Batman, a fictional character created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger in 1939, was not just a crime-fighting hero in a Batsuit living a double life. He was a brilliant marketer and didn’t even know it. Below are five lessons that Batman can teach small business owners about marketing.
#1. Details Matter
Every detail about Batman is on-brand. From the Batmobile Tumbler in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, to the Batsignal distress call silhouetted on the moon, to the unmistakable Batsuit - every detail about our fearless hero is on-brand. Bruce Wayne even grinds his own throwing stars, affectionately known as the Batarang, which he often leaves behind as a heroic calling card. Everyone who interacts with Batman - good guys and bad guys alike - knows when they’ve had an authentic Batman experience.
When you run a small business, the details matter. From the first time someone searches for what you have to offer online and they see your search result listed, to when they pick up the phone and speak to someone at your business, to the first time they walk up to your front door, to when they browse around your store either online or in person, to when they make a purchase - every touch point on the customer’s path to purchase can make or break your ability to satisfy that customer and keep them coming back.
Attending to the smallest details to ensure your brand leaves a positive first impression can make a customer’s day and cause them to tell their family and friends about you. On the flip side, overlooking seemingly insignificant details can leave a bad taste in their mouths that keeps them from coming back.
#2. Own Your Brand
In The Dark Knight, Scarecrow and his gang of henchmen can be found handily defeating faux vigilante civilians in knock-off Batman costumes. The Batman impersonators brought guns to the fight - a decidedly not Batman tactic - and botch the entire ordeal. It gets ugly - until the real Batman shows up in the bulletproof Tumbler and takes control of the scene (except for that whole Rottweiler bit, but that’s neither here nor there). To the average citizen, the imposters could have easily been perceived as the real deal - and that could have proved catastrophic for many who placed their trust in their vigilante hero.
Small businesses can take one very important lesson from this ordeal - when your brand is inconsistent and constantly changing, your customers can easily become confused. It may not be as deadly as Gotham City with incompetent vigilantes patrolling the streets, but it can be deadly to your customers’ brand loyalty. If you can’t figure out who you are, how can customers be expected to figure out who you are, much less remember you, much less continue to buy from you? Make every effort to control the consistency of your brand from beginning to end, and be sure that partners and affiliates you work with can’t jeopardize your consistent brand either.
#3. Earn Their Trust
It must be difficult to trust a vigilante like Batman to help fight criminals and mitigate a pervasive crime problem, especially when it is more comfortable to trust oneself and one’s own to do the job. It is difficult to put faith in others, especially when your life, livelihood or reputation are on the line. Even when Commissioner Jim Gordon’s instinct and faith in Batman were tested in dire scenarios, he ultimately knew that he could trust Batman to get the job done when he needed him most. And Batman’s reputation became so prevalent in Gotham that even when he was not physically present, the bad guys know he could be just around the corner at any time and the good guys know when he’s been there, and that they can count on him in their times of greatest need.
For customers to trust us with their money, their reputations, their livelihoods, or even in some cases their lives, we need to prove ourselves time and again. We should be over-delivering on customers’ expectations every single time, so they know that they can count on us to fulfill the needs or desires they have for our products or services. In my opinion, there is no margin for error here. We all make mistakes sometimes, but it’s imperative to take the steps to make it right. Earning the customer’s trust means fulfilling the product or service they purchased, but establishing your brand’s reputation begins much earlier than that. It begins from your first point of contact - walking by your storefront, or seeing your website for the first time - to their experience with your customer service, through the safe and convenient purchase, and beyond. A customer’s trust is an incredibly important and valuable thing, and once you lose it, it’s insanely difficult to get back. As a brand, you need to focus on earning and keeping it.
#4. Manage Your Reputation
At about 75 minutes into Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, we find our hero set on fire and badly injured by Scarecrow and his crew. Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) had sprayed Batman with the fear toxin and set him on fire, recalling Bruce Wayne’s boyhood fire at Wayne Manor. (Scarecrow can also be found spraying his fear gas at Batman in Arkham Asylum and The Animated Series.)
Batman is quick to rush out of the public view - barely keeping it together both physically and mentally. Batman seeks privacy and stays out of the public eye, essentially going into hiding to heal. He also uses this time to develop an antidote to the fear toxin, regrouping to find a smart solution to the larger problem. The public - including his enemies - should see him only at his strongest, not his weakest. Essentially, he is managing his reputation to ensure the public continues to have faith in his ability to serve the needs of Gotham, but also so bad guys know that he is still a persistent threat to their ability to commit crime and do damage to the city.
While we’re not advising that businesses go into reclusive hiding every time they make a mistake or are “injured,” we do think reputation management is incredibly important. In a perfect world, all brands would be proactively managing their reputations online and off, staying out of trouble and ensuring that customers get a spectacular experience at every touchpoint, rather than waiting for a crisis to arise. This means actively engaging with your customer base, and conducting community management in social media and local SEO so you can quickly respond to customer feedback like ratings and reviews. But when a crisis does arise, it’s important to take a step back and evaluate the situation to determine the best approach forward to preserve the brand and restore customers’ faith in the company.
#5. Understand & Empathize With Your Customer
In Batman Begins, we learn about Bruce Wayne’s childhood fall into a dark, damp cave at eight years old, where he is swarmed by bats and develops a fear of the animal for years to come. Bats scare him so much, that he begs his parents to leave the opera Mefistofele and tragically they’re mugged and shot in the alley outside. As an adult, Wayne adopts the Batman personality as a dark, intimidating persona that strikes fear into the hearts of criminals. Understanding his own fear of bats lead him develop this persona. It stands to reason that if Bruce Wayne was afraid of bats, that his enemies may be intimidated by a dark and scary crime-fighting bat figure, too. With theatrics like his end-to-end repertoire of bat gear, smoke, distraction, and others, he takes a nugget of fear and elevates it into near sheer terror for bad guys. In this instance, Batman empathized with his enemy, understanding the human condition, to use to his advantage.
For businesses, this can teach us to empathize with our customer. We need to understand what motivates our customers, what frustrates them, what excites them and pleases them, what fears or objections that we need to overcome in order to make the sale. In order to build a strong, loyal customer base that purchases from you and urges their family and friends to do the same, we have to truly understand their condition. This allows you to, like Batman, become whatever Gotham needs you to be. We can do this through demographic and psychographic research, developing personas that profile our key customers, and designing our business and marketing strategies around those personalities.
Putting It All Together
In Batman Begins, Batman makes the cathartic statement, “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” It resonates so well small business ownership. Ultimately, it is the person beneath the mask who embraces and uses all of these tools in an effort to clean up Gotham City. Your small business, when embracing all of the marketing tips and tools in this article, must always consider what it is that you the owner do “underneath the mask.” How you make a real difference to your customers can build an everlasting identity for your brand and help your business grow.