Immediate Results, Long-Term Gains: Discover Effective Cinema Marketing Strategies for Building Audience Loyalty

April 20, 2023
Martin Berg
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Cinemas and the cinema industry are playing a long-game for audience growth and sustainability through better technology that makes their businesses more cost-effective, their marketing more strategic and the customer journey more intuitive and easy. To complement this long view, they are investing more in engagement-based marketing activities, creating community-building touch points throughout the year through event cinema, events-based marketing, more creative uses of social media and finding new ways to utilise their cinema spaces. 

Future-proofing the cinema business through digital technology

One way cinema managers can improve both their customer experience, accessibility and sales performance is to review their website and mobile UX and the customer booking journey. 

With Statista reporting there are now 3.9 billion unique mobile internet users (in 2019) and that 53% of emails are opened on mobile devices, we are truly in the mobile-first era. Cinemas need to adapt to this reality by ensuring their websites are optimised for mobile, or even better - invest in mobile-first solutions, that operate seamlessly with their POS and website, such as we offer at DX, for a smooth, consistent customer (and business management) experience.

We know that speed and user-friendliness is key when consumers are accessing information or shopping online. Any barrier which slows down or complicates the ticket-buying process for a customer - whether it’s the number of steps required, the page-loading time, or clunky website design - will result in a loss of sales and missed opportunities to communicate with and engage a potential audience member. Today’s audiences have never been more smartphone savvy, or “online” and this trend will negatively affect cinemas that have not yet upgraded their websites or cinema solutions to meet this need. 

Digital cinema solutions also provide cinema managers with real-time data and analytics that give them a hyper-detailed picture of all areas of their business, their audience’s demographics, behaviours and interests, individual film performance, and insights that can all be used to deliver streamlined, targeted and personalised sales and marketing, and support effective operational decisions.

Cinemas can really future-proof their business operations when combining a seamless website experience, on any platform, alongside strategic use of data, to drive audience engagement and loyalty.

Social Media helps cinemas of all sizes create communities of engaged fans 

Another effect of the pandemic drive online, is that cinemas are becoming more proactive and creative with their social media marketing. Audiences of all ages are using social media more than ever, and as marketing and advertising budgets are squeezed, the low cost opportunities provided by social platforms to engage and reach new people, and promote films and events are huge. 

Cinema chains that used to only operate a corporate or brand channel, now encourage individual cinemas to manage their own site channels, allowing for more community-targeted engagement and location-tailored promotions, run by cinema teams that understand their local audience - such as the example of Picturehouse Cinemas in the UK, or NordiskFilm cinema chain in Norway. 

Cineworld invested in its social media team during the pandemic to build a TikTok brand presence. They also train local outlet teams in content creation which is aggregated to the brand channel, but also repurposed on individual Cineworld instagram pages. This has resulted in 250,000 followers and 4.4 million likes on TikTok alone, and increased engagement on its dozens of site-specific Instagram channels.

The same applies to small, independent cinemas, which are making full use of the “social” aspects of TikTok, Instagram, Facebook et al: running polls, competitions, working with influencers to promote specific films or the cinema experience, sharing behind-the-scenes content that builds relatability and trust, capturing audience reaction videos on site and getting their followers involved. 

They are exploring new, creative ideas to reach audiences that complement their existing film sales promotion tactics and help develop more of a sense of community and fanbase amongst their followers. 

One reason cinemas are having more fun with engagement and audience-building activities on social media, is also due to the increasing diversity of their offerings, and the rise in event marketing as a strategy to draw new customers - the development of cinema as an “event experience”, rather than just consumer product.

Event cinema and event marketing - short terms wins build long-term fans

This August, legendary heavy metal group Metallica’s M72 World Tour, in collaboration with event cinema distributor Trafalgar Releasing, will be streamed live over two nights, in surround sound, across cinemas globally, from Austin, Texas -  a first-of-its-kind event. The band will play over 30 songs spanning their entire career and the tour’s stage design has been optimised to give fans watching on the big screen unprecedented, 360° “front row” access. 

