A Marvel Approach to Sales
Don’t squander your opportunity for success by following the pattern of DC Comics. 5/27/2019 | Bill Petrie, Petrie's Perspective
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With the runaway success of Avengers: Endgame over the past month, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my beloved DC Comics characters I loved as a child. Of course, I had friends who preferred the characters in the Marvel universe like Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, and the Fantastic Four. However, I more closely identified with the likes of Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, and, because I was a swimmer, Aquaman. Candidly, to my young eyes, the superpowers were better and the outfits – especially Batman’s – were so much cooler.

Based on box office receipts of the past decade, it would seem that the entire nation – if not world – now shares my love of superheroes. What I find most interesting about this phenomenon is the fact that Marvel, which always played second fiddle to DC Comics in terms of popularity in the print world, has clearly surpassed their competition in every way when it comes to motion pictures: people identify with the humanity of the characters, the storylines are superior, and their overall approach to brand management is second to none.

In the same ten years, save for Wonder Woman and Aquaman, DC Comics has had one misfire after another: several failed Superman reboots, the disjointed (and, frankly, bizarre) Batman vs. Superman, a lackluster Justice League and, the critically derided and commercially disappointing Suicide Squad.

Whereas everything Marvel touches turns into a license to print money, every opportunity DC has to showcase their iconic heroes is squandered. Despite a brilliant cast of legendary heroes, DC Comics just can’t seem to get it right. I see the same thing in the world of promotional products – especially in terms of distributors. Regardless of talent, effort, and knowledge, success seems to elude many. Here are three areas where both promotional products distributors and DC Comics shoot themselves in the foot of success.

  1. 1.  Trying too hard – In almost every DC Comics movie, it’s clear they are trying to appeal to everyone: multiple (and confusing) storylines, several over-the-top villains, and convoluted endings designed to lure the crowd back to the next movie. Distributors also do this by showing what they think is innovative product instead of taking the time to understand what emotions the client is trying to elicit in their target audience. If you try too hard to sell “cool” or “new” products, you miss the entire point of the distributor/end-user relationship: to help solve specific business challenges through the use of branded merchandise. In reality, the only thing you accomplish is reinforcing the idea that you are a simply a peddler of products and not a provider of marketing solutions.
  1. 2.  Lack of Consistency – Since the resurgence of Batman in 1989, the following actors have portrayed the Caped Crusader on the silver screen: Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale, Will Arnett (the Lego Batman, but it still counts), Ben Affleck and, later this year, Dante Pereira-Olsen in Joker. I won’t even count the number of actors who have played the Dark Knight on television during that time. That lack of consistency has hurt the Batman franchise to almost a point of ridicule as each actor has a different take on how Batman should be. I see many distributors who aren’t consistent with their own branding message as it seems to change depending on the value of the client opportunity. A distributor cannot provide low prices, high quality, and exceptional value to all clients all the time – it’s just not sustainable. At most, only two of these can be provided for each transaction and continually bouncing from one to another erodes the distributor brand. Be true to you and your brand all the time and clients will easily identify with the specific value you do offer.  
  1. 3.  Authenticity – Taking the example above, the Batman character has strayed quite far from Bob Kane’s original vision of the world’s greatest detective. From Adam West’s campy version in the 1960’s to the current near-psychopathic Ben Affleck variant, audiences really don’t understand who Batman really is or should be. While the most authentic interpretation of the original is Christian Bale’s Batman, there have been too many variances across the decades for any version to feel authentic. In sales, it’s important to be somewhat of a chameleon to adapt to certain situations, but it’s even more imperative to be authentic. In all circumstances, you need to be you – period. When a client feels a salesperson is disingenuous, nothing else really matters as no level of creativity, packaging, experience, or even low price will save the relationship.

I will always have a soft spot in my adolescent heart for the DC Comics characters, but the company has disappointed me so frequently and in so many ways, my allegiance – at least in terms of superhero entertainment – lies with Marvel. As it relates to the promotional products industry, it’s imperative to avoid the same trap as DC Comics by trying too hard, being inconsistent, and lacking authenticity. If you do, your client’s will gladly spend their sales dollars with your competition.

When it comes to sales, aspire to be Iron Man, not Batman.

Bill is president of PromoCorner, the leading digital marketing service provider to the promotional products industry, and has over 18 years working in executive leadership positions at leading promotional products distributorships. A featured speaker at numerous industry events, a serial creator of content marketing, president of the Regional Association Council (RAC) board, and PromoKitchen chef, Bill has extensive experience coaching sales teams, creating successful marketing campaigns, and developing branding that resonates with a target audience. He can be reached at bill@PromoCorner.com.

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