Marketing Your Film at the Dawn of the Relationship Era

On Jan. 2nd, 2012 Bob Garfield and Doug Levy published an insightful piece in AdAge about the end of the old age of marketing (e.g., mass market advertising focused on the product) and the dawn of "relationship marketing."

Using case studies and interviews with experts, Bob Garfield and Doug Levy do a great job of explaining how the internet has changed the relationship between anyone with a product to sell and the audience. While their AdAge article is written for a general readership, understanding relationship marketing is especially critical for low-budget indie filmmakers setting out to market an indie film online.

To begin with, filmmakers must understand that their relationship with their core audience is the centerpiece of their marketing.

That relationship is built on trust: "Trust is an asset, not a commodity. It cannot be purchased. It must be earned. And it can dissolve before your eyes."

But how do you build a trusting relationship with a core audience?

The new imperative, according to David Rogers, executive director of Columbia Business School's Center on Global Brand Leadership who was interviewed by Garfield and Levy, is: "How do you, as a marketer, get the subset of the loyal customer who doesn't just buy your product again but ... writes those positive reviews? They share your links and retweet you on Twitter and post a photo of themselves with your product on Facebook and "like' you on Facebook and generate all these network conversations, which go back to the top of the funnel and influence other customers in your network at their own stage of awareness, consideration, preference or action."

According to Garfield and Levy, building trust and loyalty via relationship marketing requires a new set of goals.

Marketing a film into the new online ecosystem, where every member of your core audience is a vital player on your marketing team, compels a new approach.

Before a filmmaker can establish a meaningful relationship with the core audience, the filmmaker must be able to answer one fundamental question: "What is your brand about?"

"Do not confuse genuine purpose with other notions of differentiation, such as positioning or USP [unique selling proposition], rooted in manipulation or contrivance. They are "What can we say about our brand that sets us apart?" Marketing from purpose is no less differentiating but it's accomplished via a brand's demonstrated character. It can be banal or lofty "to make the most delicious ice cream," but you have to explain to all comers why you're in business.

Here's how outdoors outfitter Patagonia defines its reason for being:

Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.

This has been the Patagonia way for 40 years, since founder Yvon Chouinard set up shop to outfit lovers of the outdoors without contributing to the destruction of the outdoors."

So what is your film trying to say?

What is the big idea?

What is your Central Organizing Principle?

How can you communicate your central organizing principle to your audience?

How can you engage with your audience in ways that encourage them to share your message (one that they believe in as well) with their friends, fans and followers?

Once you understand why your audience should be loyal (what they are committing to), then, and only then, can you begin engaging with your core audience in meaningful ways.

Your everyday task as a New World filmmaker is to make sure that every interaction with your core audience (no matter how small) confirms and reinforces the "What is your brand about?" message.

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Thoughts from a film producer about making and distributing films.