Marvel Studios and How They Use Big Data to Succeed

When Marvel announced an ambitious multi-phase movie schedule, even the fiercest fans couldn’t have predicted the mega-success the films would experience. Encompassing more than a decade of films in the first three phases alone, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) shows no sign of slowing down. With so much investment riding on the success of these movies, they weren’t simply creative decisions: the content and marketing of these blockbusters were fueled by emergent data and market trends.

In July of this year, Marvel announced that the character of Jane Foster (portrayed by Natalie Portman) would become the next Thor. While there’s some fan resistance to the idea, Marvel’s comic book universe has already set the precedent for this event. It’s hard to imagine the 2011 audience accepting Jane taking on the mantle of Thor, but in 2019, it makes sense.

How did Marvel understand market prediction for this radical move? They used big data, took something that proved to work with their comic book audience and adapted it to the big screen.

What Is Big Data?

Big data refers to an amassing of information about consumers. Due to the ease of collecting users’ information on the internet and via other electronic means, big data has become notably valuable to marketers. In addition to consumer demographic information, big data encompasses more detailed values about buyer preferences and affinities.

Most companies harness big data via their websites. Using Google Analytics, they can learn valuable information about their users’ preferences. Marvel, for example, is able to see what type of consumer is checking out each of their comic book or movie properties, how long they stay on the site and whether they make any purchases. It will also reveal their affinities. If Marvel is trying to decide whether to license a PC or console game and their data reveals that most of their users are PC gamers, it can help inform their licensing decision.

It works similarly for their cinematic decisions. Put more clearly, “The term ‘big data’ refers collectively to data sets of such volume and variety that specialized tools are required in order to collect, organize and draw conclusions from them.” As for specialized tools, Marvel manages massive amounts of information about their universe and its continuity using an internal database.

They can track not only facts about their characters and the characters’ actions, but which story arcs have been most popular, which might translate best to film, and which stories are most popular with specific demographics.

How Does Marvel Analyze and Apply Big Data?

Large corporations are often proficient at collecting data, but many report that they only analyze 12% of it, leaving a lot of value on the table. With millions of dollars per movie and an impressive legacy to maintain, Marvel can’t afford to leave that data unanalyzed, or to be out of touch with readers and viewers whose trust it took a decade to earn.

Marvel spotted the trend of more women reading comics. By now, over 46% of comic book readers are women. How did Marvel figure that out before widespread surveys?

  • Big data from online interactions: Google Analytics isn’t the only way to get insight about your fans. Marvel needed only look at the back-end statistics on their Facebook page. Facebook let them know the gender identities of their fans, among other key demographics.
  • Trial and error: Marvel and its rival (DC) have a major advantage over other film studios — they can test any plot in a less risky medium (comics) first. They can even run A/B testing between their variant covers, figuring out which imagery or conveyed emotions fans like more.
  • Fan response: Marvel’s dominated the social media scene for some time. They’ll often run cosplay (costume play) contests, engage with fans on Twitter and of course listen to fan chatter using social media. Measuring audience desire and response is possible thanks to the help of social media analysis and social listening tools.

Translating Big Data to Creative Works

It’s one thing to know what your audience looks like; it’s another to know exactly what sorts of plots they prefer in their comic books and movies and coordinate it over dozens of movies as Marvel has done. Additionally, they’ve used business intelligence to apply this data to predictively handle their merchandising and advertising. Business intelligence, essentially descriptive analytics, is what helps organizations truly make business decisions.

Using software, prediction, and artificial intelligence, Marvel may run complete analyses on box office performances to determine risk and profit. While it appears that Marvel’s making bold moves by being progressive, the reality is that their morality is profitable. They can plug any scenario or plot into a predictive algorithm to receive results.

It’s one thing to be a woman between the ages of 25 and 34 who likes comics; it’s another level of marketing to identify a consumer who likes stories about women leads with a focus on empowerment, or epic tales inspired by gods.

There’s a precedent: companies like Amazon and Netflix do this already. Have you ever logged in to either of these platforms only to come away with super specific suggestions? Netflix does this all the time, like asking if you enjoy a specific genre, such as “independent folk horror stories from the British Isles.” By analyzing similar data about its stories and which work best, Marvel can produce and market with similar specificity.

Are they on track to getting your preferences right? Let us know in the comments.

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Agents of Geek

Agents of Geek

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