Since the early 2000s, movie theatres have offered occasional event cinema screenings to fill off-peak time slots, or supplement gaps between major releases. Long-standing programmes such as National Theatre Live and English National Opera in the UK, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, or the Musee D’Orsay gallery have been in place since around 2010. However, the audience base for these is both limited, skews older (55 and over) - an audience group that has not yet returned to the cinema in its previous numbers - and ticket-prices are prohibitive for many. 

In contrast to these more traditional event cinema offerings, the Metallica “mega-event” demonstrates the opportunities movie-theatres now have to attract new, and bigger audiences and widen the role they can play in the entertainment field.  

We now see cinemas - from big chains to smaller independents - offering all kinds of event cinema, from live musicals, to streaming Esports competitions, silent film seasons with live orchestra, and even broadcasting live-play tournaments of Dungeons and Dragons to coincide with the newest Honour Amongst Thieves movie. 

In this way, local cinemas provide a gateway to cultural events around the globe that audiences might otherwise not be able to attend, either due to distance, affordability, or accessibility. Whilst watching films is traditionally a one-way experience - with the audience as observer - streaming live concerts and sports games introduces a more participatory experience, creating cinematic opportunities for fans to meet each other, connect and share. 

Mini-event marketing as a local community builder

The marketing tactics applied to nationwide event cinema screenings are also being used to creatively market at local level, supporting regular film content and building community experiences. 

Independent cinema Lillehammer Kino applied event marketing tactics recently to drive ticket sales for rom-com Ticket to Ride. Cinema Director Clarissa Bergh ran a female-targeting, social media-led campaign, combining a fun cocktail party element, a UGC photo opportunity, product partnerships and exclusive preview screenings which generated record ticket sales.

Other creative ways cinemas can enhance their offering or bring in audiences to the space, is through director or cast Q&As, costume-party or pyjama party screenings, sing-along screenings, book clubs for film adaptations, quiz nights, board games nights, workshops or open mic nights. 

Audiences want the full event package

One last opportunity that cinemas are increasingly leveraging to drive footfall and retain audiences is in their food and beverage offerings, which serve to enhance the “cinema as event” experience. This includes offering more elevated or creative dining options, expanding their menus, or working with local producers, suppliers and chefs.  

Boutique cinema group Everyman - which recently reported “a post-pandemic return to “business as usual” as admission numbers rose by 70% to 3.4 million last year.” credits the success of its innovative and diverse food and drink offer as a key driver of its bounce back as well as luxury seating and a glamorous vibe. 

By staying up to date with foodie trends, adapting menus in line with local tastes, and adding a touch of luxury with cocktails and gourmet snacks, as well as the option to dine at your seat, Everyman has created a cinema experience that feels like a complete entertainment package: dinner, drinks, movie, attractive space, luxurious surroundings. And audiences are prepared to pay more in exchange - dispelling the idea that high prices are the biggest barrier to audiences returning to cinemas.  

Long-term business success means going above and beyond just “showing films”.

Cinemas today are increasingly aware that audiences want the event experience to extend to all aspects of a trip to the movies. They want to feel engaged, entertained, a sense of belonging and community. 

That experience begins the moment they open a cinema’s website or app, builds through social media or marketing activity which generates that person’s interest and drives their purchase decision, and needs to be seamless as the customer moves through the booking journey and into the physical cinema itself. 

The competition for attention in the nighttime entertainment landscape is high, from experimental cocktail bars to hipster crazy golf, bowling or laser tag, pop-up restaurants, and immersive experiences. 

Our online consumption habits have also been sharpened by the pandemic to expect smooth, fast online shopping and booking experiences, with a lot of our daily life admin and consumption taking place on our phones, from banking to booking holidays, or shopping for shoes. We chat with friends and peers in social media groups and follow our local spaces, cultural influencers and favourite brand accounts to find out what’s cool and new in the world. 

In an era where experience is everything, the traditional, transactional, movie-and-popcorn offer is no longer enough to encourage people away from their living rooms and build long-term, loyal audience relationships. We are seeing cinemas explore new and exciting ways - no matter if their resources are limited - of creating memorable moments for their customers, in addition to the traditional marketing methods for promoting films. 

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