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Innovation at Marvel Comics

Posted by Jennifer von Briesen on Thu, Oct 24, 2013

Originally posted on the South Street Strategy Group Blog

marvel avengers logoKristin Vincent, VP, Product at Marvel Entertainment, has been helping the 70-year old company re-define itself in the digital age. Not knowing much about comics when she joined the company in 2011, she quickly gained credibility and influence with her fresh perspective, insights and actions related to the company’s “Re-Evolution” digital strategy, which officially launched in March 2012.At a recent conference, she shared the principles Marvel has used to evolve its comics business so that fans continue to love their experience with comics, while traditional print and new digital formats and channels co-exist and thrive at the same time:

  1. Proclaim your intentions – Declare what you want to do and communicate this publicly. This not only creates anticipation and excitement, but it builds internal commitment and accountability.

  2. Develop new products with connections to existing products – This approach helps to minimize cannibalization, reassures existing customers and channel partners, and adds excitement to established products. Marvel gave everyone who bought a print comic a free digital version, and created an augmented reality application to be used with the print version to get additional behind-the-scenes information.

  3. Challenge the most basic assumptions you have about your products – For Marvel, this meant re-thinking what a comic is, beyond traditional attributes such as paper booklets, panels, and pages, to seeing it as serialized graphic storytelling with excellent graphics, opening up new “Infinite” comic possibilities that rethink what a comic page means

  4. Partner with users – Marvel used listening labs and usability testing to understand how fans experience comics. It brought fans in and used flip video cameras to record them in real world scenarios using comics and computers to understand pain points. Marvel also got fans to register to become Marvel Advisors to test products and provide input to their development pre-launch. Kristin says that as soon as the executive team watched a one-hour video highlighting all of the user issues and opportunities, it made a huge difference in helping to change the culture and continuing the effort to innovate

  5. Develop a roadmap that starts small and builds – Marvel started with one comic in a plastic polybag with a code inside for the digital download. Now users get a free digital download with all $3.99 comics in print

  6. Balance user requests with bold new ideas – Marvel re-launched Marvel Unlimited (a subscription program that gives users unlimited access to over 13,000 digital comics) but also sourced and introduced “Project Gamma,” an innovative new adaptive audio technology. It will be a cool new way to experience digital comics where the sound will change as you move through the story.

  7. Fail fast and pivot – Marvel had to take a promotion down on the first day when demand for free downloads was so great that the third-party servers it was using crashed and fans couldn’t buy digital versions for two days. They corrected course and used this failure as an opportunity to show customers they cared by being honest and transparent.

  8. Re-evolve –Marvel enhanced its print products with digital, and is using new formats.

In 2012, the innovations helped Marvel achieve triple digit growth in its digital business while keeping its core B2B brick-and-mortar store channel partners happy. The digital and print products complement each other, satisfying existing fans while opening up a whole new fan and user base.

Jennifer is a Director at  South Street Strategy Group. She recently received the 2013 “Member of the Year” award by the Association for Strategic Planning (ASP), the preeminent professional association for those engaged in strategic thinking, planning and action.

South Street Strategy Group, an independent sister company of Chadwick Martin Bailey, integrates the best of strategy consulting and marketing science to develop better growth and value delivery strategies. Read South Street's Strategy Group's blog here.

Topics: South Street Strategy Group, strategy consulting, product development, conference recap, customer experience and loyalty, growth and innovation