Cinemas and Branding in the Values-Driven Era: Meet Laura and Jenny

October 21, 2022
Jenny Sidorova
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The cinema industry is highly collaborative. So much goes into marketing and exhibition of cinema that it takes the work of many stakeholders to bring an audience into a theater. Because of that, DX works with many different companies to help power great experiences.

Laura M. Rabben

Though all these companies work in the cinema industry, they all approach their content strategy in different ways. This isn’t just because many of these companies provide different services, but also because the people involved have different outlooks, experiences, and approaches to marketing. Like in any other industry, different companies can learn from each other’s marketing strategies.

That’s how Laura and Jenny got to know each other.

Laura is the Head of Marketing at Filmgrail, a digital cinema technology provider whose solutions include apps, websites and marketing solutions for cinemas. She oversees the planning, execution, and monitoring of Filmgrail’s marketing, lead generation, and product positioning initiatives. When she joined Filmgrail in 2020, Laura brought with her 10 years of international work experience having held various marketing and sales roles in organizations such as Google, Upwork, and Warner Bros.

Jenny Sidorova

Jenny is the Head of Marketing at DX and is a results-driven, global brand strategist and leader who has spent the past decade at L’Oréal, Walmart, and LVMH respectively guiding digital marketing and e-retail. At DX, Jenny focuses on the intersection of storytelling, technology, and community marketing for the entertainment industry. She sees herself as a hands-on practitioner who can roll up her sleeves to help set the vision of a company’s marketing and brand strategy and successfully execute it.

These two marketing executives met at CineEurope, one of the world’s biggest cinema trade shows, in Barcelona in June 2022. They immediately felt that they were kindred spirits: both marketers, both women, both moms to young kids, both coming from careers outside of cinema, and both work for Norwegian companies although neither one is Norwegian.

When they had their first meeting, Laura and Jenny discovered that they had even more in common than they initially realized. Since they both entered the cinema industry from different fields, they each felt like they were experiencing “imposter syndrome”: they had a lot to bring to their respective companies but weren’t sure how to go about it in a male-dominated, close-knit industry. However, both concluded that they could use their outside expertise to help drive the cinema industry forward thanks to their fresh outlooks and experiences.

Of course, there are some key differences between the two women and their areas of expertise. Though both built their careers in marketing, Jenny is more branding and content marketing oriented, while Laura has a strong background in online advertising. Those complementary approaches mean that there is a lot they can learn from each other. Both Laura and Jenny have been looking to Gen Z to understand how consumer behavior evolves and thus, how industries and companies need to pivot. Both of them feel that the cinema industry and moviegoing will be increasingly more about the experience.

Laura and Jenny hope that they can use their dual expertise to help cinemas reach the right audience through digital channels by applying the right storytelling approach for the full online and offline audience experience.

Let’s kick off by talking about cinema branding in the values-driven era.

The Importance of Cinema Branding

The media conglomerates that own the major film studios are exploring new ways to increase the scope of storytelling. Nearly every media device that we own is constantly sharing content with us. Through this mass of content, it is the content that is most compelling and appealing that succeeds in retaining our attention.

Considering the sheer amount of competing content in the marketplace, cinema branding has never been more important today. Why does building a brand matter so much? Branding forms a long-term relationship with customers and audiences. Consumers have developed strong connections with major brands like Disney and Nike, and that connection creates more loyalty than simply enjoying the product.

Currently, Generation Z – which will soon be the most important purchasing power – is redefining what consumer loyalty and content consumption mean today, which means all industries have to adapt to the era of TikTok. TikTok’s short-form video content has impacted not only how Gen Z consumes content, but also how Gen Z perceives content experiences.

How Industries Are Adapting

Even industries that have existed for over a hundred years, such as cinema, must pivot to find ways to stay relevant and bring unique experiences to life. After all, cinema evolved with technical improvements like sound and widescreen as well as more “gimmicky” changes like 3D and, currently, NFT promotions.

The cinema industry can look to other industry examples for inspiration on remaining relevant in this environment. Here are a few compelling examples of how some brands have either pivoted during the digital era or refocused their strategies to focus more on brand building and Gen Z:

  • Balenciaga was one of the first luxury fashion brands to conquer Gen Z authentically by collaborating with a variety of popular brands, including Fortnite and The Simpsons. They were struggling with their branding efforts and marketing to appeal to the right audience until they embraced the younger generation, which helped take their brand to the next level of their branding story.
  • Red Bull’s advocacy marketing strategy sells more than a drink but also gives people the wings to fly by sponsoring various extreme sports competitions. While extreme sports has always been part of their DNA, it wasn’t until the digital era that the brand realized just how much impact they could have through brand building by taking a 360 approach with extreme sports: from sponsoring undiscovered athletes, to sponsoring big events, every piece of marketing materials they release is centered around the experience, and not so much the product. This creates a truly recognizable brand and experience for anyone that consumes their drinks.
  • Patagonia's CEO took authenticity to a new level by transferring all of his stock to a nonprofit dedicated to saving the planet. But without going this far, one can see the value Patagonia places on telling their story when simply visiting their website. They want each visitor to experience the brand and don’t even bother driving to their social channels. Why take a visitor away from the storytelling of who we are and what we do?

