Monday, May 28, 2007

Marketing to Women: The Comic Book Industry's Countdown to Extinction?


In today’s society, marketing to women has become more crucial then ever. According to Entrepreneur magazine, “Nine out of 10 women self-identify as the primary shoppers in their household”. Also, “Women make (or strongly influence) the purchase of more than half of all consumer electronics, 75 percent of over-the-counter drugs, and 80 to 85 percent of all consumer goods.”

Between The Aisles, a retailer magazine for Farnam retailers ran a cover story in its summer edition titled “Reaching out to Female Customers: Why it makes Good Business Sense and How to Do it”. While the article was aimed at retailers with store fronts, it featured a side bar “Understanding EVEolution: 8 Truths about Marketing to Women” that was quite good. There were several of these that hit home with me, but one stood out. “Women pass along their shopping preferences (stores and products) from one generation to the next. They call this the “brand me down” approach”.

That is indeed true. To this day, I find myself buying many of the same brands my mother trusted. I don’t even think twice about it, I just inherently do it. If this is so true to me, what does it mean for the future of an industry that is seemingly dominated by men? Does this mean that Joe Quesada will be seen as insensitive to not just my generation, but also to the women that we are raising now? Hmmmm…

The article and several others I have read all point to the same thing. Women today make the majority of consumer purchases in a modern household. While the man of the house participates in these decisions, it is now seen as a joint effort rather then a singular effort. According to the article I read “women spend less time in the stores and more on the Internet. They are better educated then ever before and carefully research product choices”.

Where does all this marketing reality leave the comic book industry? It seems to me that it leaves them out of touch with a key target consumer. I would LOVE to see any results of marketing and gender that either Marvel or DC have done. I wonder what it would tell us. What percentage of the audience is indeed male? What percentage of dollars does each gender spend? How has the demographic changed over the last twenty years? How about the last ten?

If the comic book industry does indeed plan to continue to market its goods to men as its target audience, where does that leave the female reader? Does it mean that Minx and manga are the only avenues left to me other then romance comics? Does it mean I might as well throw in the towel and admit defeat at the hands of the people in charge?

I find it very ironic that for years Jenette Kahn was Publisher at DC Comics, yet we still see so much gender division. Granted, DC doesn’t have nearly the stigma that Marvel does, but it is interesting to see that comic books still seem to be such a testosterone driven business. Maybe Ms. Kahn was forced to play with the big boys while being twice as smart and crafty? I may never know the answer to that question.

With women being such a key target in today’s marketing demographic, it shocks me to see such blatant disregard to them in today’s comic book business. I think that the “big two” need to spend some quality time finding out how to cater to this important niche instead of alienating them. Since women pass their buying preferences down from generation to generation, this could be quite detrimental sooner then we expect. The female bloggers of today are a small but crucial segment of this business, and the current air of hostility will only serve to widen the gap in feelings of customer loyalty.

In today’s society, the good ole’ boy network is starting to crumble. With the majority of families having to rely on two incomes to get by, there is less of the luxury of exclusivity by sex then there was in the past. It is time to redesign the paradigms of the industry. We can modernize the characters in comics without emasculating them. A little sensitivity never hurt anyone and that is what is so sorely lacking today.

I continue to be mind-boggled by the fact that the comic book industry continues to subscribe to the archaic belief system of old while being left in the dust by other factions of the entertainment industry that understand only too well who they are marketing to and how to make successful inroads towards reaching out to a new customer base.

15 comments:

Mark Engblom said...

Taking the lame Mary Jane statue and the "Heroes for Hentai" cover out of the discussion (those things were completely outta line), I think may just boil down to this: Men can only guess and approximate what it is women may want. Not being women, there will always be that gulf, or that "disconnect". No matter how well-meaning many of us are (belive me, alot of us really are trying), we'll inevitably say, do, or market something in a way that doesn't connect to (or actually annoys) women. The same could be said about women marketing to men. At it's best, we're all essentially just trying to guess what it is the other gender really wants.

Believe me, if it were easy or obvious what women comic book readers want, they'd have ten titles out there tomorrow, each with five or six spin-offs. But we all know it's not that easy.

