The Comics Are All Right: Marvel, Geo-location, and Contextual Marketing

Last week Marvel announced they were making some changes in their email program and would start advertising comics in movie theaters and on television. The news was covered with some praise, which it deserves, but beyond the announcement itself there wasn’t much as to what they were actually doing. So, this felt like the perfect opportunity to go into more depth as “The Comics Are All Right” column’s point is to point out the negative, positive, and present things with actual facts and data.

But, to better understand the Marvel announcement about geo-location and marketing, you need to first understand email. I’m not talking about the email you send to one person, I’m talking bulk email where special programs are used to send thousands or even millions of messages. When these messages are sent there’s a few extra steps compared to a one off message you send to a friend, and one of those is adding more information to the email. That info might help track people who open or click the message or it might change parts of the email like adding your first name to the message or changing an image. Usually, that is based on static information in a database, like a first name or a product being sold based on past purchases or your behavior on a website.

What Marvel is doing is doing that, but it’s on steroids.

By teaming up with the company Moveable Ink, a leader in what’s known as contextual marketing, Marvel is able to leverage more information than what’s in a database and also able to power their email program in a different way. Moveable Ink is a technology leader in what’s known as contextual marketing. This type of marketing delivers content based on behavior and data. You probably experience it every day without noticing. Moveable Ink makes that marketing easier in email through their toolset.

In the announcement, Marvel said they’d be including information for local comic book shops in the emails they send promoting their spring comic launches like X-Men Gold and Secret Empire. In the past, that information would be static. Marvel would use information like a zip code to match your location with a local shop and that information would be merged into the email. Where this program differs is that the information can constantly change. If Marvel leverages Moveable Ink in the way it’s supposed to be used an email you’re sent can show different shops based on your actual physical location. In one location on Monday you’ll be shown one shop and in another location on Tuesday you’ll be shown a different shop. The email evolves based on your physical location.

The above the scenario is what Marvel touched upon in their announcement without that much detail and also left out is the cost of it all. Moveable Ink is not cheap. For 600,000 opened emails a company would pay around $15,000. Marvel has an email list of about 1.5 million and averages about 14% opens per email. So, they’re spending about $5,000 per email sent using this system. But, it’s a successful tool and can boost sales, though I haven’t ever discussed real world purchasing with Moveable Ink only online sales when it comes to their success stories.

And that’s a big question to me. How success will be measured? A digital sale is easy to measure, but driving someone to a store to buy a physical product is a bit more difficult. The publisher can look at opens and then cross reference sales to a store, maybe, but it’s not an easy task laid out. Add in the fact this will need to boost comic sales by the 10s of thousands to be profitable and you have to respect the task at hand.

But, what Marvel didn’t lay out in their announcement email is the other uses of the tool. Sales can be updated when they end. New release information can be swapped out. Events can be better tailored to the individual and promoted. The same email may look different in the morning than it does in the evening. There’s a long list of possibilities and to see what they do with this new found tool will be interesting.

This is a big leap for the comic industry, one that is woefully outdated in the marketing and promotion. This technology has existed since 2010 and I’ve been aware and working with it in my political email career for 4 or 5 years at this point, and was checking it out for years before. Hopefully, other publishers take note of this move and truly understand how powerful this technology is and how much it can benefit them. Someone needs to be first and Marvel has stepped up.

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