Marvel has successfully managed to captivate audiences across generations, geographies and fandoms for decades. Recently, Avengers: Endgame even grossed $1.4 billion worldwide within a week of its release. But what keeps audiences coming back to Marvel? In a world with no shortage of visual content, Marvel’s success is owed in a large part to its brilliant marketing.
Marvel Studios spent over $200 million on its marketing campaign to promote its latest release, investing heavily in social media, visuals, events, and more. But outside of this budget, Marvel’s success is owed to how well it leverages its assets, from the cast, to the storyline, to the audiences themselves, making their work almost market itself.
Here are five marketing lessons every marketer could learn from Marvel:
- Plan ahead: Strategic marketing is just as important as a killer product/concept
Little known fact: Many famous characters in the Marvel universe today were originally invented by the DC universe, but Marvel re-invented these characters and that’s all who we remember today. So, what makes Marvel’s characters more famous though they were only second to launch them? Marvel learnt from the stumbling marketing efforts of DC or the lack of it and quickly piggy-backed on the opportunity to create superheroes that audiences could emotionally connect with, backed with its strategic marketing focus of building momentum in phases—launching new heroes through cross-promotion marketing via its own well established heroes, creating curiosity with strong superhero characters and plot lines, building connections with the audiences, and using their actors as brand ambassadors. The marketing lesson here is strategic long-term marketing vision all based on the question—fast money now or more money later? For instance, did you know that Marvel has its movies, plotlines, and characters mapped out until 2028? That’s the kind of strategic marketing focus it takes for brands to succeed.
- Influence More than your Target Audience
Marvel leverages its actors’ social media presence, like no other brand—even having the cast tease portions of the film and plotline without giving much away. This taps into the influence sphere of each actor, attracting audiences both within and outside of the Marvel fanbase. By leveraging the influence that the cast, loyal fans, and supporters of the franchise have over their own social groups—Marvel benefits from influencer marketing as much as it does from its more targeted promotional tactics. An area of marketing that PeerIndex and its CEO Azeem Azhar focus on extensively.
Azhar’s company leverages this social capital of everyday consumers to create “tastemakers” who have influence over the specific social groups to which they belong. By investing in influencer marketing, a brand can break into niche target audience groups and expand its audience base without spending an exorbitant amount on its marketing budget.
- Make your message interesting
Most viral content on the internet today has one thing in common—a puzzle to solve, like “the dress” from 2015 that had the internet in a feud over whether it was “blue and black” or “white and gold”, leaving breadcrumbs about the plotline of each new film on various social media platforms. Marvel’s movie trailers are also a masterclass in calculated disclosure—setting up characters without giving away the storyline, dripping teasers of upcoming films and keeping audiences constantly guessing. Mystery marketing has proven to be an effective strategy time and time again for Marvel, leading to the ultimate social media marketing goal—having your product go viral. The range of methods that this type of marketing provides brands is immense, from using binary code in ad messages, to ending advertisements on a cliffhanger, there are many effective ways to engage your audiences through cryptic messaging tactics that keep them coming back for more.
- Connect with the heart
Another benefit of viral marketing is that it immediately attracts consumers outside your traditional target audience or fanbase but sustaining that interest can sometimes be a struggle. For marketers to sustainably expand their consumer base, it is important to strike an emotional chord as well. Marvel does this well through its character development. You don’t have to follow the Avengers to be emotionally invested in Natasha and Hawkeye’s friendship or see the humor in Captain America and Iron Man’s rivalry. The characters and their very human emotions make them relatable to almost anyone. While not all brands might have the space to build character narratives for their products, the lesson here is to maintain authenticity and humanity in your marketing efforts, moving towards a human-centric approach, aiming to connect with consumers at a value level, instead of just selling them great products. An effective way to do this is to focus on core brand values in your communication with consumers. For example, British skincare company The Body Shop attracts audiences through its focus on value words such as cruelty free, organic, earth friendly, and spends it marketing budget on ads that highlight conservation efforts and activism. Such an approach attracts consumers with similar values to their products and ensure consumer loyalty.
- Up-sell and cross-sell
Apart from its box office revenue, Marvel makes millions off its brand affiliated merchandise: action figures, toy sets, board games, spinoffs on Netflix, network TV spinoffs, and more. Quite simply, it maximizes profits in every sector with every cross-sell. For marketers, think about how you can create a suite of products around your concept, moving beyond one-time products to create space for up-sells and cross-sells within your market. Studies show that it is 5-25 times more expensive to acquire a new consumer than it is to sell to an existing one, up-selling and cross-selling are therefore effective strategies in any industry—from upgrading to jumbo size or getting a side order of fries at a fast food chain to premium access or add-on software for tech companies. As a marketer, figuring out how to enhance an existing product or service can only benefit your brand.
In the words of Tony Stark, “heroes are made by the path they choose”, so when it comes to laying out your marketing strategy, make sure you choose right!
Marvel has successfully managed to captivate audiences across generations, geographies and fandoms for decades. Recently, Avengers: Endgame even grossed $1.4 billion worldwide within a week of its release.