We've been scratching our heads over the behavior of the other gender for millenia, and I don't think we're going to bring it to a resolution here in our own corner of the comics blogosphere. Of course, it's always a good thing to discuss the hugely boneheaded moves like the MJ statue, or that atrocious cover, as well as the more subtle forms of male cluelessness...but at the same time, there comes a point where the male perspective simply can't understand or even pretend to understand what it is the monolithic "women comic book readers" are looking for. Is there such a thing?

I'm certainly not trying to start any kind of a conflict, but it's struck me over the last few weeks of intense debate (some of it horribly nasty from both sides) that I think at some point both genders are simply talking past each other. Can a male dominated industry truly deliver "what women want"....or is that a mirage we all chase to some extent?

I don't have the answer....but at the same time it';s good to know, Heidi, that you provide a very open atmosphere here at Comics Fairplay. I feel like I can express my thoughts without worrying about the hammer slamming down on me.

James Meeley said...

I don't have the answer....but at the same time it';s good to know, Heidi, that you provide a very open atmosphere here at Comics Fairplay. I feel like I can express my thoughts without worrying about the hammer slamming down on me.

Mark:

Well, that's one fear you'll never need worry about here. Not only because heidi fully believes in the latter half of this blog's name and expects those who come here to do the same. But because, at the end of the day, despite how some have misusedthe phrase to insult or "shut down" those they disagree with, Heidi knows that all of this is "just comics" and not worth building bad blood with other people over.

Pretty easy to see some of the reasons why I was so quick to marry her now, isn't it? ;)

Lisa said...

I found this post to be extremely interesting! Definately something the comic book industry needs to consider since most comic book stores' regular customers are only about 10% female (and that would include both those that do and don't buy superhero comics)

Over the weekend I had a woman who is opening a comic book store contact me wondering how many women are comic book store owners. That got me to wondering even more about your numbers. I posted on my blog my informal research on women comic retailers today. Feel free to take a look.

Big Mike said...

I wrote a little something related to this topic not so long ago, and, although I read Comics Fairplay all the time and love it, I'm a little disheartened by the continual insistence that the comic industry has to do more to market towards women.

The industry has done more than people recognize to appeal to a female readership in recent years, but it hasn't yielded economic results. Retailers and fans had to fight tooth and nail to keep Manhunter on the shelves because people aren't buying it. Lots of folks have complained about the evolution of the Cassie Cain character, but Batgirl ended because people weren't buying it. Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane is a wonderful comic directed towards a young female audience, and guess what? People aren't buying it. Birds of Prey isn't a big selling book either, despite being marketed towards female readers. Supergirl is criticized heavily by feminist bloggers, but I consider it a pretty solid book and people aren't buying it.

I guess I reach a certain point where I think to myself, if it's so important that the comic industry market itself to women, why does every attempt to market to women fail or come up short? I guess my main point is that I think there's validity in the idea that the industry should market more broadly, but at the same time, it would help everyone to hear more from female readers about what they like to read rather than what they don't, and more importantly, I think when a comic is appealing to a diverse readership, it's our duty as fans to get the word out.

James Meeley said...

I guess I reach a certain point where I think to myself, if it's so important that the comic industry market itself to women, why does every attempt to market to women fail or come up short? I guess my main point is that I think there's validity in the idea that the industry should market more broadly, but at the same time, it would help everyone to hear more from female readers about what they like to read rather than what they don't, and more importantly, I think when a comic is appealing to a diverse readership, it's our duty as fans to get the word out.

big mike:

I completely agree with you, about the role fans and retailers need to play in the marketing of materials they enjoy (no matter what gender they are). This is something I've said for YEARS, although i usually end getting told by others fans "it's not my job to promote the comic industry."

Of course, what they always fail to note is, no one is asking them to promote ALL comics or the entire industry, but merely the books they enjoy themselves. These people seem to have no problem talking up movies, music, restraunts, or any other number of entertainment choices they like, but when it comes to comics, the very people who you expect to have the most to say about the product, often remain deathly silent about what they like.

