Lights, Camera, Loyalty: How to Use Data to Delight Your Cinema Audience

February 24, 2023
The DX Team
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Imagine a world where you knew exactly what movie to show on any given day and time, with what value-added offers to deliver the most audience-wowing experience cost-effectively, with maximum revenue!

Sounds too good to be true?

The data to power that level of forecasting and strategy is probably already in your operational platforms and systems. But how do you harness it? 

By collecting data from POS systems to loyalty programmes, you can positively impact the bottom line through more effective sales and marketing, tailoring the movie experience for each individual viewer, improving customer loyalty, and increasing revenue.

In this article, Emma Jamieson explores various ways for you, as a cinema manager, to transform that data to your advantage and grow your cinema business.

How can cinemas benefit from understanding audience data?

Knowing how your audience behaves and tracking their film preferences, spending habits and behaviour patterns (demographics, visitation times, booking patterns, etc.)  helps you make leaner, more cost-effective decisions when it comes to cinema operations and staffing.

Being able to track patterns based on historical data, means you can start to forecast and adapt operations dynamically, especially relevant in cinemas that also incorporate a hospitality and / or additional entertainment element where multi-use spaces need to be managed and staffed cohesively.

Data patterns can even help you make informed budgeting decisions, such as deciding whether to offer table-service or bar-service. Whether or not to increase restroom provision if the cinema also has a dining element. Whether to hire extra security for a late license operation or conduct enhanced cleaning during busier periods.

Understanding your customer flow throughout the day and general attendance patterns enables you to identify cost-minimising strategies around supplies, stock, advertising, and maintenance.

Understanding audience data means delivering audience-driven programming

Knowing what your audience wants to see, what they’ll spend high-ticket value on, and having insights into site-specific consumption patterns will help you (both nationwide chains and independent locals) shape programming at a hyper-local level. 

Armed with insights into best-performing content, a cinema can balance playing to their audience’s interests and surprising them. 

A dynamic, audience data-driven programme could be made up of 70-80% of “data proven” programming, delivering on the bottom line and driving audience satisfaction. The remaining 20-30% could be for exhibitors to take informed risks and mix-it-up, whether that means film seasons featuring lesser known directors, renting out screens to local festivals and programme-curators, e-games tournaments, or film student showcases, or offering more diverse and arthouse programming.

This way, the business risk is minimised when it comes to delivering more diverse programming and opening up to more niche communities and audiences whilst still satisfying the cinema’s core demographic.

It goes without saying that programming tailored around your audience’s demonstrated preferences and viewing habits will turn into greater audience satisfaction, therefore increased repeat visitation.

Are you making the most of your loyalty and memberships data?

From the Cinemark card to the Alamo Drafthouse membership, cinemas have been running loyalty programmes for years, but how much of the acquired data is being put to good use beyond offering F&B discount offers or sending out a monthly newsletter?

Training cinema teams to extract and interpret granular membership data, and how to act upon it, will give you a powerful marketing and sales advantage.

At the individual level, turning cinemagoers into members will only drive valuable loyalty if that membership data is leveraged properly and members nurtured both online and on-site.

This could be through strategic, targeted and segmented email marketing that is both proactive and reactive, e.g. delivering a birthday offer ahead of time, or suggesting an upcoming film preview based on previously booked films. 

Alternatively, offering personalised service on-site or online based on the member’s purchase behaviour, film preferences and other consumption habits is sure to impress.

You should also think about the online customer journey within your members portal to make sure it’s streamlined and easy-to-use, with members getting added value offers that elevate cinema experience, not just endless discounts.

Data helps deliver an ‘above and beyond’ cinema experience.

Cinema members who feel valued will gravitate to your venue again and again. 

For example, when a member’s information is displayed on POS whilst purchasing popcorn, this gives the server the opportunity to address them by name “Enjoy the film Ms. Smith.” A small, but fundamental trust-building tactic.

Alternatively, if it’s a member’s birthday and they are coming with friends to see a film (that was recommended to them in a personalised email, with a special birthday group offer), have their favourite snack ready for them on arrival, complimentary of course, and remember their favourite drink. 

