My deep, dark secret is that I like comic books. I was hooked on super heroes the day my 5th grade teacher gave away his comic collection to his class, and though I stopped collecting years ago, I never stopped being a fan. I still follow the industry, and even pick up a title or two (or three) for escape or inspiration.
So with the planned acquisition of Marvel Comics by Disney making the news, I can’t resist the opportunity to combine my vocation with avocation. And I’ve thought for a long time that corporate communications and marketing — especially B2B and technology marketing — has something to learn from an entertainment business like Marvel Comics.
The comics industry is fun to watch, and they do a number of things that translate into B2B and technology marketing. To wit:
1. They remember that it’s about people. In comics, Marvel’s breakthrough was superheroes like Peter Parker and the Fantastic Four, who acted like real people with real problems. It’s all about real people doing extraordinary things.
Beyond the product, your people vital are characters in the company story — from the visionary technologist to the insightful marketer (hopefully) to the customer service rep who goes above and beyond, businesses can grow awareness and loyalty by pulling back the veil and making the corporate more personal…and real.
2. They know that the customer owns the product. At a company like Marvel that has shared the soap opera of its character’s lives for nearly 50 years, the editors and creators clearly recognize that the characters and stories live in the hearts of the fans. They are stewards of the story, responsible both to respect what came before, and to innovate in ways that keep the stories vital and break new ground.
There’s a parallel in B2B and technology — every purchase impacts the livelihood of the purchaser. It may be a part of their day to day business, or fuels productivity. The customer, in other words, is invested in your success. So it’s only natural that they want to be respected and heard. It’s why users groups and conferences are so important for many tech businesses, and why companies that are socially engaged in their markets tend to be more successful.
3. They know that being social gets results. Comic books are largely sold in specialty stores and online rather than through mass market retail. Comic publishers like Marvel deal constantly with the push and pull of B2B channel marketing — their audience is store owners as much as the comics fan — often simultaneously. Their channel to the audience is an often bewildering array of online and traditional magazines, national and regional cons, fan blogs, gossip columns, discussion forums, social networks and even a couple national newspapers.
The result is an industry where the channel, fans and media are incredibly close to the creators, editors and publishers. You get weekly interviews with the Marvel editor-in-chief, a teriffic ‘inside baseball’ blog by their executive editor, Q&A’s with writers on major storylines via podcasts and text, individual creator websites and forums, writers’ Twitter feeds…et cetera. They produce news themselves, and participate in the hurly burly of the media market.
Of course, not every business generates the kind of passion that comics do. The point is, they’re out there participating. And they are out there producing. As a media business, they recognize that they have something to say every day, their customers have something to say every day, and they use all the tools available to say it.
Any other secret or not-so-secret comics fan/marketers out there? What say you?