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4 Lessons Southeast Asian Start-Ups Can Learn From Marvel

Content and marketing 101 from the superhero powerhouse

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BY Lian Kyla Dyogi - 13 Mar 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Back in 2008, there was a little-known film called Iron Man, Marvel Studios’ first independently produced movie. Audiences had seen superhero movies before. There were numerous Batmans, Supermans, and the X-Men were up and running. But little did we know that Iron Man would catapult Marvel into movie franchise success of galactic proportions.

RJ Ledesma, co-founder of food and lifestyle market Mercato Centrale and self-confessed DC and Marvel comic book fan, says Marvel essentially disrupted the movie industry by creating this idea of a cinematic universe where characters are directly related (such as the Avengers), where there are complementary universes that help build on existing storylines (Guardians of the Galaxy), and then you have spin-offs like Ant Man or Doctor Strange that feed into the system.

With worldwide box office revenues of at least $300 million per film and a new slate of films, Marvel must be doing something right.

Brand new to the start-up world? Here are four lessons Southeast Asian entrepreneurs can learn from the box office giant:

 

1. Good humor and clever marketing tactics will save the day

Nobody really expected that Deadpool, the R-rated Marvel movie released on Valentine’s Day, would do well at the box office. But it did and it’s partly thanks to its genius marketing.

“The original character is an antihero who does a lot of awful things for fun and constantly breaks the fourth wall, but the film frames him in a way that he is motivated by love. They even marketed it as a Valentine's Day movie! They had limited budget so they had to rely on good humor and clever marketing tactics, yet so far Deadpool is the highest grossing R-rated movie,” says Kendrick Wong, founder and CEO of Shoppr, a Malaysian fashion app.

“We're relying on a much lower budget than our competitors and having to think of out of the box marketing campaigns to get people to try Shoppr. And once our users try the App or Website, we provide them an experience that turns them into fans,” says Wong.

 

2. Reach your fans across multiple channels

From the end of credits scenes, TV shows, merchandise, events, and of course, the comic books — the fountain from which these stories originate — Marvel makes sure it reaches its audiences across multiple channels.

“Marvel [has] been able to build their brand within an ecosystem that enables them to include new and old fans into their world. They do this well by translating their content across a number of different channels, i.e., in movies, television series, events, etc. We also reach our users at all possible touch points: on app, web, in-store, at an event, etc. No matter where they are on their shopping journey, it's being where they are that drives that connection,” says Jaclyn Lee, head of marketing at Shoppr.

 

3. Find your beta-testing ground

Even if you have a large pool to draw from, how do you attract new customers? How do you know what makes them stick?

Ledesma says Marvel is beta testing new storylines through their comic books: “If you look at the comic books right now, they’re already developing characters who might resonate better with millennials or with this generation. Thor has become the female Thor, Hulk is now a teenage Hulk…a teenage Korean American.”

If Marvel has their comic books, start-ups can look for areas in their own ecosystems where they can test new ideas. Because in the end, it’s about longevity.

“You can’t have Iron Man being played for the next twenty, thirty years. So they’re trying to create an ecosystem to continue to churn out those movies and continue to keep them relevant by introducing legacy characters,” says Ledesma.

 

4. Always think long-term

And why does Marvel want to stay relevant? Because they want to continue expanding their universe, to infinity and beyond.

“They locked their key players down to multi-year, multi-picture deals and often produce multiple films concurrently to ensure economies of scale and consistency across the Marvel Universe. They understand that it's not just about smashing the box office this weekend but building an audience over time to smash the box office continuously over decades,” says Neal Moore, co-founder and content director of Click2View, a Singaporean content marketing agency.

Playing the long game, especially content-wise, is the key to survival.

“The lesson for start-ups on a budget is to plan for the long-term, not just tomorrow's Facebook update, and use that long-term plan to negotiate better deals with content creators who are willing to sacrifice a little up front for a reliable income and long-term success,” he says.