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Humanizing Customer Data and Cinema Loyalty Programs

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Humanizing customer data is a significant piece of running a successful cinema loyalty program.

At Movio, a global leader in marketing data analytics and campaign management software that works with leading cinema exhibitors, film distributors and studios, its mission is to revolutionize the way the film industry interacts with viewers, increase box office revenue, and improve the quality of content produced.

Matthew Liebmann, senior vice president, Americas, Movio, delivers strategic, operational, and marketing advice to many of the region’s leading exhibitors. Prior to joining Movio, Liebmann spent much of his career as a cinema exhibitor and, while at Hoyts Cinemas Australia designed, launched and ran the Hoyts Rewards loyalty program, which was awarded best loyalty program in Australia in 2012 by the Australian Marketing Institute.

Movio has offices in Auckland, New Zealand; London; Los Angeles; Shanghai; Sydney, and Mexico.

Loyalty360 caught up with Liebmann to find out about the important connection between humanizing customer data and cinema loyalty programs.

Can you talk about the current state of data collection in cinemas?

Liebmann: Most exhibitors see value in collecting guest data to create a better experience for their guests and to drive sustained incremental revenue for themselves. However, the quality of the collection practices varies. Those that do it best realize that the features and benefits offered by their loyalty programs need to be finely calibrated to what they require from their guests at each stage of the loyalty lifecycle. Those that do it less well, and they are in the minority, tend to ‘give away the farm’ or be too hesitant to move the dial in a meaningful way.

What is ‘humanizing data’ and how does it fit into cinema exhibition loyalty programs?

Liebmann: Humanizing data is the use of information and insights to give more personal experiences to guests. It supplements programmatic, machine-driven marketing to help create genuine connections between people; between staff and a cinema’s guests.

Most cinemas play the same movies as their competitors. Many have the same facilities; big screens, reclining seats, expanded food and drink offerings. And many of those that don’t have these facilities now are fast catching up to level that playing field. To me, the key opportunity for sustainable and profitable differentiation is for exhibitors to know their guests and treat them as individuals in a way that sees them enthusiastically choose their cinemas over the competition, return more frequently and spend more when they visit. Loyalty programs are the foundation of this.

How do ‘humanizing data’ and cinema loyalty programs work together?

Liebmann: There are two kinds of loyalty: uppercase ‘L’ Loyalty, which is a loyalty program you join. It’s the formal manifestation of loyalty and can be transactional relationship despite the name ‘loyalty’. But the more sustaining version is lowercase ‘l’ loyalty, and that’s the true affinity people have for a brand over and above being a part of any club. A few of my clients initially feared that relying on data to programmatically segment and market to their guests would be dehumanizing. However, if it’s done sensitively, it will achieve the exact opposite result. It can move a guest’s loyalty from lowercase ‘l’ to uppercase ‘L’ by creating timely and personalized interactions.

Let me give you an example. When I was a cinema exhibitor myself, we would often get feedback that guest service was not up to par. This was driven by the near-universal cinema challenge that front-line staff was in their late teens, this was a part-time job and the industry has close to 100 percent annual front-line turnover. One way we attempted to overcome this for loyalty members was to use insights from the staff-facing point of sale screen when a member identified themselves. The staff could use this to greet a member by name; share their opinion on a movie the member had recently seen; or ask if they would “like the regular” based on their usual food and beverage purchase. This data-driven, program-based interaction helps members to feel recognized and valued, generates affinity and advocacy.

Can you talk about your ‘magic sentence’ concept?

Liebmann: This builds upon my prior point. As someone with a history in both cinema marketing and operations, I consider how exhibitors can give a personal experience without slowing down the lines on a busy Saturday night. A ‘magic sentence’ is just that; it is short and sharp but can transform a guest’s experience. I came to this realization a few years back when I took my two young kids to the cinema to see one of the Ice Age movies. The person who tore our tickets to let us into the auditorium completely ignored me but bent over to my kids and said, “I just saw this and you’re going to love it”. That one sentence directed at my kids made my visit and I’m still talking about it five years later.

Can you go too far?

Liebmann: Yes. I had a friend who admitted that she had two different ‘go to’ orders when she went to the cinema. When she was with her friends, she’d opt for the large concession combo, but when she was on a date, she would buy a water and a small popcorn. She said she would never want to be offered the large combo when she was in front of her date. This highlights the importance of using contextual assumptions, too. Data’s great, but it can go awry if blindly followed!

What is being done well in these areas and where do the challenges lie?

Liebmann: Exhibitors are now certainly better at only asking members for the data they need. Especially at sign-up, this means that forms are much shorter and so more likely to be completed accurately. In place of these long sign-up forms, exhibitors are more reliant on passively-collected data such as from transactional records.

Privacy and data security remain ongoing areas of focus–and rightfully so. However, if the rules around data collection tighten materially, they may limit the ability to securely collect the appropriate data needed to personalize guest service, communication, and marketing in a way that is mutually beneficial.

Rounding all of this out, exhibitors are better at demonstrating to their guests why they need the data they ask for. There was an exhibitor who once asked members how many kids they had, their kids’ names and dates of birth. They wanted this to send the kids a birthday gift but this was never explained. Parents perceived the request to be creepy, and not only did it cause these questions to remain unanswered, but it also led to terminated registration.

How do you think humanizing data in cinema loyalty programs can develop in the future?

Liebmann: A loyalty program is simply a vehicle between frontline staff and guests. Anything that makes the interaction less rote and more personal will only become more vital in the future. The Holy Grail–and it will take people far smarter than me–is to use what exhibitors know about their guests to anticipate their needs even before their guests know it themselves. At this stage, lowercase ‘l’ loyalty and uppercase ‘L’ loyalty would unite.

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