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Want to speak to America’s New Heartland? Get into gaming (and country music)

Gaming is a key channel to tap into the New Heartland customer base

There are lots of dollars locked up in the American Heartland. Brands that play their cards right are reaping the rewards. And play they must as this valuable consumer is spending more time gaming than ever, writes Paul Jankowski, author of The New Heartland Speaks: The Marketer’s Guide To Reaching America’s Most Powerful Cultural Segment. Digging into gaming and combining it with other loves like country music is a winning formula.

You may not be into it and may not even understand it... but the gaming industry is on the rise. From console and mobile to PC gaming, American users are spending significantly more money to engage in the activity than players worldwide. According to Mintel’s report titled Gaming Trends 2021, gaming revenue has grown 90% in the past five years in the US to $45bn.

For the same reasons gaming is exploding among the masses, brands should be looking into partnerships with today’s biggest gaming companies – especially if you want to reach the biggest cultural segment, America’s New Heartland.

Through the 2020 New Heartland Generational Study, we learned that 47% of New Heartland customers say brands can attract them more easily and successfully if they appear to understand the cohort’s lifestyle activities. Gaming is one of the most popular lifestyle activities, drawing 37% of New Heartland customers to their phones, computers and TVs in their spare time.

Even more popular than gaming for New Heartlanders? Listening to music, usually pop, country and rock music, which 52% of customers in the 26 states that make up the region say they like to do to unwind.

Several gaming companies have done an impeccable job of integrating music into the video game experience. Fortnite has hosted successful virtual concerts with artists, including the first event to break the mold with Marshmello followed by Travis Scott and Ariana Grande. Scotty McCreery was the first country musician to perform virtually through Club Cooee, an online free 3D metaverse and social network, earlier this year. And millennials everywhere celebrated their carefree Ash Ketchum days when Pokémon partnered with Post Malone for an anniversary-worthy virtual concert.

Perhaps the greatest champion of music in gaming can be found in the work of Steve Schnur, who is coming up on two decades as worldwide executive and president of music at Electronic Arts. As far back as 2016, Schnur has been integrating country music into games with huge cult-like followings.

Just five years ago, Brantley Gilbert and Blake Shelton got singles from their latest albums at the time into Madden. Fast forward to today, EA released Madden NFL 2022 in August and it was the best-selling game of the month and fourth best-selling game of the year. Schnur spearheaded the development of a complementary Madden NFL 2022 album adapted from the 57-song soundtrack, including a song by Christian hip-hop artist Myles Parrish.

“Over the past decades, Madden NFL has become a platform for fans to discover new music, launching new stars and establishing trends that have changed the way players play the game and how they experience NFL football itself,” Schnur said to The Gamer in August about the role of music in gaming.

Brands + gaming = community

Although many of these integrations were initiated in response to the Covid-19 era of social distancing, the trend of blurring the lines between music and gaming shows no signs of slowing down.

In fact, Mintel research suggests that brands who capitalize on the integration of gaming and entertainment by creating opportunities for the community will be fulfilling a need for gamers.

Although 72% of adults are gamers, only 39% report feeling like they are a part of something bigger than themselves when they’re gaming. As one of the top three core values of customers in the New Heartland, community is an important mechanism by which brands can attract this powerful market segment. Brands are in a unique position to build community through gaming, which gives them access to spaces with more appropriate context for their messaging than social media platforms. Athletic brands can find and engage their audience in Madden or Fifa. Lifestyle brands can find and engage their audience in The Sims 4.

For example, the NFL used gaming to drive interest back to the NFL during the Super Bowl this year. With the help of Fortnite, they created avatars to play as any NFL team and replaced one of their gaming modes temporarily with a match-up between the Buccaneers and Chiefs.

All told, these times are not for the faint of heart. It’s harder than ever to cut through the clutter, and online platforms are keeping a scrupulous eye on advertisers. Brand marketers will need to pursue unfamiliar advertising avenues and edgier marketing concepts if they want to achieve authentic connections with any audiences, but specifically the skeptical, usually ignored and often stereotyped New Heartland audience, which comprises 60% of US customers.

Paul Jankowski is author of The New Heartland Speaks: The Marketer’s Guide To Reaching America’s Most Powerful Cultural Segment.

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