Comic-book characters like Spiderman, Batman, and X-Men are major brands that dish up excitement to sell a vast array of products. And they’re really fun, too.
Tom Buiocchi, VP Worldwide Marketing, Brocade, wanted to bring some of that comic book fun and excitement to the launch of his company’s new data center architecture software – DCX Backbone. After building a microsite featuring the product, Buiocchi created a tongue-in-cheek comic book character known as ‘DCX Man’ to reach their front-line users.
The team first created a history and story line for DCX Man. Then they commissioned artists to design his look, and compiled the results into a comic book. To optimize the character’s marketability, they hired a costume studio to create his suit, hired actors to wear the suit at trade conferences, and gave away thousands of free T-shirts and figurines.
“This was a little different for us, and a little bit riskier, if you think about it. But we know our customer. We knew it would play. We had a good feeling for that. I would like to say we weren’t surprised but, of course, we were surprised. The thing took off like crazy,” Buiocchi says.
The campaign started running about a year ago and the company just finished two record-setting quarters. Not all the success can be attributed to this campaign. But Buiocchi notes that the DCX Backbone gained selling traction faster than any product in the company’s history.
Before you start daydreaming about creating your own superhero, make sure that a comic book character makes sense for both your audience and your product. Here’s how Buiocchi and his team crafted the launch campaign that resonated with their audience.Create Character Based on Audience Interests
A comic book character will not appeal to every audience. Buiocchi’s team targeted their superhero campaign for those they deemed most likely to use the product and appreciate the tongue-in-cheek approach – data center operators.
NOTE: At the same time, they ran two more-traditional advertising campaigns targeting chief information officers and other high-level information professionals.
-> Assure relevance
Comic books fit right in with Brocade’s operator audience.
“It’s a very interesting crowd. They’re very technically astute but if you look at them from a demographic basis, they’re very much into video games, comic books, and they’re a little skeptical and a little sarcastic in their humor,” Buiocchi says.
-> Keep quality high
Buiocchi’s team commissioned three artists to explore DCX Man’s look. Preliminary sketches ranged from Japanese-style animation to darker, gothic types. They selected a familiar-looking prototype that resembles a modern-day version of Batman’s sidekick, Robin.
-> Align campaign details with product and audience
Reviewing character sketches generated brain-storming sessions on DCX Man’s history and superpowers that culminated in a character born in the data center, raised by IT, and steeped in the kind of humor techies appreciate.
DCX Man’s superpowers:
o He can “see” data, so he can manage data center issues with extraordinary efficiency
o He can deliver a “cool rush” to chill the excess heat that’s an ongoing data center concern
o He can “virtualize” himself, joining data streams in wired and wireless networks
DCX man’s superpowers brought a knowing smirk to IT-savvy faces. Matching his character traits to audience expertise was another key to his success.Gradual Roll-Out: 3 Phases
-> Phase 1: Product announcement
Buiocchi’s team started promoting DCX Backbone in October 2007 even though the product would not be available until January 2008. The announcement phase consisted of:
o Print ads
Ads were placed in technical magazines regularly read by IT operators. The team avoided publications read by higher management, such as the Wall Street Journal and Business Week. The ads featured DCX Man, resembled a comic book cover and drove traffic to a microsite.
The initial microsite had fewer features than the current one. It offered a white paper on Brocade’s data center architecture, asked visitors to take a quiz that gauged their understanding of the product, and offered a free DCX Man T-shirt.
o Hand out T-shirts
Buiocchi’s team gave away about 5,000 T-shirts in only five business days. This high level of interest encouraged them to put more resources into the campaign.
-> Phase 2: Product launch
To accompany the product’s January launch, Buiocchi’s team made the following additions:
o Online display ads
Graphic-heavy ads that resembled the earlier print ads. They were run on industry-specific websites, driving traffic to the DCX Man homepage. The team experimented with peel-back and expanding display ads. The response?
The ads, at their peak, generated a .67% clickthrough rate. Buiocchi’s team considers the industry average to be .2%.
o Enhanced microsite
- More graphics
- More product and character information
- A DCX Man video game
- A request for visitors’ suggestions for more DCX Man superpowers.
o Superhero actors for trade shows
The team hired a professional costume designer to create a high-quality suit based on the artists’ renditions. They then hired local actors to wear the suit at company events and industry trade shows.
o Published comic book
In March, a few months after the product’s launch, Buiocchi’s team of artists completed an eight-page comic book. The book was added to the website where visitors could read it or download a copy.
o More feedback, more resources
The amount of suggestions, website traffic and positive feedback they received encouraged Buiocchi’s team to keep building the campaign.
“You get the vibe that we’re onto something here. Let’s put more fuel on the fire,” he says.
-> Phase 3: Focus on event
The team went for a big showing at EMC World – a major industry event held in Las Vegas in May 2008. For the event, they had:
Across the street from the conference venue, a billboard with DCX Man and the message “what happens in the data center stays in the data center” remained for the duration of the conference.
o Lots of freebies
The team paid to create DCX Man action figures, lunchboxes, chocolates and comics to hand out at the conference. They ran out of action figures during the first day of the show. They showed up on eBay a day later for about $30.
They hired an actor to wear the DCX Man costume at the conference. The team set up a scavenger hunt-like contest where attendees could earn points for spotting him for a chance to win a cash prize.Record product launch
“We typically end up introducing a new high-end product like this and it typically takes five or six quarters to get really up to its run rate because our customers are fairly risk adverse in this category. They need to make sure that they test things out, etc., etc.,” Buiocchi says.
“But in our first quarter of shipping this product, this product represented 20% of our high-end revenue in the first quarter. That was the fastest first-quarter ramp of any high-end product we’ve ever done.”
“In our second quarter of shipping this product, which was just this last quarter, it represented 30% of our revenue of our high-end product line. Those two numbers represent the fastest ramp-up of a product in that category we’ve ever had, and we’ve been in this business 13 years now.” Useful links related to this article:
Brocade DCX Man Creative Samples:
How Spider-Man Got on the Web
Costume Designers Guild
Costume Society of America
EMC World Conference