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Movie chain apps halt entertainment brands? Beacon debut

Beacons and hyperlocal mobile technology offer entertainment brands a significant opportunity to build loyalty programs and upsell moviegoers, but marketers will need to latch onto the movie chains themselves to establish the brand recognition and scale that theaters have already achieved.

Entertainment brands and film studios have been quick to move into mobile when it comes to driving buzz and ticket sales before a film premiers. However, entertainment brands looking to tap into the beacon and location-based marketing craze still have aways to go without solid stand-alone applications that drive repeat traffic and engagement.

?The challenge for this category is tied to the installation of a native application around an entertainment property that has a very short shelf life,? said Tom Edwards, senior vice president of digital strategy and innovation at The Marketing Arm, Dallas, TX.

?To maximize the iBeacon system, it needs to be mapped to a native application,? he said. ?The better play for some entertainment properties may be through integrated partnerships leveraging the application install base of an existing partner application and then embedding a unique experience within the partner application.?

Engaged consumers
To keep up with consumers who are increasingly streaming full-length videos and content from their mobile devices, elevating the moviegoing experience is a growing priority for both film studios and movie theaters.

A number of film studios and brands are already leveraging sophisticated forms of in-theater and mobile technology.

For example, Lionsgate just ran its fourth campaign in malls that used Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to promote the upcoming film ?Divergent,? which premiers in theaters this week (see story). 

NBCUniversal ran a similar campaign in January to promote the film ?Endless Love? (see story). 

Additionally, AMC Theatres rolled out an augmented reality component to its app last year that unlocks exclusive content on marked print movie posters (see story). 

The majority of these campaigns center around giving movie fans exclusive bits of content, such as a trailer, while they are in a mall when they are likely easily swayed to see a movie.

However, not many of these campaigns are stepping it up to build long-term engagement and loyalty with consumers.

With Apple?s iOS 7.1 update last week, consumers now do not need to have a mobile app open and running to activate iBeacons. 

This could potentially be overwhelming to consumers if a majority of brands with apps on their device choose to activate Bluetooth low energy. At the same time, it could help build short-term consumer awareness about location-based technology.

The technology also still relies on consumers first downloading an app, which can be difficult for film studios to manage on their own since promotion around films typically only takes place right before a movie comes out, and consumers are not likely to download a one-time app.

Therefore, film studios and entertainment benefit most from partnering up with big chains that already have sophisticated mobile apps that integrate with real-time and loyalty features. 

?The biggest advantage of iBeacon/Bluetooth technology for brands is enabling them to develop a more advanced and direct relationship with event attendees,? said Tobias Dengel, CEO of Willow Tree Apps, Charlottesville, VA.

?With beacons set up throughout a venue, movie theater and entertainment brands have the ability to send geo-located, personalized messages directly to moviegoers with special offers and notifications targeted directly to them based on their location in the theatre,? he said.

Take loyalty programs, for example.

Movie theaters and chains are constantly looking to build up their loyalty and reward programs to turn a one-time ticket buyer into a repeat buyer.

Film studios that partner with movie chains to build their loyalty programs through location-based offers and Beacons could move beyond leveraging the technology for one-time use cases to get a consumer opted into a membership program.

Additionally, film studios and movie chains could place Beacons around the concession stand area to trigger upsells or push out promotions on food and drink.

?Last-minute ticket sales are certainly one application of a beacon-based marketing effort for entertainment brands, but if used creatively, beacons have the power to enable entertainment brands to initiate a contextually relevant and personalized engagement with their potential audience,? said James Meckley, chief marketing officer of Mobiquity Networks, New York.

There are three parts in pulling off an effective Beacon or location-based campaign for film studios, per Mr. Meckley.

Marketers first need to have one or more mobile applications that are programmed to respond to beacons. Although apps do offer a richer experience, brands can also leverage SMS or mobile Web to activate a Beacon experience initially.

Then, marketers need to develop a network of beacons that are placed in hot spots within the movie theater. Finally, the content that consumers are pushed has to be compelling and interactive.

Prime demographic
Moviegoers open up all kinds of opportunities for marketers beyond simply building up pre-sale tickets and hype.

In fact, a recent study from the Interactive Advertising Bureau and InMobi found that 56 percent of moviegoers use their mobile devices to learn more about their entertainment options.

Per the report, that number is on par with the same percentage of consumers that is influenced by television to learn more about a film. Twenty-six percent of consumers surveyed said that print influenced them to research a film, and Web influenced 39 percent of consumers to learn about a film.

This fairly wide group of engaged mobile users could also potentially be a challenge for film studios that want to hone in on specific demographics that are unique for each film.

?While blockbuster movies carry general audience appeal, they represent a relatively small fraction of the films that are released each year,? Mr. Meckley said.

?One of the biggest challenges faced by the movie industry is to effectively engage with targeted audiences to promote films with a more narrowly defined audience,? he said. ?In these cases, maximizing the efficiency of the marketing budget is crucial, and is best achieved through highly personalized marketing strategies that can adjust for audience preference.?

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York