Making Your Marketing Heroic

Why comics? And why Comic Con? In light of its explosive growth and popularity, one obvious and very important dimension is what Comic Con’s ongoing presence says about contemporary culture and consumers. For no one who is involved with or interested in Comic Con can fail to appreciate the passion, imagination and creativity on display – on the parts of the producers as well as the fans. Cosplay alone should tell us about the dynamic transformation that so-called consumers have undergone in recent years. Just ask the major recording labels.

Regarding all forms of new media, much has been made of attention deficit. About online gaming, social media and graphic novels critics frequently contend that the influence of these has been uniformly negative and that attention deficit disorders have grown proportionally as the prevalence of new media has increased. But what if sometimes it’s not a deficit at all? What if it’s, in fact, boredom or impatience with predictable content? or an unwillingness to sit through yet another spectacle of Beginning-Middle-End when the outcome was already determined by the single frame? Is it attention deficit that makes graphic novels so popular now? or is their popularity a recognition that their multiple and complex framing and invitation to condense and read complexly BETWEEN frames are suited to the intense and HIGHLY focused energies of contemporary readers? And the fact is, they are better suited because from one perspective, today’s readers are potentially (an important discrimination) more informed, more demanding than any previous group of readers in history. There is potentially more information at the tip of a finger than any one reader can ever process. And the resulting message from that reader? Simple: “Don’t waste my time telling me something I already know but instead allow me to skip around, discovering and creating as I proceed within my own sequence.”

Put another way, the message for marketers from Comic Con is: Make your content be at least as rich, complex, varied and imaginative as your potential customers are. For if we accept it as fundamental that adult humans seek above all else to be able to exercise their faculties at large in a complex world, then it follows that no one struggles through the travails of childhood in order to be spoon-fed as an adult. And if, as a marketer, you are confident in the quality of your product or service, then assume your potential customers to be as creative in their appreciation of that product or service as you and your company were in developing it.

Because form is everything. And the form in the sequential art of comics is participatory. Another way of put-ting this: there is – formally – an enormous DIY element in Comic Con. The question is: why is that so appeal-ing to contemporary readers (read: customers)? One reason may be that we are quintessentially incomplete, the only animals who are… that is, unfinished. It may seem at times like restlessness, but equally, on the positive side, it may also be an irrepressible urge to explore and, being incomplete, we have all that possibility to – frame by frame – reveal and/or string together into new or unanticipated results.

In other words, instead of “marketing AT” your customers, market WITH. “Invite” your customers to fill in the blanks, to jump ahead, sideways, back, to PLAY with the content.

Why? Because in doing so, customers not only learn about themselves but equally, learn about YOU while enjoying learning about themselves. And there is always the possibility that the answers uncovered in either or both of those reflexes may be the most gratifying of all – and that in that new-found identification the perfect space for your product or service is uncovered.

There are many insights to be taken away from Comic Con, but foremost has to be the understanding that today’s consumers are the most sophisticated in history and that communicating with them must be equally sophisticated. We all need to understand that – in the contemporary world – if we underestimate our customers, there will always be someone else who won’t.

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