Certainly it's no secret movie theaters are having a tough time these days, given all the other options we have for watching films. Still, I had no idea just how big those challenges were until we pitched (and won) the digital work for Regal Cinemas, the largest of the US theater chains.
Not only do theaters have to contend with HD tv, streaming media, rising ticket prices and $6 popcorn, they also have to compete with each other. But will people really go out of their way to see a film at a particular theater? Not so much, it turns out. People choose the movie they want to see, then figure out the most convenient place to see it, assuming one theater's not that much different than the other. No big surprise there. After all, no one chooses to watch a show because it's on CBS; they watch it because it's the show they want to see! So, finding meaningful point of differentiation is the name of the game, and theaters are trying everything they can think of... loyalty programs, reserved seating, alcohol, you name it.
We actually saw great opportunity for Regal to differentiate, but there was a snag. Philosophically, they approached their marketing from a national/corporate point of view. A customer's relationship with their theater is, of course, entirely local. Why would you go to the Regal Cinemas corporate site? Wouldn't you expect to go to a site for the theater in your neighborhood? And why would you even go there, when you can use a service like Moviefone to see what's playing in all your local theaters at once?
Aside from stepping up the visual design several notches, our solution was to create a highly localized marketing strategy, focused on giving users specific incentives to use the site and/or a proposed mobile app, as well as creating an extensive set of social tools and tactics theaters could use to engage customers. This involved leveraging existing platforms like Facebook, Twitter and FourSquare, but also building some unique functionality into the Regal app. Shifted to a local focus, the site and app suddenly became viable platforms for selling ad space, creating a new potential revenue stream for theaters.
Giving up control of the brand voice to local theaters is a huge change for Regal, so things are moving in cautious steps, but definitely heading in the right direction.