As for the marketing to women thing, I don't think you should let it dishearten you. I agree that the industry has made efforts (especially fairly recently) to try and do more to market to the female demographics. But, like Mark stated in his reply, since comics (especiazlly corporate comics from the "big two") are a male-dominated industry (although, it is less so today, than in decades past), most of this stuff is just slightly-educated guess work. The real solution is for more women to get into the game and market the works to female readers.

It's become almost a mantra (or cliche', depending on your POV) that those who constantly complain about things are told "make the f***ing comics." While that might seem a slight to dismiss them, there is actually more truth in it, than they might want to acknowledge. For, as Mark pointed out, who would know better when women might like, better than other women? Men haven't had much luck in understanding womens mindsets since the dawn of mankind, so how can they rightfully be expected to know how best to market to them? The best solution, is to get more women working in the industry, not only in making the comics, but in marketing and promoting them. Only then, will we have a much better guage on how and what to market to female readers. Anything less, is just pitching in the dark.

Big Mike said...

James,

I completely agree with you. I think having an increasingly diverse group of creators and editors in the industry will be a benefit to publishers and readers alike. If we could only clone Gail Simone...

On a tangential note, it's seriously a pleasure to be able to discuss issues like this in a heartfelt manner without the vitriol that is at times the hallmark of the comics blogsphere.

Lisa said...

The best solution, is to get more women working in the industry, not only in making the comics, but in marketing and promoting them. Exactly right James!

And Mike makes a good point too in discussing how attempts to market comics to women seem to not succeed.

Like Heidi and I have both mentioned in past blog posts, part of the problem is that in our culture comics, and superhero comics especially, are not considered to be "for women." Much like girls who want to play with GI Joe dolls, women comic book readers are often, to quote Heidi, looked at like they have two heads. So, the marketing has to be done consistantly and for a long time before it will be culturally accepted in America for women to read superhero comics and results can be seen.

In addition - litle research has been done in the direct market as to how many women actually do buy comics and what they buy. Most of that information is based on research a handfull of comic book stores have done on their own. The rest is assumed based on data taken from thinks like book store sales. I'd venture to guess that there might be more growth in women comic book superhero fans than people realize.

There is also the fact that comic books aren't readily available anymore. They are typically found in specialty stores and not at the local gas station and grocery store like they were 20 years ago. That makes them less accessable to people so the market gets stagnant. And many of the specialty stores out there aren't attractive to anyone but the most loyal of fans - they don't fit into today's main stream retail market. This keeps the stereotypes Heidi mentions in her previous post alive, as well as preventing more people from getting into comics.

The focus needs to be not just on getting women into comics, but getting more PEOPLE into comics.

Heidi Meeley said...

Mark, you make some very good points. I agree that it is very confusing for the sexes to come to an understanding. In the past I have referred to the Mars versus Venus phenomenon as a reference. Men and women come from very different places on an emotional and mental level. I am banking that it will always be that way. Based on this alone, I am pretty sure we will be scratching our heads at the other's behavior several millenia from now.

What can we do to try and come to an understanding? I am not 100% sure, but I know that listening to each other helps. That is why I try and take a different approach in my posts, and that is why I am glad you are comfortable here and can state your thoughts as well.

This might not make me popular, but I do agree that there are several of you guys out there that mean well, and would love nothing more then to see the women here get some resolution. I also know that not all of you are especially thrilled with the art work and the statue. I respect that.

I would love to see more women in editor and management positions at comic book companies. I absolutely admire that Karen Berger is the Editor of the Vertigo line. Under her guidance, some of my favorite work from the last year has been produced. I don't know what it would take to get more women into the industry, but if I did I would try and make it happen. God knows, if I lived on the East Coast, I might take a stab at getting into it!

Thank you for your kind words regarding my blog. I think that the only way to do things is through rational discussion. I also think it is critical to listen to each other and be able to admit being wrong, or to admit to finding a new point of view from someone else's post.

Now if we could only figure out how to get this whole marketing to women thing hammered out, while retaining the male audience....

:-)

Heidi Meeley said...