Cinemas That Are Leading the Charge

While many commentators speculated that the convenience of streaming would lead to the death of cinema, that hasn’t quite come to pass – in fact, streaming giants like Netflix have shown an increased willingness to partner with cinemas. And recent research suggests that, for young people, viewing film on SVoD platforms is complementary to seeing films in the cinema (Source: BFI, Audiences Report, 2021).

Yet visiting a cinema takes more time and effort than opening the TikTok app on a phone, so cinemas need to double down on selling the experience of moviegoing in addition to the content itself.

Luckily, several cinemas are already innovators in the future of branding, having understood the need to foster their individual cinema brands to connect with moviegoers and bring them back to the theater. Below are just a few examples:

How Cinemas Can Compete for an Audience’s Time and Attention - Jenny and Laura’s Recommendations

While not every cinema can implement those ideas, the breadth of those approaches should indicate that there is the opportunity for every cinema to definite its personal brand:

Create a visual identity. As a first step, cinemas should reflect on the visual identity that they are presenting. This does not just mean the cinema’s storefront, as a “visual identity” now extends to the virtual space. Yet many cinemas are not taking advantage of the opportunities presented by digital marketing even if film studios, their primary content source, are already going all-in on the metaverse and web3.

Develop a social media strategy. Many cinemas leave the marketing of films up to the advertising done by the distribution companies. But distributors want people to see the movie anywhere they can – so it’s up to cinemas to create a marketing presence to attract moviegoers to their cinema and not the other one across town. A social media presence is important, but the right social media presence is even more important. In other words, having an ineffective or inactive presence on social media might do more harm than good. Create personalized content and think outside the box on how you communicate on the cinema-going experience

With that said, cinema managers need to embrace TikTok because that’s where the biggest purchase power is emerging. If you think you’re too old to begin TikToking, turn to your younger employees – it’s what Lillehammer Kino does!

Think about the full experience, online and offline! A moviegoer doesn’t see channels, they just see a cinema. And the experience they get before, during, and after seeing a film needs to be part of a cinema’s thought process. That’s why having the right tech tools, the right brand image, and thinking of the full customer journey is key to the future survival of the industry. For example, Cinema Akil in Dubai has succeeded in creating an authentic, cohesive cultural experience across their permanent and pop-up cinema locations, programming selections, and online platforms. The key to its success is its commitment to quality content framed in a modern take on the splendor of golden age movie palaces, whilst remaining accessible to all.

Authentically connect with your audience. Don’t just be the operations behind a big facade. Get in touch, share, and ask for feedback. Host events and promote them, especially for non-blockbuster films that might otherwise struggle to sell tickets.

Cinema is one of the few places in today’s world where one manages to disconnect from personal devices and enter an almost meditative state with others. There is unique authenticity in that which audiences have embraced for over 100 years. If you can sell that experience to your potential audience, the cinema industry will continue to succeed in providing unparalleled entertainment experiences.

What do other female industry insiders have to say?

Mandy Kean

"At Mustard Studio we talk about personality in cinema. This means, as noted earlier in this piece, that it’s not just about the digital experience, it’s how your personality comes across when customers enter the cinema. Think of it as your cinema’s brand. Is it warm and welcoming, do your customers feel looked after, do you offer the kind of food and drink and hospitality that is going to give your customers an all-round excellent cinema experience, no matter what their age? Developing your personality with hospitality is going to help you authentically connect with your audience on a physical level, they’ll return, time and again, they’ll be encouraged to take out a membership and, every cinema owners’ dream, won’t ever want to go anywhere else again. Cinemas, much like other brands, have to think about these factors to seduce their customers." Mandy Kean, Mustard Studio Co-Founder & CEO.

Clarissa Bergh

"At Lillehammer Kino we work on building community. We like to know our customers and guests, and we want them to know us. Therefore all my employees have to agree when they start working with us to contribute to our social media platforms. For instance we never post movie posters alone on our Instagram, we use our employees and guests to have a more personalized touch. Likewise on TikTok, where my young employees decide what to post and create a lot of enjoyable content. Although being the only cinema in town, I feel it is important to have a clear identity. So we brand almost everything we do. That also keeps us «on our toes» when it comes to delivering the best customer service and product, because absolutely do not want our brand associated with negative experiences and we understand that there are important steps to take in branding our cinema to avoid that. Because we are the only cinema in town, we also have to offer something for everyone. So we focus on providing a variety of events: Crime & Wine, Ladies Night, Senior Cinema Days, Student Screenings, Burgers, Beer & a Movie and Kids Super Cinema Days, to mention just a few. We believe in curating and eventifying our screenings to provide the best experience and leverage our cinema brand. Marketing locally and in a personalized way has never been so important." Clarissa Bergh, Cinema Director, Lillehammer Kino.

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