Back in Nov 2020 I wrote a thread on Twitter that changed how I think about marketing and promotion. It uses the classic fantasy dungeon as a metaphor for the marketing funnel. It’s some of the best work I’ve done and I’ve been meaning to get it turned from a thread into a post.
This is that post.
A quick note before I get into it: this is all inspired by the amazing Jeff Stormer. I’d had a meeting with him the night before and he outlined the marketing funnel to me. This concept is a synthesis of the information he gave me and I’ll always be grateful. Thank you, Jeff!
What I’m going to do is take the information in the tweet thread itself and replicate it here, along with additional commentary. I think the tone and content of the thread is really good and that Twitter is a really bad place to be the sole house of something you want people to be able to refer back to.
So, without further ado…
You Are the Dungeon
Marketing. There are lots of ways to talk about it, but we’re gonna use two frameworks: the funnel and dungeons. The funnel is the set of stuff that gets people from knowing about you, to engaging, to buying, to talking about you.
And you? You’re the dungeon, baby.
I like the dungeon as an analogy because, in the circles I run in (TTRPGs),, it’s a common-enough frame of reference that people can easily understand it. It translates well to everything this thread is about.
Using this fantasy RPG analogy, lots of people would be tempted to frame you as the hero, forging onward to glory. Nah, not here. You’re the dungeon. Right now, you’re just a tiny place of mystery and intrigue.
You’ve got all of your stuff set up. There’s treasure secreted inside you. There are traps and idols for false gods. You’ve got it all. But no one’s coming to you trying to conquer your darkness. What gives?
So you start doing dungeon things. You Signal Future Badness, right?
This is a bit pulled from Apocalypse World. One, it’s a really compelling phrase to me. Two, I used it because I wanted indie rpg-minded people to have something that would let them know that I wan’t focused on Dungeons & Dragons, but was instead using some commonly understood words to get my point across.
You send out minions, pillage a few farmsteads, get the rumor of your blight circulating around the hamlet. After some good-faith attempts, you’ve made a name for yourself locally. But that’s only the start. People know you’re lurking there on the horizon, at the edges of their dreams, but no one’s gotten up the courage to venture in.
So you escalate. You start cursing people. You whisper foul visions into their minds. You make it so you’re unforgettable.
Now the people are up in arms. They’re taking their pitchforks, their adzes, their woodaxes, and they’re heading your way. You know they’re coming, so before they arrive, you make sure your shit’s just right.
Traps? Baited with sweet-smelling poisons, gleaming with gold
Idols? Profane and tantalizing
Riches? Hinted at and indicated, ready for plunder
Now the adventurers arrive.
Here, my hope was that people were already connecting the dots, thinking about how they talk about their work online. I wanted them identifying what their traps, riches, and idols were. If that’s not a gap you can cross right now, keep reading and you’ll see where I pull things together. Right now, I’m building a vision in the metaphor. In a bit, we’ll equate things to real practices.
Remember, O Dungeon Foul, you’re not getting the whole hamlet here, or even most of a farmstead. You’re getting those who are called to cleanse the blight that’s your particular deal. That’s a good thing. You want those people. When those hale and hearty folk arrive, carrying swords that have spots of rust and that have forgotten the taste of ichor, you remind them of exactly what you are.
You give them the full dungeon experience.
They are awed by your sights and wonders. They work their way through, claiming the treasures you left for them as you weave your sinister tendrils through their minds. They leave in triumph, taking their treasures home to share among kith and kin. But you? You are still there. Your foulness unabated, your depths holding yet more secrets, treasures, and curses. Some of the adventurers retire, spending the rest of their days enjoying the wealth brought them by their plunder.
Some of them… rest uneasy
For some, you linger in their minds. They cannot forget the sight of your unhallowed halls, cannot escape the smell of your mouldering ruins, cannot. forget. you.
This, right here, this is the key bit. Whatever you’re doing, you want one, two, a handful of people to be really lit up by what you’ve made. Nothing you make will appeal to everyone, so this is your in to find your core audience for a given thing you make.
These few tell of their time in your ruined majesty. To anyone who will listen, they pass on the tale of your evils. And your legend grows, for you have not been idle. New desecrations don’t happen overnight, but you have not ceased to toil.
New abominations. Improvements on the old. More hamlets raided, more foulness dotting the landscape.
This is you, making new things as you continue to work on getting the word about about the old. The speed at which this happens isn’t the important bit; it’s the continual pressure.
Back home, the ruined adventurers who are forever marked by their time with your grotesquerie, they gather a new troupe.
Fresh blood, waiting to be infected by your sins and depravities.
These new, brave warriors go through the same cycle as the old, exploring you, claiming riches, and leaving, unable to vanquish you and unable to.
This is the funnel, at its core. Here’s where the core fans are telling others about what you do, freeing you up to just keep being you and making what you make. Finding these people isn’t necessarily easy but it’s really vital. It’s also vital to remember that they’re just people, like you. They’re not to be exploited, though that’s what capitalism would ask of us. Don’t take them for granted or abuse their enjoyment of your work.
As time moves inexorably onward, it becomes a rite of passage to travel to your deleterious halls, your putrescent tunnels, your mortal altars. More offerings, more adventurers, and your quaking behemoth dominating the skyline for miles around.
Here’s where the metaphor ends. I’ve been outlining it in the commentary but now the thread gets into the actual marketing terms. So for this presentation of the idea, you’re getting the info multiple times. That should help it stick when you think back on it.
All of this is the marketing funnel. Every step above is actual marketing-speak filtered through the lens of dark fantasy.
Awareness: People learn of the dungeon and the horrid things it does. Your story starts.
Interest: People venture forth to explore the depths of the dungeon. You begin to engage them.
Decision: The people take the dungeon’s treasure. Purchases are made, goods are taken home.
Action: People cursed by the dungeon can’t let it go. Other people tell your story, building more awareness.
The cycle repeats
It’s really easy to get caught up on any one part of this cycle, to focus too hard, or to jump steps when you get excited or desperate. It’s also easy to forget that we often work on multiple things. So we’re at a different point in the cycle for different efforts, all at the same time.
Remember this, O Dungeon, focus and intent will get you farther than unplanned action.
This is important. All of this works if you plan for it to work. If you try and pull this off without a plan, you might see some success, but it won’t be as consistent as you’d like.
Do not tempt the heroes before your halls are unhallowed.
Do not ask for people to whisper of you in the dark until they have been fouled by you.
Be the ruinous mass you need to be and take things deliberately.
Not slowly. Deliberately. With consideration. With intent.
Otherwise, the heroes may purify the land, close your gaping maw forever.
Prepare, stock your corpulent larder well.
That’s the thread and commentary!
The thing that stands out to me, that’s a solid reminder for me (even though I wrote the thing) is that planning and intent matter a lot. It’s really easy to get caught up in any given moment when you’re Perpetually Online. There trends, hot takes, and drama that can overwhelm if you’re not careful.
The other important thing is that none of this speaks to the tools and platforms you use. This is all ground-level stuff but it’s transportable. Be it Twitter, Facebook, Tik-Tok, Discord, mailing lists, your own website, or whatever comes next, these principles should help you navigate them.
Getting into platform particularities and how important it is to have your own, curated, maintained space that’s not beholden to a platform, well, that’s another topic. I’m going to address it soon, though. It’s a pressing concern for a lot of creative people.
In the meantime, the closing point is this: buy into your own amazingness and find crafted ways to get others to do the same. Have confidence in your work and implicitly ask others to do the same. Keep them coming back, having been changed by their time with you.
You. Are. the Dungeon. Don’t forget it.