My son’s first sci-fi convention taught us more than we ever wanted to know about spandex; but, it also illustrated the principles of great marketing.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a huge fan of science fiction. From Star Trek to Star Wars – and everything in between – I love and admire the genre. So, I was extremely excited when my teenage son expressed his desire for the two of us to attend a large Comic Con fan convention.
I will always remember the look of wonder in his eyes as he walked the floor of the convention center on the first day of the event. Never had a he seen so many skintight costumes adorned so enthusiastically by so many unlikely superheroes. Thousands of people had managed to find some of the most unique ways possible to simultaneously express their individuality and celebrate their common interests.
What does any of this have to do with marketing your new store? Quite a lot, actually, in fact, looking back, I think that experience illustrated at least five key lessons that marketers must embrace to be successful:
1. Find what makes you unique, and express it
Cosplayers (i.e., people who dress up like a character from a movie, TV series, comic book, etc.) start by finding a character with whom they can identify. But, they almost always find a way to personalize their costume and make it uniquely their own.
What does your store do differently than your competitors? Do you offer a more personalized shopping experience? Is your story all about price? Do you use technology in a unique way? As we ask in the world of marketing, “what is your unique selling proposition?” Once you know what it is that makes you you – be sure to prominently illustrate your unique positioning in everything you say and do to promote your brand and your store.
Have you ever eaten at Gordito’s in Seattle, the home of the “baby burrito?” They offer a baby-sized burrito that’s nearly as large as a newborn child. It has become a tradition for customers to take a photo of this popular dish next to their newborn. The restaurant now has a baby burrito wall of photos. They’ve found their niche and they embrace it!
2. Looks for ways to connect with your target
I suppose the whole purpose of a sci-fi convention is to give fans a place to honor and celebrate a connection they feel with a particular character, actor, artist or genre. But, make no mistake, there is business to be conducted and money to be made – lots of it. Hundreds of exhibitors are selling products ranging from action figures to props to general memorabilia. Plus, a huge draw at the conventions is the movie and TV stars who are on hand to sign autographs and pose for photos with fans.
What need or desire is your new store fulfilling for your target audience? This is the other main message you want to convey in your marketing. How you share that message should be greatly dependent upon the message itself and the audience you’re trying to share it with. How small is the audience you’re tying to reach? Are you talking to a niche group or a much larger, mass audience? Regardless, make sure you are thoughtful about using words, imagery and an advertising mix that is right for your target.
3. Break with convention
OK, I admit it…pun intended! At Comic-Con, people are able to break out of their established “norm” and, for a few days, be someone (or some thing) unexpected.
As marketers, we have to be willing to break out of our traditional molds and do something in a non-traditional or unexpected way. One of the most quoted advertising clichés involves finding ways of getting your message “to break through the clutter.”
I remember reading about a wildly successful billboard design for a restaurant in West Dallas that broke all of the established “rules” for outdoor advertising. It didn’t provide directional information, an address, a phone number or even a website URL. In fact, it didn’t even promote food.
When was the last time you took a little risk with your advertising program? It could be just the thing to get some attention in today’s world of tech-savvy, potentially ad-averse consumers.
I sincerely doubt anyone at a convention has as much fun as those who choose to dress up. You can see on their faces – with or without a mask – the validation that comes with a request from another conventioneer to take their photo. It really is “dress-up” in the most fun, positive way possible. Well, with the exception of the guy who dressed up as Princess Leia from Star Wars. That’s a sight you can’t “un-see!”
If you’re trying to market your store, I think the lesson here is to keep it fun. Find ways to make your grand opening (and the shopping experience you’re offering) as enjoyable as it can possibly be. Is it a matter of offering free Wi-Fi or mobile payment processing in your store? Is it simply making your grand opening a must-see event? Keep it fun and, as I always tell clients, make sure it’s an event or a shopping experience that would entice you!
5. Find ways to create positive word-of-mouth
One of the best promotional “stunts” for the event I attended had nothing to do with email marketing, online behavioral targeting or a well-executed social media campaign. It was a guy in a suit, walking down the sidewalk outside the actual event. Specifically, he was wearing an Iron Man suit (costume) that looked so real I almost expected Robert Downey, Jr. to flip up the mask at some point and unleash a wisecrack and a Hollywood smile. Still, he quickly amassed a crowd of pedestrians who wanted their pictures taken with him. And, many of them followed him into the actual event.
What kind of guerilla marketing tactics can you employ to create word-of-mouth for your store opening? A movie-caliber superhero costume is certainly one (very cool) way to go! But, in all seriousness, find something that is unique to you and your brand. Build an event or a call-to-action around something that is uniquely you. Remember lesson #1! It should relate to something inherent in how you do business or the type of products and services you offer. Be creative. Think about how the media, as well as Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms can help spread the word about your event.
But, remember to establish some self-imposed boundaries on yourself. Whatever you do must be representative of your brand personality and what you stand for as a company.
6. Surround yourself with creative people
You won’t find a lot of people attending a convention alone. Now, I realize there are always exceptions. But, most people participating in these events as a member of a larger group. The saying, “there’s safety in numbers” takes on new meaning when you’re in costume. It’s a supportive, “gang” mentality in the best possible way.
One of the biggest reasons advertisers hire an advertising agency or consultant is to task them with finding fresh, creative solutions to their marketing problems. But, there are countless marketing ideas that can come from within your own company. Did you know the idea for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (originally the Macy’s Christmas Parade) came from store employees in the early 1920’s? They were mostly first-generation immigrants who wanted to help celebrate America with the creation of an event similar to the festivals their parents had enjoyed in Europe. That simple idea is now a huge marketing event with an in-person audience of several million New Yorkers and a TV audience of nearly 50 million consumers.
Just think what your employees could help you dream up!
So, there you have it. Apparently, all you really need to know about new store marketing can be learned at a science-fiction convention. When my son and I headed out that weekend, our primary objective was for him to meet Norman Reedus from AMC’s The Walking Dead. (He is, by the way, one of the most personable, humble actors I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting; he had a conversation with every single person who stood in line to get his autograph).
I certainly never expected to actually see so many marketing lessons play out right in front of me.
And, thankfully, I didn’t have to wear spandex.