INTERVIEW

STEVE BRAUNTUCH

CMO
Misfits Gaming Group

CMO COUNCIL: What past experiences have best prepared you for your CMO role?

BRAUNTUCH: I think people underestimate the value of working at an advertising agency. I spent 10 years working in various ad agencies and I was exposed to every single aspect of marketing every single day I was there: design, copywriting, PR, production, paid media, etc. I worked with people in every discipline of the creative process and, perhaps more importantly, learned how to work with people in all different disciplines. Being an account lead at an ad agency taught me how to manage a diverse team of people with different goals, priorities and personalities. I also got complete exposure to corporate America through my ad agency days, learning about the challenges my clients were facing and how they were strategizing about marketing programs. Now, when a new project comes along, I can look back and say definitively that I’ve done it before and lean on my experience as opposed to having to figure out how to do it from scratch.

CMO COUNCIL: Where do you focus your time and attention on a day-to-day basis?

BRAUNTUCH: It’s hard to get out of the day-to-day maintenance stuff when you’re at a startup or small company, so I do spend plenty of time focused on everything from social content to PR strategy to event planning. But I try to take a quarterly or even annual approach to marketing strategy and instill that mindset in my team members as we plan and make decisions. Where do we want to be 3 months from now? What do we want to look back on at the end of the year and take pride in having accomplished? How does this week’s content calendar set us up for next week and the following week and the month after that? So as much as I can, I try to focus on the big picture goals we’ve set for ourselves and push us to think bigger and smarter in achieving them.

CMO COUNCIL: What are your priorities when it comes to organizational change, operational lift and staff development?

BRAUNTUCH: An amazingly smart woman who I worked with at multiple companies told me she thinks of marketing as “creative problem solving.” I love that approach, and that’s the way I approach my team and my organization. What are we trying to achieve, and what’s the best, most innovative and most rewarding way to get there? And so, I think about marketing’s role in the organization as twofold. First, we should be motivating the rest of the organization with creativity and opportunity. People inside the company should be excited to hear from us when we share ideas and programs - it should be uplifting for everyone to see the work we’re doing to promote our organization to the world. And second, we on the marketing team must be connectors inside the organization. We need to break down silos and force cross-functional cooperation, even if it requires us to do most of the heavy lifting, because we need the entire organization to buy into our creative vision and programming if we want to deliver results. And that’s where I push my team - to think bigger, to be more creative, to be proactive agents of collaboration internally. We need to be the ones reaching out, knocking on doors and bringing people to the table to work together. Those are my top priorities for any organization I work for.

CMO COUNCIL: What challenges do you face in the coming year and how do you expect to adapt and change?

BRAUNTUCH: It’s not so much about the coming year as the industry we’re in. Gaming and entertainment changes by the hour, not by the year. Games are hot right up until nobody wants to play them anymore. Creators are on fire right up until nobody wants to watch them anymore. So, for us, it’s about setting ourselves up to be nimble and flexible wherever possible, and giving ourselves options as we need to pivot or double down. We’ve got teams and creators across a handful of titles, so as our audience ebbs and flows on their interest, we can lean in or lean out as needed. If anything, the hard part for us over the next year will be consistency in messaging and strategy - sometimes we can get too flexible for our own good and change course too quickly. In this industry, the biggest challenge is always long-term planning, and so we need to get better at anticipating what Fall 2022 looks like while we’re executing in Spring 2022.

CMO COUNCIL: What marketing skills will be most needed by your organization in the future and why?

BRAUNTUCH: I think there was a time when people in marketing could really specialize in a particular discipline and make a career out of it. You could be an amazing video editor or art director or writer and just focus on honing your skills in one area of marketing. But because of the way projects come together, and because of the turnaround time of the digital world, multi-talented team members are what we need more than anything. Social media managers who can use Photoshop, producers who can edit and create visual effects, even traditional marketing managers who can write copy… it’s not enough to be a one-dimensional team member anymore. Everyone plays multiple roles; everyone wears multiple hats. It’s not one specific skill that we’ll need - it’s a willingness to be a multifaceted marketer and engage beyond your individual area of expertise to help a project get to completion.

CMO COUNCIL: What are some of the essential facts and stats to consider when evaluating electronic entertainment sponsorship and promotional marketing opportunities?

BRAUNTUCH: The most important thing for brands to know about sponsorships in gaming or esports is the audience they’re trying to speak with. If your goal is to reach people around the world aged 14-30 with a relevant message to them or a product, they’d be legitimately interested in using or trying, then you absolutely should be sponsoring and advertising in this space. But if that’s not the audience you’re trying to reach, you shouldn’t be here, because that’s who engages with gaming content. It’s not soccer moms, it’s not 18–49-year-olds en masse… it’s Gen Z and young millennials, and they don’t think about car insurance or what to make for dinner when they’re watching their favorite creators and players. Brands really need to do a better job of getting into the headspace of the audience they’re trying to reach in this space… what would be additive to the experience for the people watching? What message would actually break through the clutter and resonate with them? Traditional advertising does not work with this audience, so if you want to sponsor an esports team or advertise on a Twitch stream, you need to be hyper-relevant and interesting to the audience watching.

CMO COUNCIL: Which mainstream brands are using eSports and electronic gaming to engage and activate youth markets and where/how have they been successful?

BRAUNTUCH: Beyond the endemic brands in the space (PCs, headsets, controllers, etc.), T-Mobile has stood out for a long time as a brand that really understands the consumers they’re trying to reach through gaming. Their partnerships have all been based around interaction and delivering value to consumers through merchandise, access, experiences and other programs native to gaming and the gaming audience. They’ve been a consistent presence in gaming for years, and that has helped them build a ton of equity. At Activision Blizzard, we also did successful in-store programs with Coke and Kellogg’s (Cheez-It and Pringles) to connect the dots between product sales and access / prizing for gamers. The key, though, is that there must be a value exchange for consumers in this category to get excited and interested. It can’t just be straight up advertising if it’s going to work to build equity with this audience.