A branded web banner promoting Anderson .Paak and The Free Nationals concert for Fortnite’s Spotlight Series
Graphic via epicgames.com/Fortnite

Anderson .Paak loosely translates to “I’ll be there.” At least in my language.

So far in the past couple of years, I’ve happily handed this man about $900 worth of shows, merchandise, and festivals. Since listening to his first studio album, “Venice,” I’ve seen his music and career absolutely take off. He’s now regarded by many in the music industry as one of the best entertainers of our time. That makes sense — what else would you call a guy who can sing, rap, dance, play the drums, play the drums while singing and rapping, and top it all off with untouchable Southern California charisma?

Safe to say, I’m a loyal consumer of Anderson .Paak. To the point that last month, I actually clicked through on Fortnite ads, something I had managed to avoid for about three years now. The reason? .Paak was listed as the next artist in Fortnite’s Spotlight concert series, the latest roll-out from Epic Games HQ. The events make use of the game-changing “Party Royale” mode, where players drop into a combat-free, purely exploratory island that hosts live music, movie screenings, and mini-games.

The .Paak concert was performed live from Epic’s brand-new Los Angeles soundstage on September 19th. It was then rebroadcasted that night and again at 2 p.m the next day. I was there — at least partially — all three days, meeting up with friends who also had downloaded the game solely for the concert.

View of the show from my living room

Keep in mind, this was the first time I had ever played Fortnite — something almost unheard of in my young adult male demographic. Even more important to consider: I ended up coughing up 30 of my real U.S. dollars for the games virtual currency, V-bucks. I mean, I had to look good for the show right? I’m not necessarily proud to admit it, but I definitely used a little of that money on Fornite dances, too. Ok, ok, it was more than a little.

That right there is the power of their marketing. By expanding past gaming and into other forms of entertainment, the brand repositions from its stigma as a game for kids and bros into a broader, more interactive social outlet for everyone.

The diversity of Fortnite’s curated artists and events is attracting new waves of non-committed, socially motivated users. Their new strategy has huge potential, and as marketers and strategists, we should be looking at their efforts as free lessons.

The Power Of Party Royale

A brief history

The strategy can officially be traced back to May 8th, when Party Royale was formally introduced to the world. It came behind the April spectacle that was the Travis Scott Astronomical Concert inside of Fortnite. Although not quite the first video game server to hold a virtual festival, Fortnite certainly pulled off the largest. Epic Games reports that 27.7 million unique users logged on to fly around and watch Scott and his 100-foot tall hologram perform.

via Youtube @AussieAntics

It seems as if Party Royale is an effort to keep the excitement and novelty of that success alive. It’s not just concerts, though. All types of content have been pushed into the game, from movie screenings of Christopher Nolan’s Inception/The Prestige/Batman Begins, to the live-streamed racial injustice seminar of “We The People” hosted by Van Jones, to new music premiered by BTS, Diplo, and Kenshi Yonezu.

These events serve two purposes: they add value to the brand beyond just gameplay and they leverage exclusive partnerships to suck remaining non-users out from their hiding places.

In the spotlight

The Spotlight Concerts are proving to be especially well-curated. They absolutely nailed it right off the bat with Dominick Fike performing the inaugural September 12th show.

Fike is a budding pop icon; the 24-year-old’s beachy blend of Pop, R&B, and Indie Rock arrived with perfect timing in a world craving exactly that. Seriously, everyone and their mother in the entertainment industry seems to love him. Fike is also blessed with a day-one type fan base. These are the type of people who follow and support his moves as if they had been friends forever, and Fortnite’s marketing team knows that.

They must have also known that bringing Anderson .Paak on board was a genius idea, too. Similar to Fike, .Paak has built a highly-engaged fan base that subscribes not only to the music but to his life as well. Thousands tune in to his Instagram Live videos to watch him and his family dance, and to participate in #challenges he reposts. If they do that, it’s hard to believe that they wouldn’t easily download a dang game — a free dang game — to see a whole live show.

The last show in September was a huge one as well. EDM icon Slushii closed out the month with a banger of a live set and the premiere of his newest single “All I Need.” Fortnite is probably the perfect place for him given his audience and the documented success of his friend and frequent collaborator Marshmello. Electronic music and video games go together like beer and pretzels, so there’s a high probability that the genre will stay in the mix throughout Party Royale events to come.

The New Fortnite Funnel

A comic sketch of a marketing funnel being used as a “you are here” map in a mall directory
via marketoonist.com

It might be easiest to picture the strategy here as a funnel. That’s a concept that every marketer knows like the back of their hand. Tofu-Mofu-Bofu. Did your eyes roll? I know mine did. However, the model is fundamental for a reason and it’s important to visualize to understand how it works for Fortnite’s new strategy.

