You spent thousands of dollars hiring the talent and printing your comic book series. It is so innovative and clever, clearly a publishing milestone, how could anyone not purchase your labor of love? But advance sales on number one are so poor you scrap the entire project. Maybe a different concept, a different group of characters - or maybe you spent nothing to market the book and your customer doesn't even know you exist!
THEY HAVE TO KNOW YOU EXIST
Competition in a Creative Market
"Build it and they will come" does not work in the comic book business. Creators are jousting for customer dollars with the big publishers. Dealers are unwilling to take a chance on a book they've never heard of. Comic series that, at one time, sold well go through personnel changes or simply lose that spark of interest that initially generates sales.
How does an independent comic book publisher build awareness of a series, maintain customer interest, and increase the probability dealers will take a chance on a book without an X in the title? It's called marketing, a scheduled awareness buildup that culminates with the advance sales listing. Several books can be marketed at a time, each with their own "peak" at the time of solicitation.
Will a comic book series survive in today's competitive market with a decreasing customer base? Not if the right people don't know you're there!
HIT YOUR TARGET
Gary's definition of marketing is "cost-effective, targeted advertising." "Targeted" means the advertising is geared specifically toward your customers. "Cost-effective" means the price-per-impression ratio is as small as possible to still be targeted. And "advertising" is much more than placing ads. Ads alone don't generate the snowball effect your project needs to be truly cost-effective.
I attended a meeting of comic professionals one summer, and the conversation eventually turned, as it always does, to marketing comic books to a broader audience. "Why doesn't DC have ads in Newsweek?" said an attendee. The same professional would spend his marketing budget with a syndicated radio show.
These could seem to be good ideas on the surface. But let's look at Gary's definition of marketing and see how they stack up. How targeted are they? What percentage of customers reading Newsweek would buy a DC comic book, based on that one expensive ad? Take the same money and put it into Comic Buyers Guide or Wizard. The percentage of customers reading that publication who would actually buy a DC comic book jumps WAY up. If you were a company, where would you put your money?
And you ARE a company. I don't care if you have a dozen people contributing to a publication, or if you, yourself, are the only employee. You are still a company and should make marketing decisions based on the same criteria the big boys use to sell product. You can't outspend them, but you can study the way they launch product (start a new comic), generate continued interest and spinoff from the comic's success. If Marvel is not advertising on talk radio, there must be a reason - those New York, big business marketing professionals have more data to base decisions on than you or I. Could it be that kind of advertising is not cost-effective, targeted advertising (Gary's definition of marketing)? Comics are not Snapple beverages - what works for one product will not necessarily work for another, because they have different "target markets."
LOOKING AT HOW THINGS WORK
The Three Pronged Assault
I believe effective comic book marketing should address the three areas needed to build awareness, maintain interest and increase dealer sales: customers, dealers and publications.
The customer end is fairly obvious and many companies already place ads in industry publications to lure customers. Comic conventions are also great places to sell to customers (Talk about your target market! Con customers attend to buy comic books). Most publications have their own websites (yet I'm surprised how many don't include information on how to ORDER the books). Some even go to the trouble of building customer mailing lists through subscription lists, giveaways at conventions and letters received.
Yet, without discounting the importance of customer contact, I have to point out that a customer sale is one book. Marketing to dealers can sell multiple books to the same location (decreasing the cost-per-impression ratio discussed in paragraph four). Marketing to publications can yield "free" advertising that leaves a lasting impression on everyone who reads the publication. These three areas, handled together through a solid schedule of planned awareness-building measures, can result in a juggernaut of name recognition.
Name recognition sells books, because few people want to gamble on an unknown. If they've heard of your book, it is no longer an unknown. If a dealer has seen your book a couple of times before you ask him to carry it, he will be an easier sell. If customers have heard of it several times and they run across it in the order book or on the dealer's shelf, they will remember!
