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  • Writer's pictureSiria Contreras

Think Outside of the Box

A couple of years ago while still at AT&T’s Entertainment Group (now a.k.a WarnerMedia) while preparing for a presentation one of our leadership told me, “I’m going to pack it up and just open a coffee shop”, likely only half-joking as we were under a tough deadline. I glanced up from what I was focused on and asked him also half-jokingly, “how are you going to make it different?” My question made him laugh loudly as he stated, “and that’s why you’re leading this campaign.”

I was actually curious though in my inquiry, what would make his “proposed” coffee shop different from all of the other chain or mom-n-pop varieties that make their home in each of our neighborhoods? If any of you were to approach me with an idea or project that will likely be one of my first questions that I’d ask, not to challenge you nor to condescend, quite the opposite. It’s actually to help you figure out your best path forward from a marketing, launch, or positioning standpoint. Anything can be marketed, but for something to be marketed well it has to have something “special” or “different” that sets it apart from all of the other noise. Niche or broad, it doesn’t matter.

These days we are stuck in a bit of a state of suspension between what was and what will be. True visionaries will be those who can connect the two and evolve them into a new way of being or doing that doesn’t completely alienate legacies. However, it is those who make bold choices and who take chances who will gain the most in the next couple of years.

For example, while live streaming was the flavor of the week as we all went into self-quarantine mode, it’s no secret that it is an over-crowded highly competitive space, plus the revenue model is yet to yield as high of a return in general. Because of what we call in the industry, “churn”, it doesn’t yet match up to live shows, therefore the live music industry is already busy testing new concepts which include drive-in concerts taking over everything from stadiums to airport parking lots and launchpads to test concepts in open-to-the public festivals.

Larger acts could potentially stand to gain more revenue from one “exclusive” evening versus embarking on a full tour. Take Garth Brooks’ recently announced one night special drive-in concert which will screen at over 300 outdoor theaters across the U.S. and Canada with an entry fee of $100 per vehicle. Who knew that in 2020 we’d be employing turn-of-the century concepts who saw their heyday in the 50s and 60s. Yet, add the livestreaming element where thousands of audience members across hundreds of locations are enjoying the same experience and now it’s feeling more on the 2Pac Coachella hologram or Marshmello virtual Fortnite concert level.

However, even this level of ingenuity is not sustainable as it is not an even playing field for artists of all levels and just like stadiums aren’t accessible to those who can’t fill them, artists and the music industry will need to continue to think outside of the box to evolve and sustain an entire industry. Sure, grasping the moment and adding face masks to your merchandise inventory is a start, but we won’t need those masks forever (if we can all at some point finally follow the recommendations of health officials and the CDC).

The same with the entertainment industry as everything from TV Upfronts to Film Festivals and even the Marché du Film go virtual, we are living in unprecedented times.

Or are we?

What is actually happening is that many industries are actually finally catching up to the day and age that we’re in. Live streaming and virtual shows have been around and enjoyed by many for nearly two decades, at CBS we had a “Live from Letterman” digital series that you’d likely laugh loudly at how we made that virtual experience happen, here’s a hint-- many, many go-pros were tested in various ways to get just the right angles to offer multi-cam views, don’t even get me started on the voyeuristic fan favorite Big Brother Live Feeds that rivaled security camera footage that has been around just as long. Quite lucrative as users pay a subscription fee for 24-hour access to their summer guilty pleasure.

The biggest difference between what has already been happening for years and the shifts happening now is that we’re finally all living in a digital age. Everyone from your 90 year-old grandmother to your three year-old nephew and all other age demos in between. For the last twenty years we’ve been little-by-little bringing everyone into the digital space getting them to dip a toe in--guiding them in baby steps, one product, one launch at a time.

Fast forward to all of us stuck in the middle of a pandemic being forced to connect virtually and all of a sudden everyone is swimming fearlessly in the deep end as they keep up with new Zoom commitments, everything from virtual birthday parties and graduations to attending their weekly book clubs or board meetings. Not to mention giving cooking lessons via Facebook Live, or playing talk-show host on Instagram Live.

Digital novices and naysayers were fast-tracked into super-user status in a matter of a month or two and none of us saw it coming. I for one am happy you’re all here. Now, very few of you will expect an actual phone call from me.

