Warp Speed Ahead: 5 Marketing Lessons You Can Learn at Comic-Con

Make it so.


By Kim Honjo

The longest line I have ever stood in was at Comic-Con International in San Diego. The line snaked through Plaza Park, behind the length of the convention center on Convention Way, past the grounds of the Marriott, and I joined the end just before a restaurant called Sally’s Seafood on the Water over half a mile away. I was nowhere near the last person to join the line that day. Worst yet, I was only a placeholder; my friend wanted to watch the cast of the TV show Lost at a panel, and was waiting in some other line to obtain her day pass. As I held her spot, I saw groups of people walking past me, visibly blanching at how much longer the line extended. This is nuts. This is amazing. A marketer’s dream, I thought.

Every year, San Diego Comic-Con whips up fans and the geek industries into a frothy, sweaty, verklempt ball of mass excitement. If you have never attended, the energy surrounding the convention vicinity is not unlike a large scale rock concert. Originally a comic book convention started in 1970, the gathering grew in numbers and popularity and now attracts 130,000+ people, the maximum capacity of the San Diego Convention Center. Various entertainment and media companies attend the convention as well, so it’s become the largest pop culture convention in North America, and it’s all kicking off tonight. For a lot of businesses, this is their peak time period, where they sell lots of merchandise, grow their brand, and win new customers.

With so many things going on, it’s easy to get lost in the sea of brands, companies, and people. These are some of the lessons I learned while attending Comic-Con, and how they can help smaller businesses with their marketing strategy — event, social or otherwise.

1. Help your audience find you …

… And give them an incentive to do so. Very important. There are over 700 exhibitors in the expo hall at the convention, each one vying for customer attention. Unless you’re with a big studio or company, there’s a good chance that your company’s message will get lost in the noise. A few smaller companies and artists had terrific, creative ways of helping people find their booths and tables. Here’s a few tips:

  • Remember to pin a tweet or Facebook post to your page notifying fans of your location! People who already know your company will look at social media first for information!
  • The best cosplayers and fun costumes get a lot of attention. Hire a cosplayer or two to promote your booth. Rent a stormtrooper outfit and add some interesting flourishes. My favorite was a bagpipe-playing, kilted version, who created quite a spectacle while walking the halls.
  • Don’t just pass out flyers; make sure that they’re working for you. Turn the flyer into a coupon offer, or make it redeemable for something when people stop by your booth.
  • I don’t condone littering or graffiti, but I’ve also seen some cool removable decals and intriguing washable sidewalk art leading people to booths and websites.

2. Offer appealing exclusives

Put some effort into your swag! This isn’t a stuffy corporate convention, so take advantage of your unusual audience. Offer things that are fun or unconventional that tie into your company. Last year, Fox gave away Wayward Pines branded pine air fresheners. Warner Bros. gave away Big Bang Theory-related Monopoly tokens. What would your customers be excited about? Aside from all of the cool giveaways I received just by asking, (endless buttons, reusable bags, posters and even apparel) many companies were offering convention-only exclusives. From rare memorabilia contests, to offering personalized experiences, to selling merchandise only available at this event, the exhibitors all tried to capitalize on the viral nature of the con. “Where did you get that?” is constantly on the lips of convention-goers. This word-of-mouth marketing can really take hold in a confined ecosystem.

Future retirement plan?

To my surprise, a box showed up on my doorstep 7 months after Comic-Con. I scanned my badge at the NBC booth hoping to win some merchandise from The Office. Turns out, I won a larger prize: a limited edition Zune with Heroes branding. Talk about your collector’s item!

3. Ambassadors … assemble!

There are fans … and then there are FANS! Many of these folks have traveled far distances, took time off from work, and paid obscene amounts of money for hotel rooms, so they are looking for a fun, memorable time. If you’re going to make the effort of attending a big show like Comic-Con or E3, interact with your supporters and admirers in creative ways. They’ll have fun, you build loyalty, and you might get some great shareable content: win-win! Some easy things you can do to delight your customers:

  • Run a daily photo scavenger hunt for prizes
  • Run photo/video contests via Instagram and Twitter with different themes.
  • Release an exclusive preview or announce upcoming products either at your booth or during an event you’re participating in.
  • Give away inexpensive, identifiable wearable swag like headbands, buttons, or wristbands. Send out a prize patrol to walk the floor and reward your fans wearing your stuff with prizes, points or discounts etc.
  • Create a fun photo opportunity at your booth via backdrop or standing cutout.

4. Think like a customer

There are going to be a ton of moments for you to admire other people’s handiwork. Larger companies with bigger budgets are always going to create those ‘wow’ moments for their customers in terms of scale, but you can still treat your customers right by giving them a unique experience. Start by thinking like a customer: what would they really want to see from you? What would really excite them about your products or services? What’s the best way to deliver that experience to them?

When I was walking in the expo hall, some of the best moments I had were from the smaller booths and artists who were able to deliver a more personalized experience and a behind the scenes glimpse into what they do. Simone Legno was working at the tokidoki booth, so I asked him how an Italian kid got into anime. After a panel discussion, the cool editors at Viz Media talked with me about the state of print publishing and told me about upcoming projects they were excited about. I was even able to discuss with Lela Lee how her Angry Little Girl character physically resembled myself. And of course, I bought stuff from all of these places. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to create special moments for customers — just think creatively and play to the strengths and assets you do have.

5. Extend your reach

Think outside of the convention floor, literally. There is so much going on inside of the event space, that you have opportunities to get noticed by not being crowded in with the hustle and bustle. Some of the larger companies are really good at this. Nerdist Industries usually hosts live podcast tapings and stand-up shows in venues outside of the con. Last year, Ubisoft put together a fun parkour course on the lawn in front of the convention center to promote their latest Assassin’s Creed title. You could host or partner with events close to your main event site. Meet & greets, happy hours, party for customer MVPs, hackathons, multi-player gaming competitions etc. People need to leave the convention center to decompress and eat something other than nachos, so why not give them an alternative that stays in the spirit of the gathering?

It doesn’t matter if you’re attending big conventions like Comic-Con, or not participating in events at all — there are definite takeaways for any marketer on how to interact with customers. If you’re able to create positive interactions and experiences, you’ll create a base of happy, loyal customers that builds you a stronger brand.

Are you going to Dreamforce? All of these tips will apply there too! Click the button below to register now.

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