The Comics Are All Right: The Power in Data

comic-unit-sales-not-300The point of the “Comics Are All Right” articles are to do a couple of things, but most importantly give a more analytical data driven approach to the comic market. The first article discussed the reality of the comic market and what the few numbers we know tell us. The second attempted to define what exactly the comic market is.

While both paint a more positive look at the comic market, that doesn’t mean there aren’t places for improvement.

This third article begins to dive into that and more importantly how data can be leveraged to expand the buyers, the fans, the buzz.

If you work for a publisher I want you to ask these questions:

  • The average age, gender, income, education, ethnicity of my readers are?
  • My readers live in ____?
  • My readers also like to purchase ____?
  • My readers also read ____?

Now ask those questions for each title you sell.

I’m sure a lot of you answered, “I don’t know.”  There’s nothing to be embarrassed about that, partially due to the fact the comic industry just straight up lacks a feedback loop to get information back. Publishers sell to distributors. Distributors sell to stores. Stores sell to individuals. Very little information goes back up the chain. The loop is broken.

Now, imagine a different scenario.

Publishers sell to distributors. Distributors sell to stores. Stores sell to individuals and get the information they can at the point of sale and that information is then returned back to the distributor and publisher. Imagine what that opens up.

Better targeting of marketing. Knowing who is purchasing and thus being able to better find look-alike individuals. Knowing what stores are underperforming so that help can be provided. Knowing what areas could benefit from a tour of individuals. Knowing sell-through, how long things are on shelves, the list goes on and on.

Information is Power

2016-09-20_1507I work in politics. Based on certain information (age, gender, income, education, etc.) I can figure out if you’re likely to vote, vote for my candidate, support my cause, donate money.  We have targeting and micro-targeting down to a science and here’s a bit of how we do it.

If you don’t believe the above statement, stop reading now, because you will fundamentally disagree with my point and my pitch. In Democratic politics we have some major databases, a national voter database and data warehouses.  That national voter database is a first stop for many campaigns. It has the voting history of voters in America.  I can look you up and tell you when you’ve voted, what primaries, and with a little bit of information and looking at your history I can predict how likely you’re going to vote. Imagine taking that voter information but combining it with purchasing data, demographic data, whatever you’re willing or unknowingly giving.

Through those two databases, and a little legwork, data models can be created to figure out who supports candidates and causes and the likelihood of individuals to vote or give money or take action. Through that information, I can then target accordingly with the right ask and right message. If I know men who are part of the NRA, drive pick-up trucks, and read Maxim are unlikely to vote for my candidate, I won’t spend money to court them. Also, if a group is more than likely to vote for my candidate I’d seek those individuals out and more importantly individuals who are like them and target my outreach to them.

The first question the comic industry needs to stop and ask is not who do I want to target, but who is currently reading? The above is a simplified version of what occurs, but I can predict elections down to percentage points.  Imagine the power of the above for marketing comics?

The Data

2016-09-20_1506As I stated above, the needed feedback loop to really get the information needed is lacking in the direct market. But, information can be gleaned from elsewhere. Facebook, website traffic, Twitter demographics, can all be leveraged to find individuals who will likely support your comics. They’ve shown interest by seeking you out already.

Digital comics have the greatest potential to spark this data revolution. With each digital purchases data is directly gained such as the frequency of purchases, what is purchased, and potentially even how much is read. Email addresses unlock a treasure trove of data as it can be used to append commercial data. At a 30% to 40% match rate you can know the gender and age of purchasers for instance. You can know if they’re parents, own a home, their estimated income, and more. One particular data vendor I’ve worked with offers over 250 data points that you can begin to append for just change a record.

That data becomes powerful when used for marketing. If you know individuals regularly purchase certain comics you can make that comic front and center in your marketing emails. You can tailor images to the individual, for instance showing women’s or men’s sizes based on the gender data you’ve appended. And, if you notice one particular segment is more likely to buy a book, you can then find more people like them and market that specific book to them.

While this might seem like a herculean task only available to the biggest of publishers, this is something the individual creator can do if they want.

And there are absolutely differences between publishers. Marvel fans enjoy Call of Duty, Xbox, and Playstation far more than DC Comic fans. None of that ranks high for Image fans. Marvel fans enjoy the UFC, NBA, WWE, and NFL compared to DC’s NBA, WWE, and UEFA Champions League. Image fans just enjoy the NBA apparently. Should Marvel advertise to the UEFA? Should DC advertise to the UFC? According to this, that’s not the best strategy. Image might find success by teaming up with the NBA from what I see. For very little investment you can test these things to see what works for you.

I gathered the above data differences for free in five minutes.

The Pitch

2016-09-20_1510The Democratic and Republican parties have something of what I’m about to describe. There’s numerous parts to this and I’ve laid it out to some folks who don’t seem to see the big picture.

1) National Database – Someone needs to do it.  A database that goes from the publishing level down to the store and blog level. Data can be appended and a good idea of who is purchasing can be truly known. Data can be walled off, but general data/demographics would be made so that everyone can gain.

People like telling you about themselves. Through questionnaires or even appending the data through purchases you’ll know you is buying what. All it takes is an email address to start believe it or not. When following up asking for an email address with a survey, online I got high 70’s to low 80’s conversion to filling out the form, with pretty personal questions.

2) Universal platform – Imagine a national platform. A national database of comics. A website in a box. All tied into the above database. The proposed would tie in weekly releases, sales, stock management, ordering, bloggers, website capabilities, and most importantly ways to capture data. Blogs would have community tools, stores would have stock management and websites, and all of that data would trickle up eventually to the publishers. Better targeting, printing and shipping would occur since the data is real time and real customers.

Those two items can be implemented tomorrow. But the above is just the tease.  I’m not about to lay it all out there for you, I need some secrets. The bells and whistles are held close to my chest, but hopefully you get the idea.

Imagine knowing who buys your comic and where those people really live. You can better advertise, send artists and writers to events, schedule promotions. As publishers and creators you’d be able to grow your business and sales intelligently. Stores would be able to use the information and tools to better keep in touch with customers, find new ones and easily promote themselves.

A win – win situation for all.

When I described the above to a few folks I’ve been told “It’s been tried before” or “it’s too complicated.”  The response to that is bullshit. It may have been tried, but when was it attempted? Who were involved? What technology was used? If you can get entire parties to subscribe to versions of the above, an industry can do it if they have the will. It’s just who wants to opt-in and gain and who wants to sit on the sidelines and fade to obscurity.

What is needed

It all comes down to vision and leadership.  Instead of bitching about sinking sales and what genders may or may not be reading, we as a whole should figure out who is reading and how to reach more people like them. We should be focusing on the right questions to ask? We should stop rehashing the same convesations we’ve been having for decades. It’s about a vision forward. Now, who wants to take up the cause and lead?

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