What We Can Learn About Tech and B2B Marketing from Comic Books

3 Sep

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?

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2 Responses to “What We Can Learn About Tech and B2B Marketing from Comic Books”

  1. n October 10, 2009 at 1:52 pm #

    HI I REALLY LOVE THIS ARTICLE BUT HEY WHAT ABOUT THE AFRICAN SUPER HEROES? WHEN WILL THEY BE BORN? ITS HIGH TIME EVERYONE SHOULD LOOK AT THE AFRICAN CONTINENT AND SEE THAT THERE ARE SUPER HEROES ALSO. PLEASE WE NEED MARKETERS TO HELP US PUBLISH TO THE WORLD THE AFRICAN SUPER HEROES. IF ANYONE IS INTERESTED PLEASE CONTACT ME ON KENNYSAINT2@GMAIL.COM. WILL BE GLAD TO HEAR FROM ANYONE AND IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE A SAMPLE OF OUR NEW COMIC BOOK TITLED MYTHS THEN CHECK OUT http://WWW.AFRICANCOMICANIMATION.BLOGSPOT.COM OR SEND ME AND E-MAIL AND I WILL SEND YOU SOME OK?THANKS

    • Ken Kadet October 10, 2009 at 5:39 pm #

      Thanks for writing, Kenny… African Super Heroes isn’t really my topic here, but I’m up for talking comics once in awhile. It’s funny how some of the best black superheroes, in American Marvel Comics at least, are Africans like Black Panther and Storm rather than African Americans — both are pretty popular characters, if not at the top of the sales charts. Storm has been a central character in the X-Men franchise for decades, and the Panther has been a mainstay, recurring character in many books for even longer. Unfortunately, you combine these two with the top African American characters in Marvel — say, Luke Cage, The Falcon and, if you stretch it, Misty Knight — and you’re still counting on one hand. You’d think good creators could do better…Dwayne McDuffie’s Static being an exception that headlined comics and a TV show for a time… I can’t think of more than one or two in the DC line… (Steel and one of the Green Lanterns — are either still around?).

      The folks in the comics community have written extensively about the dearth of good black characters as well as the challenges of developing a market for them — I hope they keep trying because I think there are great stories to be told in the medium.

      So as for a new line of African Super Heroes — go for it … the cover on your site looks interesting. I’m not sure how much of a market there is in America…but it’s all about the stories. I’m sure they can be drawn from everything from African myths and legends (as you seem to be doing) to modern politics. American super hero comics were in many ways born of people seeking fantasy that transcended the impossible challenges of their day — from the Great Depression to simply being a skinny, pimple-faced dreamer in a world that idolizes strength and beauty. Just remember that the best comic book stories — like the best marketing — are ones that make you feel like you’re reading about real people facing real challenges, even in the most outlandish situations … Best of luck to you!

      Anyway, thanks for writing and best of luck to you!

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