Super Marketing

CoreStreet picked an unusual strategy to build buzz for its emergency response gadget--and potential customers are hooked.

By Monica Heger, Business 2.0 Magazine

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- Andrew Sinkov never got into comic books as a kid, but he fell for them big-time as an adult. Sinkov heads marketing for CoreStreet, a security software company in Cambridge, Mass., that sells a handheld computer system for emergency workers called Pivman.

He needed a way to both drum up interest in the device and explain how it worked. After noodling around with various ideas, last year he finally settled on one that, in retrospect, seems almost obvious: He turned the pitch for Pivman, a brand name that sounds like a superhero, into a comic book.

It wasn't such a wacky idea. Several Japanese manga and graphic novel titles are enjoying a boom in bookstores, and plenty of businesses are turning to the comics as a way of reaching customers. Best Buy (Charts) has a comic strip advertising its Geek Squad computer support task force, and last year OnSet Ventures released a comic-book-style holiday card called "Santa vs. the Liquidator," touting Silicon Valley's entrepreneurial spirit. Microsoft (Charts) even put out a Web comic at about the virtues of Office 2007.

Kelly O'Neil, a guerrilla marketing expert who is chief strategy officer for UpLevel Strategies, says comic-based advertising isn't a broad trend but can be effective: "Whenever you're unique like that, you're going to grab people's attention and stand out. Who wants another boring postcard or another direct-mail piece?"

It was surprisingly easy, and cheap, for Sinkov to create and publish the Pivman comic. First he sussed out the production costs, learning that for less than $5,000 he could have an artist draw a 12-page comic book and get 500 copies printed in four colors. Next, using an ad on Craigslist, he found a freelance artist, Robert Keough, who could draw comic characters; Keough has worked for Clarity Learning Solutions and Soup2Nuts Studios, where he created animated design and characters for educational training programs.

CoreStreet published the Pivman comic in September, and Sinkov says it has worked better than any marketing ploy he's ever tried, delivering twice as many high-quality leads as the company's usual brochures. CoreStreet distributed the first 500 copies in just a few days and has since printed 10,000 more.

The early buzz for the $24,950 Pivman starter kit, which includes two handhelds and the required software, was enough to win CoreStreet a piece of a security contract with the city of Los Angeles. Excelsior!

THE ROI: CoreStreet's comic book is producing likely buyers at twice the rate of other marketing materials. Top of page

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