You can definitely safely assume as you start thinking about your marketing and audience-growth strategy that digital should play a big part of this. However, we’ll get into distribution and audience in the next couple of days. For now, let’s go back to that out-of-the box thinking with another example.

Movie theaters have been struggling for years now, with short-lived audience drivers like Movie Pass, the one good thing that resulted from that failure was that chains like Regal Cinemas and AMC Theaters developed their own rewards and incentive programs. Even with all of our fancy Smart TV QLED or 4K big screens, wanting to watch films on a larger than life screen with premiere sound isn’t going to go away anytime soon, going from your bedroom into your living room or den won't compare to going to an actual movie theater with friends or family. Watching a new movie at your home with friends is a night-in or a sleepover, but going to a theater to watch a new movie is an experience. One that even our youngest generations still value.

However who is providing those viewings for you may change if the aforementioned movie theater companies don’t also begin thinking in a futuristic and strategic way. As announced many movie theaters will be opening up in a more limited capacity in coming weeks. We can safely predict that in 2020 theaters will not generate the same kind of revenue that they experienced in previous years and many may even face closing permanently. In actuality, they also should proactively be taking a cue from the music industry approach and reverting back to the drive-in model, which they easily could have been doing already, many of them have sizable parking lots that with the necessary city permits they could begin outdoor showings.

They should be partnering with stadiums and parks, etc. for night showings. Heck, partner with an Ikea for goodness sake-- I mean they were holding virtual weddings back in 2015. They should be holding neighborhood pop-ups. They should be partnering with audio and earphone manufacturers like Sonos, BeatsbyDre, and SkullCandy, etc. to take the silent disco approach.

Partner with restaurants and offer picnic/family meal packages. Start a new loyalty program that is only for the pandemic. Outdoor cinema is not a revolutionary concept, as the decades-long lines that wind around Santa Monica Blvd. for summertime Forever Cemetery showings will attest to.

There are plenty of other smaller theaters like Alamo Drafthouse, the darlings of our generation of movie-goers, who may thrive even if they run out of runway while others like the larger chains feel the blows. When considering launching a film theatrically, filmmakers will now also now need to explore diversifying with other smaller theaters and also more unorthodox options. Theater chains can recover and even flourish, but only if they also pivot and get creative with their planning and long-term strategy.

So, how can you take an innovative approach when so much is still in flux? The first step will be knowing who your audience is and where they are. Instead of them coming to you, you may actually need to go to them a little more than in the past.

Aligning with what appeals to your audience may be the easiest path forward, but you also can’t compromise your own content or product either. Lastly have an adaptable marketing plan, especially if you need a variation that appeals to industry insiders and not just the general campaign meant for broader audiences and consumers.

I can’t give you specific ideas without knowing about your product or content specifically, but starting with yourself and paying attention to what appeals to you as a consumer is a good start. Start taking note of what stands out to you, what gets your attention as you go about your day. You may start to see some consistencies as to how you like to be marketed to.

Was it a mix of traditional and non-traditional that caught your eye? Billboards, bus shelters, write-ups by credible industry sources, or was it a more unconventional marketing activation or recommendation from a tastemaker?

Maybe it was a brand’s welcome intrusion on one of your many micro-moments of the day. Don’t discount the power of social media and search/display advertising, your approach should absolutely be as omni-channel as possible (again, more on this when we talk audiences later this week). I’m willing to bet that what will stick with you beyond the novel and clever, will be what makes you feel something. If only for a moment you need to connect with your audiences in one way or another.

Someone years ago once said to me that marketing is a team sport and that’s an accurate statement. The more partners and teammates that you can have, the broader you reach. They just have to be the right team, not just the first people to say yes. Think Pantone’s partnership with The Ocean Agency last year when deciding on the color of the year.

One thing I can definitely stand by is that in 2020 and the next couple of years to follow are a time to take a few chances and to try a variety of things. However, as you embark down the self-promotion journey remember to remain authentic and genuinely empathetic.

The world is still going through one of the most challenging times in history and how and what audiences consume will be a reflection of that for some time to come. So as you race full speed ahead into the land of possibilities don’t forget to take your values with you.


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