Comic book publishers enjoy a fan loyalty that most other brands could only dream of. People aren't just fans of Marvel and DC Comics, they build a whole lot of their identities around that fandom. And for fans of Marvel, the rewards of that loyalty are changing: Now they'll get free stuff! (In addition to, you know, having a lifetime's worth of Marvel-related entertainment on every conceivable media platform following the adventures of characters they've grown up with their entire lives)
Today at San Diego Comic-Con, Marvel announced the launch of Marvel Insider, its first loyalty program that offers tangible (or digital) rewards for True Believers who engage with the brand online.
The mechanics of Marvel Insider are simple: Sign up online, link your various accounts, and passively collect points that can be redeemed for Marvel prizes. Points are earned through a variety of engagements with Marvel—from listening to podcasts to checking in at your local comic book shop—and the rewards range from free digital comics to posters and t-shirts to a year's subscription to the Netflix-style Marvel Unlimited app. (There are also unique, exclusive rewards that members can enter to win—a chance to attend events, or collectible memorabilia—that are awarded like a contest, rather than outright purchased with points.)
"We’re always listening to fan feedback, and as we continue to improve our experience, one of the things we realized was, ‘Why don't we reward people for the things they're already doing?'" Marvel Entertainment executive vice president and general manager for interactive and digital distribution, Peter Phillips, says. "That's at the heart of what this program is. We're basically rewarding people for stuff there already doing when they engage with our brand."
There are two takeaways for Marvel in this. One, they get better data about how people interact with the brand, which Phillips indicates is relatively low-hanging fruit for the company, especially with Insider being set up to collect that information from people who opt-in passively and without friction. "Our goal is to continue to give fans what they want, and learn more about them. We we have places on our site where we're asking for information that’s optional. We want to know more about you, because we want to give you an experience that is optimal. We don't want to present you with content or with user experience that you don't want. So we get that back, and we incentivize you not by saying, 'If you can fill out a three page form, it sucks, but at the end of the day we'll give you something for it.' We're saying 'Give us some very basic information, optionally only, and do the activities you're already doing.'" he explains. "We're going to be tracking that, saying 'This is popular, this is not,' and we're going to continue optimizing the user experience and the activity that we offer throughout our digital and our brick and mortar experience."
It's useful for Marvel to know how much of one of their podcasts a listener gets through, but the interconnectedness is even more useful data—learning that podcast listeners are people who check in at their comic book store every Wednesday, or that people who engage with Marvel on social media are people who play Marvel's mobile games, helps them figure out the appeal of their various products and experiences to different kinds of audiences.
The other benefit to Marvel is the opportunity to give casual fans more opportunity to engage with the deeper products that the brand puts out. Phillips isn't trying to get people who play the fighting game Contest of Champions on their phones to listen to podcasts they're not interested in ("If you like it, great, if you don't, go your own way and get what you do like," he says), but increasing awareness of the breadth of what Marvel does has a lot of appeal.
"I believe that, in the more fragmented world, it's really hard to know everything that's out there," he says. "We never want to ram anything down people's throats—but we want them to know what there is available, because what we've got is pretty incredible. It's great if you're a Contest of Champions player, if you knew that we had a podcast. It'd be great if you know that we put out a very high volume of video regularly. A lot of people probably don't know that. And if you sample it, if we get people engaged in it, we can get more information about those people and optimize the experience that they have with the Marvel brand."
The rewards are set up to offer benefits to people both in the ways they already engage with Marvel, and to offer them access to another side of the company's offerings. You can earn points for watching the new trailer for Dr. Strange, and be rewarded with digital comics—or you can claim concessions coupons for popcorn when you get to the theater. You can earn points for checking in at your local comic book store, and claim exclusive posters from the retailer—or you can get exclusive in-game characters for a Marvel mobile game. The diversity of what Marvel offers is a strength that should help Insider users both get what they're looking for and find the next Marvel thing they're into.
"I don't know too many loyalty programs that aren't about selling people anything," Phillips says. "We're really just incentivizing people to do what they're already doing. It's about getting you to do it more, and to be excited about it, and to connect with us, because we haven't really had that connection, so we can make sure that people are registering and providing us some information. I haven't done an in-depth examination of every loyalty program out there, but I'm a part of a lot of them as a consumer, and most of them are trying to up-sell me on stuff. That's not what we're about."