This past (long) weekend, I attended Comic-Con 2015 in San Diego. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for roughly the past decade, you have at least cursory awareness of this international confab of comic books, pop culture, anime, films, TV, sci-fi, fantasy, gaming, cosplay, and general geekdom. What you may not know is that it’s also fertile ground for lessons in effective marketing.
Here are some insights I took away from this year’s event.
1) Know your customers and they will come
Comic-Con caters to just about every preference and nerdy fetish. From mass appeal to niche obscurity, companies of all sizes use the conference to connect with their fan bases – new and existing. Part of making successful, meaningful connections involves knowing those fans well. Really well.
For technology marketers, we call this persona-based marketing. Before you can lead (or follow) any prospective customer down their buyer’s journey, you have to know as much about them as possible. What do they like and what do they hate? What stirs their passion or invokes their wrath? What do they value and what do they doubt?
Walking the aisles of the Comic-Con exhibition floor, it’s clear to see persona-based marketing in full, vivid effect. It’s like a magnetic power, attracting people from the aisles with an irresistible force. Steampunks, Spidermen and Stormtroopers flock to booths that clearly beckon them and a relevant, engaged conversation begins. By clearly crafting beacon messaging for your products – aligned to the needs and preferences of your respective audiences – you stand to lure the most targeted and interested people to you.
2) Think like a guerilla
Comic-Con is nothing if not a full-guns-blazing display of insane oneupsmanship among companies vying for the attention and affection of multi-generational fans. No longer confined to the San Diego Convention Center, Comic-Con has spilled out on the surrounding streets, neighboring restaurants and adjacent hotels out of the sheer demand for spectacle. Walking the Gaslamp District one evening, we witnessed a Sharknado 3 parade, were ambushed by zombies and had our restaurant stormed by “protesters” carrying conspicuously hashtagged picket signs.
It strikes me as the most over-the-top demonstration of having to stand out from a crowd – something any technology company has to strive to accomplish. I’ve always told clients that marketing isn’t just about competing against just your competition. It’s about competing against the entire media-saturated universe. You have to stand out before you can get ahead. Every email, every ad and every event is an occasion to break away from the formulaic and try something new. While you may not be dressing your staff like the undead anytime soon, there are myriad relevant ways to get people talking so you can ultimately get them buying.
3) Lead by example
While Comic-Con is renowned for its style, there is also a ton of substance to it. Exploring the labyrinthine halls of meeting rooms, you can sit in on sessions covering diverse educational topics from getting your first comic book published, to turning your novel into a movie, to how to improve your cosplay skills. Most of these panels are run by industry insiders and subject matter experts that combine insights unavailable anywhere else.
And this is the heart of content marketing for technology marketers. Offering up invaluable information for free can position you as a front-runner for consideration when a purchase opportunity arises. Becoming a fountain of wisdom on relevant subject matter can give you the trusted advisor status marketers covet and prospects trust.
4) Create immersive, enduring experiences
Beyond rubbernecking sideshow tactics, there is a need to create distinction with more engaging experiences that help entertain and educate. And when the approach is novel enough, you can create a memorable experience that reaps benefits for days and weeks.
At the Hard Rock Café, SyFy Channel did a full takeover of the Mary Jane’s restaurant to promote their new series “The Expanse.” In addition to floor-to-ceiling wrap artwork and new uniforms for the staff, each table offered an augmented reality experience leveraging Google Cardboard. With the aid of a free downloadable app, diners were invited to an immersive view of an alternate universe, replete with a fleet of interstellar spacecraft traversing a dangerous asteroid belt. Similarly, a patrol of PR operatives orbited the restaurant, soliciting feedback from the ogling patrons.
The experience leveraged some cutting edge technologies to create an enduring brand engagement that has legs well beyond four days at the Con. (Yes, I still have app and Cardboard viewer.)
5) Socialize everything
The hype around Comic-Con will most likely surpass the expectations of any single event most readers of this blog will experience. But even if you’re exhibiting at the most innocuous industry event, share the experience socially. Pre-announce your attendance, broadcast while you’re there, recap what happened. Solicit participation from partners and customers. Remarket content via on-demand webinars. Circulate photos. Promote your hashtag as a way for others to share and/or as a way to bait the curiosity of prospects. The more you seed your communities socially, the more you stand to see awareness and interest blossom.
6) Loyal customers can become diehard fans
What lingers with me most about the Con this year is the power of brand loyalty. In varying degrees and capacities, I witnessed evidence of rabid brand loyalty. Zealous fans in costumes they meticulously slaved over for months in order to display their fandom. Awestruck autograph seekers. People standing in line for days to be among the first on the planet to see a sneak preview of a favorite movie franchise.
While standing in line for a panel, I struck up a conversation with a man of my age who was there with his nine year-old daughter. The conversation drifted to the new Star Wars (which was the clear spotlight subject of this year’s Con). We both shared the generational impact of the movie franchise – how it affected us as children and how we’re passing that legacy along to our offspring. The Hall H Event for the Star Wars panel was full of probably the most impassioned fans of anything on the planet. The arrival of Harrison Ford was something akin to a religious experience for most, I’d venture.
But anyone that’s been to an Apple store on the eve of an iPhone release will admit that this ardent fandom isn’t solely a Hollywood-centric phenomenon. Even if customers aren’t tattooing your logo on their neck or naming children after your chipset, there are still ways to inspire your customers to become lifelong advocates – proselytizing the virtues of your brand. Working toward that goal – piece by piece, event by event, day by day – can Awaken the Force in your brand.