Sunday, March 18, 2007

Market to Individuals, Reach the World - Part II

In any business, marketing and innovation are critical elements for long term success. But when a business is based in large part on artistic creation, marketing and technology often take the place of an element much more important to long-term success – telling a story.

Motion pictures and other filmed media have a phenomenal heritage in this country, but like any other business films have to remain relevant to customer’s needs or those customers will move on. We saw this happen in 2005 when the product being delivered was so universally mediocre that audience stayed away and found other ways to entertain themselves.

The reason for this was not complex. Corporations are risk averse entities that like to control every aspect of the product they offer. The problem is that the one element that has the most to do with the success of a film is the one element you simply can’t put into a formula and that means risk.

Because telling a story can’t be quantified producers and studios have turned their focus almost entirely to marketing and technology. The inevitable march of technology means upgrading the technical process of making films both in the special effects that occur on screen and the equipment used to capture the sounds and images. As anyone who has made a film can attest to, this does not always equate to a less expensive or more streamlined process, or more importantly, a better film. Technology just seems to feed a need for more technology, which equates to higher costs.

Because the costs and risks are so high, they spend heavily on marketing to make sure the product is seen. The problem with selling a film this way is that the marketers is one of scale. At a time when people more and more wish to exert their individuality, producers and marketers are trying harder and harder to ram content that appeals to everyone down our throats.

After decades of this the film industry has mutated from a business based on storytelling to a business based on marketing. Most production companies and especially the studios now approach the process of developing new filmed media from an inside out perspective that is operationally driven, instead of from demand side.

This approach has lead to the circular reasoning that we now see in so much filmed entertainment. Producers and studios sink huge sums into elements of the film they hope will protect their massive investments (stars, directors, tons of equipment), and find with each new film those elements cost more and more. They use focus groups and exit interviews to “ensure” a film will perform well enough to justify the cost of production but what they are really doing is testing the film’s marketing hook and providing a false sense of assurance.

Marketers will counter saying focus groups and exit interviews demonstrate a consumer centric viewpoint, but reasoning is flawed. Anyone who has ever conducted focus groups or exit interviews will tell you that people only answer the questions given. How can you possibly learn anything about what a consumer wants by watching them sit in a room surrounded by strangers?

When consumers respond to questions about what they want they usually answer more for less. More effects, more stars, etc. They do this because it’s what they see and know; because it’ what they’re asked. Producers and executives look at this data and develop projects designed to match the “research,” and continue to miss the boat. To truly understand what consumers want producers need to get out into the field and take a more anthropological approach to marketing. They need to observe more and listen more and place more resources into development.

The disconnect we are seeing between media and audiences is self-induced. Massive spending on production dictates that they must try to make films that are all things to all people. When we start looking at people as individuals and delivering stories with universal messages and great stories that connect to people emotionally, then we can manage the money and deliver fantastic entertainment on a budget. Then we can deliver a quieter message that the film exists and is something they might find enjoyable.