Last weekend the Thilk Family, along with countless others, celebrated Free Comic Book Day. It’s a day meant to offer people a chance to get into comic shops and try something new by offering…well…free comics books. Publishers of all sizes participate, sometimes using their free titles to promote cross-media franchises (I’m looking at you Marvel and DC), to promote popular titles or give a bit of exposure to something that may be under the radar or yet to launch and coming soon.
In our area we’re lucky enough to have Graham Crackers Comics, a chain of 10 stores around the Chicagoland area, with three of them within easy driving distance. So we pack up the family truckster and hit all three of those stores. Since Graham Crackers offers everyone who comes in the store three comics each we come home with somewhere north of 30 free comics *plus* the issues, trade paperbacks and action figures that we buy while we’re at each one because we want to continue supporting this local business.
Comics are sometimes seen as being pretty exclusionary. “The Simpsons” famously created Comic Book Guy, who’s constantly berating people for choices he sees as being inferior. And comic shops are, honestly, not always the most welcoming to new visitors simply by virtue of the usual design and display of the product.
But on Free Comic Book Day the staff at Graham Crackers, as they do every day, were doing what they could do dispel this perception and making everyone feel positive about the choice they were making, whatever it was. I saw more than a few instances of someone picking a free book that might not be in the genre you might expect – a six-year old boy dressed up as Optimus Prime picking out a Strawberry Shortcake book, for instance – and the staff behind the counter reacting with “Yeah, man, great choice” or “Oh, that one’s really fun” or something else like that. Whatever was chosen by whomever, it was the best thing they could have selected from the options available.
There’s no better way to create an emotional connection between an audience and its products than through a level of enthusiasm shown by the people who are responsible for selling it. That’s a concept that’s been lost in the age of recommendation and other systems that want to feed us a constant stream of things we’re supposed to like or enjoy because of what we’ve liked or engaged with previously. And it’s completely missing from big box stores with employees who have no personal stake in providing anything other than the minimal effort required to not be fired. Genuine emotion still carries a lot of weight.
That’s part of why I don’t get the move by marketers toward bots. Nor do I understand those who feel brands on social networks shouldn’t evince some sort of personality and enthusiasm for the products being sold. While I’m not a huge fan of examples like IHOP which veer too far, I think, in the direction of trying to be trendy with their language, I do think a friendly, positive voice is important. Every Tweet should be composed as if the brand representative doing the drafting is in the store aisle making a recommendation to a customer. How can they be helpful, how they can they convey a positive attitude and how can they make the customer feel good about their choice, whatever it is?
Take a lesson from the staff of a local comic book shop. A genuine sense of enthusiasm and positivity has the potential to not just make the person you’re dealing with feel good about themselves, but create a strong, positive emotional connection between them and you’re product.