Lisa, I love your post! I went over to your blog and I was very impressed. I am curious to see what kind of feedback you get.

It was interesting for me to take empirical data and try to apply it to the comic book industry. God knows it was damn near impossible. What a maroon!

I really like your sentiment that we need to concentrate on getting more PEOPLE into comics as a focus. I would love to see more young people, boys and girls, get into comic books. If we could just figure out a way to make it more accessible!

I look forward to hearing what results you get, and I would love to know if any surveys were actually done at the big two in relation to gender. God knows that would be a compelling read!

Heidi Meeley said...

Big Mike- I am so glad you commented! You raise some interesting points. It was not neccesarily my intention to raise issue with the marketing to women so much as to stress that I don't think we are there yet. I also don't think we should throw the baby out with the bathwater. I simply think that when I try and apply conventional marketing wisdom to female consumer habits, it really shows like a sore thumb that there are issues not being addressed.

I love Manhunter, BOP, Wonder Woman, Ms. Marvel. She-Hulk, and many other female "starring" titles. I think that several women and men enjoy those titles. I know that some of those titles have struggled over time and it is for lack of readership. I also like to think that as a blogger, it is better to point out why EVERYONE should read a book rather then focus on the femalecentric aspect. I will admit that I have recommended Strangers in Paradise and Birds of Prey to females starting out as a friendly point of reference, but I will usually back it up with a Batman title or a team book, to give some diversity to the mix.

My point is that somehow we have to figure out how to find and establish new paradigms to bring in new readers. I am open to any suggestion. God knows that I want to plague the big two with my wisdom, but they never seem to get back to me!

I appreciate your points and sense your frustration. I also think you make valid arguments. I hate to see you put off by my post, and hope that I can continue down a path that will explain some of my reasoning as time goes by. I want to find a way to bring in new readers and be part of the solution rather then the problem. Simply talking about it isn't enough.. I just have to figure out some ways to make it work and I need all the help I can get! :-)

Swinebread said...

It's like the American auto industry. The comic makers could see the societal changes comin’ a mile away if had they wanted to but they stubbornly ignored them and refused to adapt.

Everybody with half brain knows we need to get women to read comics… and girls.

Lisa said...

Women are definately a new marketing target for a LOT of businesses. Like Swinebread says - look at cars. I do see a lot more car TV ads with women in them and radio ads voiced by women. I know that radio stations in my area are putting women into the formerly all-male morning FM talk shows - I'm sure that's to try to get more female listeners so that they can sell those radio ads to companies who want to try to target women. Heidi's post is proof that women are making buying decisions these days.

Funny bit of proof-- Craig and I always worry when a guy comes in and says he's engaged or getting married, or sometimes when he's got a "serious" girlfriend. We kind of nervously chuckle and say "Oh No." Because more often than not wives and serious girlfriends are the #1 reason why a guy stops buying comics.

Heidi Meeley said...

Lisa, you make a great point about guys who get into relationships. We have had quite a few friends that get with "non-readers" and soon after start selling their comics and stopping their files. It is such a hot button issue! That is why I agree that more female friendly marketing is so crucial. It would take some of the stigma away from the books and maybe give a potential boyfriend or girlfriend some common ground!

Kristy Valenti said...

One thing I think hasn't been explored sufficiently in the comics industy is the "read through rate." I help out with advertising at the office, and one of the things we push at advertisers is not how many issues sell, necessarily, but how many people actually read a copy. From what I've found, it turns out that women are more likely to share their comics and books than men. (It's possible that the traditional comics collector's mentality leads men to read a comic once, bag and board it, and stick it a longbox, effectively out of circulation.)

It's not too difficult to imagine a scenario where women buy less comics than men, but are reading a lot more comics than they buy. Also, that the comics that they buy are read by more people than the comics that men buy.

Heidi Meeley said...

Kristy, thank you so much for that information! That is so interesting! It does make sense, and to know that women do tend to share their reading material more often makes complete sense. Having witnessed my husband's reading habits as opposed to mine, it definitely stands as true.

Thank you again for that fantastic info!