to achieve profitability in such a way that it doesn’t offend their customers. This requires a strong value proposition.

With Mario Bros Run, Nintendo particularly dropped the shell (see what I did there?) on its product trial and thus failed to justify the game’s steep price tag. In fact, Nintendo failed on 3 different fronts on the design of its trial experience:

  • Lack of transparency on the eventual cost of the product,
  • Limited 3-level trial didn’t impress or add value to potential customers,
  • The high-end $9.99 price tag was shocking to many.

For all the lessons-learned from Mario Bros Run’s feedback, the most evident is around value proposition. Although the free, 3-level trial that Nintendo offered its customers broke App Store records with 40 millions downloads in 4 days (according to IGN), it didn’t leave a very positive impression on end-users. It is common for iOS games to release an abridged or limited version of its game for free and then provide added levels or skills for a fee. Few games however, provide such a small sample (less than 12.5% of the full version) and then require high-end compensation ($9.99) to continue. After all, Mario Bros Run is listed as a Free game in the App Store and you don’t even get to finish the first world!

DRM roll please!

Digital Rights Management or DRM is all around us from coffee pods to iPods and doesn’t necessarily connote negativity but in the digital space it can be particularly tricky. Big developers like EA or Ellen (er, Warner Bros…) need to impose restrictions to protect their content that is so widely reproduced and redistributed that it could kill their business otherwise. The challenge for brands is that they need to protect their content while A) balancing a well-designed customer experience and B) providing paying customers with the “ownership” over the content they just paid for. Nintendo’s DRM strategy for Mario Bros Run only added fuel to the fireballs. For a game the lacked justification for an above-market price tag, it also limited it use once purchased by requiring a constant Internet connection, and ruining what my brother described as “the perfect train game”.

Nintendo teaches us a valuable lesson in content that can not be understated — If your brand is not thinking about how its content is consumed when building a distribution network, then its losing a significant opportunity to connect with its customers. Beyond the obvious limitations that come with a constant Internet connection which spans everything from data consumption to connectivity limitations, I ask Nintendo this — Why redesign the entire gaming experience to optimize around one-handed gameplay when you can’t use the other hand to latch onto the ceiling of the F train as it rattles and bucks uncontrollably from stop to stop!? This is paramount to Starbucks designing to-go cups without lids or Apple releasing an iPhone without a headphone jack…

Great marketing always comes down to your buyer’s persona and understanding the details of your buyer’s preferences and habits, and great marketers understand how their customers consume content, whether that’s email, social media, tv, rss, radio, etc. If your content requires a strong Internet connection to digest, then that needs to be a consideration heavily weighed against your distribution strategy. Offline has become an essential consideration for digital media as a solution for a lack of connectivity and is something welcomed by end users. Just ask Netflix about its new offline capabilities.

There are tons of great resources on the Internet that’ll help your brand define its Buyer Personas in detail, so you can build a marketing strategy with confidence that your content is being received in the right way. Once you have your personas defined, research how your profiles view content, what websites they visit and how they do their research for purchases. Knowing your customer is not only a sales tool, but a great way to optimize engagement and build a compelling brand. If you have any challenges understanding your personas or if you’re just getting started figuring out your customer’s content habits, why not  Contact Us for a Free Brand & Inbound Assessment . We help brands all the time get started on the path to amazing content, and we can talk Mario Bros too.