NUTS AND BOLTS
Start with a System
While coloring comic books for companies, I've discovered most don't know the first thing about marketing. Also, financially successful or not, just producing quality comic books is so time consuming most wouldn't have the time to implement a marketing program if they had to.
I've worked as a rep for an ad agency, advertising manager for a manufacturer and have been in charge of aiding sales forces for newspapers and magazines during my long career as a graphic artist. Marketing is second nature to me. I know that a planned calendared system is the only way to effectively implement a marketing plan. Here are some of the tools I would use to market to customers, dealers and publications.
News release program - News releases (also called press releases) are sent to publications so the reporters there can follow up on the news they contain and expand or contract the story to fit the publication (What, you think they gather all that stuff by themselves?). This system is great for "free" publicity but must be written in a news style friendly to the publications. Kits should include the release (no more than three, one-sided pages), a hard copy illustration and the same graphic on disk. The more options you supply the publications, the better your chances for coverage (they often print the illustration with only a caption). One release per book per month prior to publication seems minimum, playing up on some "hook" in the plot, expounding on the talent (artist, writer, etc.), pushing some news event surrounding the book, etc. Editors can spot fluff - they're looking for something newsworthy.
I have used a news release mailing list I developed specifically targeted to cover people and publications in the comic book market. Other publications can be added depending on the focus of the release itself - for Discovery Comics' Screaming Eagle graphic novel, we decided to add Native American publications to the mailing list for press release number three, which talked about the Native American aspects of the novel.
Postcard Mailer - Increase your name recognition with important dealers with a postcard mailer to an exclusive dealer mailing list. Contacting every dealer in the country this way would not be cost-effective - better to target dealers that could be most interested in your book. Try developing a list with dealers that sell alternative publications, do over $500,000 in business, and/or advertise in industry publications. Your postcard should reflect the look of the ad and insert poster below for maximum recognition impact. Then comes the salesmanship - call the dealers on your list soon after they've received your postcard and talk to them about it. Remember, the most successful salespeople are the ones that are likeable - you know, a regular guy that is easy to talk to. Don't pop into fanboy mode. Dealers have to talk to that personality type all day. Just be a nice, polite, regular guy. Talk up your book. And close the sale. "So, how many can I put you down for?"
Previews Flyer Pack Insert Poster - You CAN reach all dealers before they order in a cost-effective manner. Previews has a Flyer Pack that is inserted with dealers' complimentary Previews. This is a more "shotgun" approach and less targeted than the postcard mailer, but is a good value for the coverage, and will give dealers something to hang in their store. Once again, the flyer should reflect the look of the postcard and ad for maximum recognition impact.
Previews Ad Near the Listing - A Previews ad is essential marketing. You have to grab that browser and make him look. Making him look is one step closer to an order. I like the half page black and white vertical format, next to your listing, much less expensive than a full page, but with similar impact for browsers. The ad should reflect the look of the postcard and insert poster above for maximum recognition impact.
I appreciate all the contact from companies who want more information on hiring me to do their promotions. Fortunately for me, and unfortunately for them, I have more work now in the printing and publishing areas than I can handle at the moment. This article can help - the key is to come up with the appropriate mailing/contact lists. Keep a notebook with you at conventions and pull names and addresses from current industry publications. You can do it!
Cost-effective, targeted marketing - customers, dealers and publications. These are the basics and can be expanded from here. But you should keep this system, or something similar, as the core of your marketing program. Would the widget manufacturer down the street tool up to manufacture widgets without a marketing plan? Of course not! He'd make a detailed study of how his industry works, what the competition is doing and how he can buy the biggest bang for his advertising dollar.
And a lot more people buy comics than widgets.
There are some very good (and not so good) marketing links on the web. Netscape's home page has a small business section with basic marketing explained that could be useful to you at http://home.netscape.com. Entrepreneur Magazine is a good place to put in your favorite places - its articles change monthly and go into detail about marketing techniques for different products. You can find it at www.entrepreneurmag.com.