This is a tactic widely used in the hospitality industry you can leverage for your cinema experience.

Upselling and cross-selling opportunities abound when you better understand your audience

By integrating membership data into your ticketing systems, you can upsell and drive higher average basket value. During the online purchase journey, make sure members are offered relevant add-ons based on their previous purchase habits (e.g. dynamically priced seat upgrades, personalized snack offers), or are informed about upcoming new releases that match their tastes (with the option to book in advance at a reduced rate, for example).

If your POS data shows an increase in visits from a customer that isn’t yet a member, your team can upsell membership on the next visit, by outlining the clear benefit to them: “As a member, you’d have saved £XXX in ticket spend over the past month”.

Data-driven decisions allow for more effective marketing campaigns and strategy

Cineville, a Netherlands-based "all you can watch" cinema subscription service comprising a network of 60 cinemas, credits its success on its policy of sharing audience data, collaborating instead of competing, delivering marketing strategies driven by subscriber preferences and feedback. 

Begun in 2009 as an initiative to save independent cinemas from declining popularity, the Cineville network now boasts 1.5 million admissions per year and over 55,000 subscribers. 

Cineville distributors and exhibitors can track audience behaviour on a dashboard from the release of a film's first trailer to their actual visit to the theatre, helping them deliver impactful marketing activity to members, from tailored screenings and Q&As, to quiz nights, social media competitions and parties, which enhance their "social experience". 

During the pandemic, Cineville offered its members the option to pause their subscriptions or keep them active to support cinemas, with 70% of subscribers continuing to pay during the six-month lockdown.

Tracking audience patterns over time and having insight into larger trends helps cinemas tailor marketing and sales strategies for maximum effect, as DX has written about previously in detail.

Understanding booking trends through your POS, loyalty app or website, can help you adapt pricing strategies, whittling out ticket packages that don’t sell and optimizing value-add offers that deliver.

Understanding your audience’s demographics such as age, income, average spend, location, etc. can also inform key marketing decisions, such as optimum screening times that consider where the majority of their audience lives and works, looking at average drive times, when they might face peak traffic issues or need to get a last bus home.

Likewise, if 30% of your members have children aged 5-12, consider a children’s animation season and tie in relevant F&B offers accordingly. Or perhaps a Saturday morning parent and toddler screening to fill an otherwise quiet screening slot.

On the flipside, If your audience make-up is mostly single or child-free adults or an older demographic, you may want to reduce the number of screenings of summer superhero and family-friendly blockbusters during school holidays, in favour of more drama or independent film offerings, rom-coms or cultural screenings (e.g. Met Opera Live) - especially if this offers a compelling alternative to a competing cinema in the area that caters for families and kids.

And don’t forget your food and beverage offering. If your data tells you that members’ average spend in the bar drops by £1.30 per head on Mondays - Wednesdays but you also know that cider is a best-seller on your menu throughout the week? Consider a midweek ticket and cider-based offer to incentivise visitation and spend during a leaner period.

Good data supports more relevant, targeted programming and content selection.

We all know that streaming services like Netflix and Hulu use member data to help them identify which genres, themes, and formats are most popular among different demographics, allowing them to develop tailored original content that appeals to specific viewer groups, increase engagement and subscriber retention.

Today, cinema groups like Pathé Cinemas are not only using their ticketing and website audience data to inform programming, but also extending that data gathering to social media too, for example using regular “vote for your favourite movies” polls with competition prize incentives to understand what films their audiences are most interested in. 

In today's world, data is king, and the cinema industry is no exception.

If you want to stay ahead of the curve, you need to be able to collect and analyse data to better understand audience behaviour patterns, preferences, and spending habits in order to deliver them the programming, service and experience they expect, or even better, to surprise them by going above and beyond.

By using data cleverly to inform programming decisions, you can strike a balance between playing to your existing audience's interests and drawing new cinema goers in with more challenging, diverse film programmes at low risk to business. 

Finally, you can make the most of your loyalty and membership data to offer strategic marketing and sales activity and enhance the online customer journey and ticket packaging.

If you want to receive more practical analyses and insights into cinema marketing and cinema business growth, don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter.

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