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Sophia Stuart Headshot

The New Hollywood (Digital) Dating Rules

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Dear Movie Studios

Do you know how to date? Because having a one to one relationship is the only way to digital success these days. You can't ignore fans between releases and expect them to show up opening weekend. They don't know you care. So why should they? And you can't fake caring on the Internet. Welcome to your new digital strategy. Dating your audience.

Studios are starting from scratch with each new campaign, trying to build audience for opening weekends when they could be using digital to build, maintain and amplify (more on that in a moment) audiences to sustain on-going movie ticket sales and incremental revenues from windowing via DVDs, digital downloads or special events.

And don't expect your audience to speak English; you're going to need to date in other languages. As the Motion Picture Association of America notes, 67 percent of the box office is now outside the USA.

It's not hard to build an international strategy -- but it does need to be somewhat centralized. Do a geo-IP look-up (this is where your server will be able to see where your visitors are coming from) so you deliver the correct language, release dates, marketing campaign and links to local fan blogs and writers and other available material for that part of the planet.

Don't forget device look-up (this is harder because there are so many mobile devices being launched each quarter) so you serve the most "design-responsive" site for the user's screen. And stop releasing apps that just target Apple users. Don't you know that Android has edged ahead in the USA? If you want to date your audience, you need to know a lot more about them -- don't make assumptions -- dating is all about suspending expectations while you actually get to know someone. Or so we've heard.

While we're on the subject of assumptions -- open up your universal registration too. Using Facebook as a single login is only building Facebook's business. Plus the majority of affinity groups and movie fans and television fanatics are only going to talk on your site using their own brand/blog/username. They are building their audience too. The Internet is the greatest creative democratic marketplace. They are not going to login using their Facebook/real name. Especially not outside the USA where privacy or using the shelter of a pseudonym is much prized.

Someone has to own digital centrally in your organization. Someone who knows how to use the Internet like a regular person, not someone who fell for the "dark art of SEO" talk a few years ago and is now worryingly watching their numbers plummet because the keywords look good to Google but there's zero interaction with the audience on their brand sites. Someone who can blog, respond to comments on their own site, tweet, friend, like -- you know -- engage in a meaningful relationship with the very people who buy tickets, DVDs, downloads, vintage posters and generally adore your product. If only you'd listen to your audience and show them you care by dating them.

Every industry conference has panel after panel that talks about Social. But what is Social but just being friendly with your audience? Talking directly to them in a voice that reflects the Studio, the movie, the television network or the individual program. Don't fall for the overly complicated analytics tools without establishing decent content and a believable voice first. Data underpins a good content strategy. It is not a strategy in itself. Unless you like an automated machine-like brand that solely responds to keyword analysis without really looking at what is being discussed.

Social is a two-way conversation, which means spending fifty percent of your time listening (and all good relationships require listening). How many Twitter feeds can you spot that are badly disguised lists of approved (and probably out of date) "messages"? No conversation, no two-way dialog, no response to messages of love about the movie release or TV premiere. The worst part about Social -- it's not scaleable (and Management prefers Scale). You need real people to manage your Social network presences. Try not to outsource. It won't be your voice. This is too important to farm out.

And if you engender real loyalty from your audience, not only will they follow and friend and respond to you and your brands -- they will tell everyone they know (many more people than you know, when you add up the network effect) and this is the best bit -- they'll do it for free (but only if they really like you). There's no substitute for a true relationship. And those brands who have millions of followers? Usually hit those numbers by blindly recruiting them in a sweepstakes like a bad one-night-stand.

Have you heard about using affinity groups? These are people and organizations that have a point of passion about the subject at hand. And no, there's no list you can buy. This takes real work too, sort of group dating in a '70s swinger way.

Let's say your next movie is a love story set among the tattoo artists on the Sunset Strip when one of their number goes to Berlin (you'd watch that one, right? Me too.)

Start interacting on the blogs that talk about tattoo artists, draw up illustrated maps of where your characters live in Los Angeles, where they stayed in Berlin, find the music that they listened to on the trip to Europe, reproduce famous designs from the top artists and get them to blog/tweet/chat about how they came up with those creations, then make sure all of this is shareable because you want your content to be mashed up, discussed, loved, added to, and spread widely and everything links back (embed those links carefully) to your product.

Make sure all those links come back to your brand site so they can buy tickets, posters, DVDs, sign up for your mailing list and generally keep in touch. There has to be a commercial element to everything. Or you're not going to stay in business long.

Your e-commerce strategy is where you can use data intelligently. Algorithms that predict interest are getting smarter and smarter (and they learn from being used by real people but you have to keep monitoring them to make sure they are staying on track). Say for example, your studio has a long tail list of romantic comedies -- tag them in your database with useful keywords that match other similar screenwriters, directors, stars, and build a community around them so each time you release a new similar product (or do a newly mastered DVD release), you have a willing audience, ready to buy.

Here's where we come to what I call the 3 x Cs of dating your audience: create desire, connect and close the sale. There are so many digital strategies that fail to close the loop and provide a way to buy the actual product. And there are many sites that fail to ignite desire (no ugly sites, people, especially for beautiful products, come on!)

If you date your audience and treat them with love and respect and a little bit of flirting and quite a lot of "gosh, you really like us and our work?" type conversation and comment on their sites and re-tweet their love notes about your latest movie -- you've got us for life, darling.

The MBAs in your back office will call that "Maximizing Customer Lifetime Value".

We call it love. And it's why we go and sit in the dark cinema and gaze up at the magic unfolding on the screen, after all.