August 11, 2017

4 things San Diego Comic-Con can learn from marketing so they don’t suck!

I admit it, I’m a geeky nerd. I’m a huge fan of Marvel/DC and of the artistry and story-telling that occurs behind the comic books and their cinematic representations. Recently, my family and I attended the 2017 San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) for the second year in a row, with hopes to make attending a new family tradition. I’ll confess that it was NOT a worthwhile and enjoyable experience due to the sheer number of operational inefficiencies. Our tradition making might end before it even begins unless the SDCC changes the way they treat their attendees. Having worked in an industry where customer experience and personalization is a key focus, here are a few ways the SDCC can change our minds:

 1) Effective use of technology – The SDCC already uses a slick online ticket purchasing system that automatically puts registered accounts into a queue which randomly chooses who can purchase entrance badges. SDCC can take advantage of their system and expand its functionality by entering the account (once it has the privilege to purchase badges) into another queue that awards access to high-demand events (Hall H, Ballroom 20). Not only would this mitigate some stress due to its definitiveness, this would negate the need to camp/stand in line 24+ hours in advance of the scheduled panel event time. Another expanded technology function could involve the synching of the SDCC mobile app with badge tracking data. This could assist attendees in planning their activities more effectively while aiding vendors by displaying appropriate notifications to interested parties at the right time and place.

In marketing, technology is designed and implemented in a way to make generating large contact lists easier through trick algorithms and configurable rules. It is also robust enough to perform other functions like track behavior and response data for better / educated marketing. With this properly used technology, marketers can focus on the important things like efficiently targeting customers. Scanning badges at the SDCC could help identify where attendees have been and what they attended, allowing the creation of journeys which brings me to the next point.

 2) Customer Journeys – This is one aspect SDCC should really focus on. Presently, the SDCC feels like a complete free-for-all with no direction (unless you count the people traffic wranglers aka crass convention staff with their literal direction antics). Once you show up to the convention, you immediately have no idea which entrances (spanning A through G) are considered the “safe” entrances. Safe entrances are entrances where someone will not bite your head off once you step up to the door. If you arrive early, you must wait in line (a line that can easily span a quarter mile) and still not know if that was the correct line to get into the convention. Here’s a frustrating example: We arrived early to get into a panel and waited in line only to be told that our 2-year-old needed a badge to enter (which was not required last year). The officials didn’t care that we already waited 40 minutes and directed us to another entrance where we were redirected again. Result = lost the opportunity to enter the panel we arrived early for.

SDCC really needs to assess the processing of attendees through a customer journey and I’m sure they can also go through a journey exercise from an exhibitor perspective as well. In marketing, this exercise helps define the tools and processes that will make interaction with your brand a successful and enjoyable experience. Positive experiences resulting from journeys ALWAYS improve retention and conversion.

 3) Personalization – Forget about feeling like a valued attendee at the SDCC. We were inundated with vendors shoving advertisements, catalogs, and obscure (in genres that was of no interest to us) comic books in our faces. At times, it felt nice to escape into a private washroom stall just to retain my sanity. Majority of the convention officials treated us like we were an inconvenience of their jobs to the point that I started disliking the sight of their two-toned shirts. Ultimately, we were just 4 people, out of the hundreds of thousands, who paid to get treated like cattle.

By comparison, there are marketing strategies that mitigate contact fatigue via finely tuned customer segmentation. When you know your customer well, you can create offers tailored to customer needs instead of spamming them with generic information. SDCC can take the same approach and gather genre interests during the registration process, including specific convention goals. If we wanted to participate in a convention panel, the SDCC could provide panel information including printable location maps and lists of potential interests that we could visit during our attendance, all customized to our needs. These personalizations may seem insignificant, but will have a big impact in making us feel less like cattle.

4) Mastery – Or lack thereof, really resounded in this year’s SDCC. Not only were officials inconsistent with their knowledge of the locations, procedures, and events; many officials deferred to the other officials (on the other side of the convention) that straight up didn’t know basic venue knowledge like where the nearest washroom was.

In our marketing practices, we offer mastery to arm clients with all the necessary knowledge to efficiently and effectively achieve their goals. Not only does this empower them to support themselves, it gives them the confidence and sense of accomplishment when they are successful in their tasks. This brings satisfaction overall and repeat business for us since they recognize us as partners and not consultants focused on the bottom line.

I’m not really a betting man, but I’d put money down that attendees would be more appreciative of SDCC staff if they were masters of their processes and convention information. Less feelings of frustration and helplessness (since there would be very knowledgeable staff around) results in better focus on the amazing cosplay and event attractions throughout the venue.

San Diego Comic-Con not practicing these core marketing fundamentals was a huge disappointment for my family and me. These fundamentals are common sense ideals that my firm has seen provide success at many organizations. SDCC is the biggest comics-based event of its kind so they are held as the standard for which all are compared. They should be setting a better example than what we witnessed firsthand from an organizational and experience perspective. Don’t get me wrong, SDCC is still a great event with a lot to offer their attendees but by following and implementing these fundamentals, they can evolve into something better and enjoyable. The achievable benefits are not just for their attendees, but for everyone, especially those starting or continuing family traditions.