Now, imagine a secondary funnel underneath, this time catching the people who slipped out of Fornite’s main marketing one. This is an audience that’s already aware and interested enough in the game but never found it important enough to take the time to download.

How They Do It

With each new Party Royale event, Fortnite is able to squeeze a few drops of new consideration from users that are loyal to the featured artists. From there, they rely on the pull of their content (the event) and the appeal of their product (the actual Fortnite UX/UI) to convert Anderson .Paak/Dominick Fike/Slushii/etc. fans into Fortnite consumers.

The buyer journey isn’t quite over yet, though. The game’s business model has always been FTP (free-to-play) with revenue being made through in-game microtransactions. While playing, you can navigate to the item store to buy fancier equipment, new characters, limited edition effects, and special dances (which seem to be mainly used to taunt other players as you stand over their character’s dead body). So while getting new users to download Fortnite is a huge step, the real conversion challenge is getting them to engaged enough to spend money.

Why It Works

Concerts and festivals are centered around the music, but self-expression and interaction are also at the heart of the experience. Thanks to Covid-19, there hasn’t been a place for any of those things in months. I and millions of other festival-goers who have had our Camel-Baks sitting empty and minds disappointingly unblown have been desperate since March. Fortnite is attempting to build a beautiful new way for people to dance and wear crazy outfits again.

Photo by Brandon Bynum on Unsplash

They are counting on self-expression and personalization to drive buyer behavior. The catch, of course, is that those dance moves and skins cost money. Only a little bit, though. And you don’t want to just stand there looking like a noob in your stock character clothes do you? Fortnite is counting on you to say no.

I like to imagine Epic execs leaning back in fancy reclining desk chairs with their fingers steepled saying things like, “Get them in, and just give it time….they’ll be back for more…ahaha yes, they’ll be back.”

In reality, I’m sure they're not actually like Bond villains, but they do believe in that fundamental theory: the more time you spend inside Fortnite, the more likely it becomes that you’ll want to customize the experience a bit. Just in case it’s unclear, the main screen navigation and pop-ups make it pretty obvious that you’re supposed to buy stuff.

All in all, It’s worked out pretty great so far. The company is now valued at some 17 billion, and all signs point to Party Royale driving even more revenue.

To The Sale And Beyond

This new funnel is also efficient at creating another huge marketing win: consumer advocacy. In many funnel models, it’s the narrowest bit — the most valuable part of post-purchase behavior. Data consistently shows that brand advocates are a business’s best customers and best salespeople. It’s especially hard to ignore when some Deloitte studies have recorded customers referred by other customers having a 37% higher retention rate.

via Hootsuite.com

Well, lucky for Epic Games, social media feeds around the world have lit up with posts of people enjoying Party Royale and the Spotlight Series. Thousands of tweets, comments, and messages have been sent by people @ing and inviting friends to join them on the island for the next crazy virtual event going down. The best part is that it doesn't even matter that they’re not advocating for the actual game. What matters is that Party Royale is generating a huge amount of outside interest, and offers a second chance for Epic to empty some wallets.

The Future Of Spotlight

If nothing else, there is one extremely important fact to take away from all this. With the Spotlight Series, Epic Games can now make money off of players who have never ridden the battle bus, gotten lost in a storm, or yelled obscenities after getting shotgunned at the last second. Honestly, most of these new users probably don’t know or care what all that even means. Fortnite is becoming bigger than just the game. Many users aren’t there to win or fight, but they're signing up to see their favorite artists and creators.

We should be taking notes from Fortnite

Here’s a comparison. Imagine you’re vegan, but constantly hear people raving about the new barbecue spot. You couldn’t care less. Then one day, they post a picture of their new menu and it’s loaded with some delicious sounding veggie options and alternatives. All of a sudden, you're giving this place a chance, you’re taking selfies with your BBQ jackfruit sliders, and now the restaurant owners are in the kitchen taking shots and high-fiving each other.

It’s no different with the Spotlight artist choices. Curation is becoming an art, and only the most timely, high-value selections will have an effect. Epic’s focus will have to be remaining on point with their event programming and keeping these new users engaged past the initial event.

Following campaigns from successful brands is a necessary practice for everyone in the marketing field. Fortnite’s latest efforts demonstrate two main lessons we would all do well to learn from and research further:

  1. How to strategize and schedule high-quality content that triggers action
  2. Why monitoring trends and new data is crucial to staying relevant and becoming a leader in your industry

As fans wait for an announcement about future Spotlight events, I know one thing for sure: I’ll still be playing Fortnite. Anderson .Paak, I’m blaming this one on you.

Medium smart, Medium brown, Medium writer.

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