The Dungeon Master's Guide to Marketing

Ian Lurie

Note: If you don’t know what D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) is, you should probably leave. Avoid eye contact with this blog post. Step away slowly but do not run. Click the back button.

For a DM (Dungeon Master—see the warning above), marketing’s a pretty good gig. You get to write. You get to do nerdy things on computers. You can even draw some maps, er, flow charts.

First, though, let me explain something.

You’re doomed

Good DMs provide a great experience for players who navigate events and challenges in the game.

Marketers provide a great experience for consumers who navigate events and challenges in their lives.

It’s no coincidence that marketers and dungeon masters both refer to “campaigns,” either.

Marketing is what dungeon masters do. Oh my GODS you’re a MARKETER. Dungeons & Dragons does corrupt you. Might as well put that blackened, withered cinder of your soul to good use. Apply your newfound understanding using this handy Dungeon Master’s Guide to Marketing.

Encounters drive the experience

Consumers move between encounters the same way players do. They run into challenges and points of interest. Instead of wandering monsters and villages, though, consumers have challenges and events in their daily lives. Consumers stitch encounters together any way they like, skipping some, repeating others.

And consumers level up, just like player characters.

For example, I’m a Level Three Middle-Class Human. My car is getting older. You prepare encounters to match my challenges and questions:

  • The blog post that tells me how to find and fix that dashboard squeak that has me ready to pound my brains out on the steering wheel
  • The video that explains why I should change the oil every 3000 miles
  • A discount for an oil change at the local Speed-E-Lube
  • A Q&A with a mechanic

When I reach the My Car Is Squeaking encounter, you’re the DM. When I need a question answered, you’ve got the mechanic waiting in their hut near Waterdeep to help me out.

Encounter resolved

Encounter resolved

I level up along the way, solving my problems and learning, and I associate you with the process. That’s branding.

Sidebar: Observe and adjust

Sometimes, players create entirely new encounters. Maybe the adventuring party attacks a gazebo (if you got that reference, +1). They just taught you that they don’t know what a gazebo is. You’re not speaking their language.

Start speaking their language. Say “there’s a building in the field. It’s a gazebo.” Crisis averted.

Or, maybe the players fell in love with a little hamlet and bought a tavern there. Go with it. They just told you they love it there. Grow their world around it.

As a marketer, you run into identical situations. You can’t look across the table to read the consumer’s body language. So you use analytics to observe them. Then you adjust to improve their experience. Use the right language: “Shoes,” not “footwear.” Look at what they like: Curvy roads to drive. Build the campaign around that.

Sometimes, you just have to give the consumer a break

Sometimes, you just have to give the consumer a break

That process is core to a great game, and a great marketing campaign.

Conversions are the wrap-up

Those encounters lead towards the big wrap-up. The consumer faces some relevant, larger problem that you can help them resolve. She may not even know what the problem is, yet. But she’s working her way towards it. If she successfully completes it, she levels up yet again, only more so. If you’ve helped, she associates you with that success.

In marketing terms, that’s the conversion. It could be a purchase or vote. It directly impacts the long-term game of your business.

Back to my example: After handling all my little car problems, I’m a Level Five Middle-Class Human. Now, I want to buy a new car. Good thing you’re around, since you happen to be a car dealership. You’ve helped me from one encounter to the next. You’re my go-to DM. So guess what? I buy from you.

A conversion! Never know when those might happen

A conversion! Never know when those might happen

All along the way, you’ve helped me earn experience points and treasure. You’ve built a strong brand. So I’m there for the big encounter. That’s the conversion.

Same time next week?

I’ll want to keep playing. So you set up more encounters, keeping me engaged with great service, useful information, and all the other things that make you my DM.

You keep running the game. I keep leveling up. When I’m a Level 20 Middle-Class Human, I’ll hit bigger encounters and final battles. That means I’m buying nicer cars.

That’s our job

Dungeon masters and marketers have a job: Facilitate a journey and reward the participant along the way.

I’m a gamer. And I’m a consumer. Whether I’m at the table with my trusty twenty-sider or at my desk daydreaming about cars, keep giving me a great experience. Keep helping me earn experience points. I’ll keep coming back.

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (that's more than 25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team, training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at

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