Marketing Post-Comic Con: How a Loyalty Program Can Help


Q: What percentage of visitors to Wizard World’s comic cons travel 200 miles or more to be there?

A: 20%

Q: Peter Quill is the main character associated with which comic book franchise?

A: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy

Q: Which city is the best target for exclusive Star Wars merchandise created by Wizard World?

“The answer is we don’t know,” said Ryan Munoz, director of events for Wizard World, which organizes comic con events across the U.S. But the company is hoping to find out through a new loyalty program, which it hopes will also spur more personalized and lasting experiences for the most ardent of the approximately 500,000 fans who visit the conventions each year.

Munoz and Brad Marg, chief operating officer of customer management firm Clutch, spoke about efforts to create a new loyalty program for Wizard World at the recent Customer Centricity Summit in San Francisco. The event was organized by Knowledege@Wharton, Momentum Event Group and the Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative.

Wizard World initially launched in 1991 as Wizard magazine but since 2007 has focused solely on comic cons, which Munoz described as “pop culture conventions.” The company will hold more than a dozen events in U.S. cities in 2016, including one conference specifically focused on gaming. The largest event, in Chicago, typically attracts more than 100,000 attendees.

“We have a unique problem of addressing all of these different fan bases and nano-tribes and speaking to them not just at the event, but throughout the year,” Munoz said. “We could get to them as granularly as we like, but the question is: Who are our highest value customers?

With offices in New York and Los Angeles, Wizard World already relies on fan groups of different genres to help it take the pulse of different markets. But Munoz noted that Wizard World also currently lacks touch points for less vocal and visible customers — for example, the average ticket buyer for a comic con purchases two passes, ostensibly so he or she can attend with a friend. But at this point the company knows very little about the person who didn’t buy the ticket.

“We’re essentially forgetting half of our customers,” Munoz noted. “We want to figure out how to go after lapsed customers, or people who appear to be lapsed customers because they went to a different show or had a friend purchase their ticket.”

Marg added that the goal is to integrate all of the data that Wizard World is able to collect into one platform and then see how that data could be segmented. “One segment could be lapsed customers; another segment could be the characters or properties they are into; another could be gender or which cities they are able to travel to easily.”

If Wizard World can better understand who is buying tickets and what they like, it can tailor the comic con in each city based on that data — by offering special merchandise such as the aforementioned Star Wars figure, or by organizing special experiences or celebrity appearances to take place during the event.

“What’s really good today is not going to work tomorrow,” Marg added. “We can’t just have a program that we set up and forget about. We need to have a program that is constantly changing. We need to look at employees; we need to look to social media.”

Stepping Away from What’s Safe

Munoz noted that the Guardians and the Galaxy question he posed to the audience also alludes to a future challenge for Wizard World — entertainment companies are now digging deeper into the Marvel and DC archives to create new comic books, movies and television shows, and fans are developing pop culture obsessions that are more varied than what the events have seen in the past.

“A lot of the studios used to stay true to what was safe — the Batmans and the Supermans. We have seen multiple iterations of the same stories,” Munoz said. “Guardians of the Galaxy is an example of a fairly obscure comic — it did not have any big names and people thought it was pretty risky for the studio to make a movie. But it became one of the most successful launches from Marvel.”

Munoz added that Wizard World sees that success as a “great indicator that when you really project out the vast library that Marvel and DC have, they’re going to start testing new brands and are not going to be so reliant on household names — these are going to become the new household names.”

Wizard World is hoping to launch its loyalty program in 2016. In addition to creating a conduit for valuable customer data, Munoz said the firm is also working to set up rewards that are considered valuable to its customers.

“Some of the initial ones would be easy, low-hanging fruit like birthday rewards, ticket purchase rewards,” Munoz added. “But non cash-based rewards are the secret sauce for us. There is a level of exclusivity that not only the highest-valued customers want, but also everyone wants.”

For example, he said, “one consistent theme is that people do not want to wait in line for everything. But sometimes we have 500 to 600 people waiting for autographs from celebrities, and they’re waiting on line for hours.” A reward that allows loyalty program members to skip the line provides a sought-after service, Munoz noted, and also a highly visible example to non-members of what they could get by joining. Expedited registration and access to after parties would offer similar value, he said.

One of Wizard World’s biggest current touch points with consumers is the surveys it sends out after each event; about 37% of people who receive the survey fill it out. The company also has a comics-themed subscription box service and a streaming network called CONtv.

“We want to introduce many touch points at the show and throughout the year; we’re looking for ways that it does not always take a paid service to create engagement,” Munoz said. “Most people are engaged the three or four days they are at the show, and that’s our best opportunity to up-sell.”

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