I want to share with you a few hurdles I’ve been jumping through lately. I think the information I possess and have discovered will help others, so I’ll share as much as I can about the process I’ve gone through and how I view webcomics.
My job for years has been and is to improve brands. The ways I accomplish this is offering the services of web design, logo design, conceptual design consultation as well as other topics. These are all services that can improve a company’s brand.
What is a brand?
The term ‘Brand’ has many different definitions, but the best one is given by Marty Neumeier in his book The Brand Gap. “A brand is a gut-level reaction to a product.”
In essence, it is the sum of all we do, and how it affects the consumer. Our audience is a conglomerate of consumers. Therefore, how we style our website, our comics, characters, backgrounds and even our dialogue is part of that brand.
The Current Webcomic Market
The current market of webcomics is comparable to the car market, or the grocery market. For any one subject, or theme, there are hundreds of webcomics. For each style, there are hundreds of webcomics.
For instance, if you want to buy a blue car, there are any number of car dealerships nearby which can offer you a car that is blue.
Granted, our webcomics are much more valuable than cars in some ways, and we retain deep attachments to them because they are our creations.
That said, it should be noted that our webcomics are, in fact, a product. They are a brand.
What is your favorite product?
So the question about cars, groceries, computers and clothes is this:
What is your favorite company, product or service? Why?
There will be several different answers to this question. However most of the time it will come down to an issue of trust. Trusting that the service will deliver every time, trusting that the product will be of high quality, and that you can add it to part of your identity as a consumer of (Insert Product here).
For instance, why are Porsches considered to be better cars than a lower-end car? Is it just the price?
Price is only part of the equation, as price usually indicates quality. However more often than not, the Porsche will consist of higher quality materials and indicate the status of the owner.
So when it comes to webcomics, do we look for the Porsches or the lower-end cars? How do we make sure our webcomics are like the Porsches?
Before we can be considered the Porsches of our industry, we need to know how to get there.
The key to getting there is understanding that our webcomic is not just a webcomic, but a brand.
So what affects our brand?
Everything you do with your webcomic is your brand
Eh, that’s a little vague, isn’t it? Everything I do affects my magical brand?
Well, actually it’s incredibly specific. Since the brand is a sum total of all products, services and goods (even conceptual goods), every tweet, image, and web page you great contributes to the brand.
For instance, simply getting the word out about your comic is not enough. The quality of the webcomic has to be high enough or consistent enough (consistency alone will affect quality) to garner support. If you have hundreds of people visiting your website, that fact alone is not enough to warrant success. People need to talk about your product, and get that warm feeling when they see a new post.
But how does that happen? My readers are silent!
Actually, they aren’t. Every like, retweet, +1 and share is spreading the word, and is approval from your readers perspective. The goal is to achieve consistent levels of sharing and interaction with the consumers as well as high traffic. Combined, those are steps towards brand success.
But How Do I Get There?
There are several areas of focus we can spend time on to make sure we have a strong brand:
1.Website consistency and style
3.Consistency of Art and Theme
4. Communication with the Fanbase
The design for our webcomic site can make or break the brand. There are webcomic sites in existence that rely on default settings and lack of consistent visual elements within their pages that confuse the audience. In print, consumers rarely ever return to disjointed products with inconsistent elemental designs.
For instance, if your color scheme is from the 1990s and is in no way complimentary, or has nothing to do with the content or theme of your webcomic, there is little chance you will have consistent hits to your site because you won’t have returning customers due to the eye strain (which is real) that these designs create.
Make sure a color scheme exists on your website, and that it remains close to a cool, warm or neutral area of the color wheel. This reduces eye strain and increases emphasis on your webcomic on the page.
If your webcomic updates extremely randomly or once in a blue moon, that won’t create consistent web traffic. Some webcomics that have been running for years can accomplish this because for those previous years they were consistent in releasing product. Now there is no set rule to releasing webcomics. It all depends on the format. Some release once a month, some every two weeks, some every week and some daily. However if a schedule is set, it is important to be consistent with the dates set. Life does happen, and sometimes things are delayed, but it’s always a good idea to communicate with the fans, followers, likers and subscribers if there is an interruption to service. It’s just good business.
Consistency of Art
Another thing that is probably one of the most important aspects of a webcomic is style. If you establish one type of style at the beginning of a comic and want to change it later on, don’t worry! It’s easy to do, but transition into the new style instead of an abrupt jump. This will allow readers (consumers) time to adjust to the new style.
Story is also super-important. But there are many resources for that. This post is specifically about art style.
Consistency of style affects the comic itself, art elements on the page, etc. Drastic website changes can affect the comic negatively, because if you have the same design for a year, people become used to that style and it takes a good deal of adjustment to a new one. The time it takes for a fanbase to adjust to a new website style is directly proportional to the amount of content produced by the website.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate! I have seen so many webcomic creators open twitter and facebook accounts and simply not answer any tweets. The rockstar mentality will do nothing but hurt your brand faster than any other thing you could do.
That said, there are some people and comics who get HUNDREDS of tweets a day. That said, even answering a few at a time can still give your fanbase and audience the sense that you are connected with them.
Not communicating with your fanbase is akin to Toyota, Johnson & Johnson and Apple never communicating with their customers.
Even if the fanbase never buys anything, they are still your customers. What’s a little more important is that, unlike Apple, your every interaction is recorded on twitter. This can give people, at a glance, your interaction record and how friendly you are with your customers. This can make or break dozens if not hundreds of people’s decisions when it comes to following your Twitter account, liking your Facebook Page, and more.
BEH! This is a lot! Any rule of thumb I can follow?
Be friendly, love everyone, work hard and pay attention.
Take criticism as critique, and praise as affirmation of something you are doing right. Make sure that if your webcomic is named “Space Bunny: Super Cop” that your theme is space, and every element on your site and tweeted by your twitter account is along those lines, and not talking about things like Martha Stewart’s latest meal unless it’s with a customer and you are shooting the breeze with them.
Make sure you’re sensitive to what types of services your brand can offer (live drawing sessions, podcasts, Q&As, animations, etc) and what of those services your audience loves. What they love, give them more of. Be careful not to spend time on services that your audience isn’t looking at, downloading or paying attention to. If it is a new or very important service, like a podcast you want everyone to listen to, then make sure your marketing sources (Social Media, etc) announce these regularly to steer the audience towards them, but make sure it’s something that contributes to your theme, content and style. That way, it can become a vital part of your brand.
So that’s it! Those are the very basics of creating and maintaining a brand presence in the vast webcomic world. Make your webcomic a sexy Porsche that everyone will want!