Here’s a lesson for everyone about differentiation.
An old maxim says “success is when preparation meets opportunity”; with the right approach and an understanding of your customers, it’s very much possible to penetrate your segment, capture mind-share and outdo your competitors with relative ease. The right tactics aren’t always expensive and, as we’ve seen before, the right story can tap into something greater than mere brand recognition.
Based in Austin, Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas is a relatively small chain of theaters with 10 locations, all but 1 of which are in Texas. Founded in 1997, Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas continues to compete with larger exhibitors such as Plano-based Cinemark (nearly 300 locations) and Kansas City-based AMC (nearly 400 locations) largely, in my estimation, because they work to cultivate and engage an audience of cineastes and casual moviegoers with special screenings, interactive events and an annual genre film festival on top of many general first-run releases.
They’ve crafted a brand that is hip, intelligent and interactive and certainly transcends the mere movie-going experience by speaking to a more communal, active opportunity to participate in quote-along and sing-along screenings, comedian commentary à la “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” cinema appreciation screenings with film historians and experts and even “HeckleVision,” where audience members can text their snarky comments and jokes to see them appear on the big screen in real time.
These unique offerings underscore Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas’ understanding of their audience and their audience’s culture; whereas most exhibitors offer nearly identical movie-going experiences, Alamo Drafthouse demonstrates a deeper knowledge of how to add value for their customers and differentiate themselves from their much-larger competition. A perfect example of this came just earlier this week.
There’s no question of the mounting pressure on theater chains; studio-backed Video-On-Demand, shifts in distribution windows, skyrocketing production and marketing costs, increases in ticket prices and an overall sluggish economy have contributed greatly to a decline in theater attendance. In 2010, North American box office sales were down 5% from the year prior; many consumers are opting to stay home citing the accessibility of streaming films as well as alluding to a sentiment expressed by Jean-Paul Sartre: “Hell is other people.” The cost of seeing a movie in-theater becomes exponentially higher when you throw in crying babies, ringing cell phones, row-illuminating text screens and all the general discomforts we’ve come to expect.
So when Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas uploaded this video to YouTube, it resonated with millions.
The policy of removing texting patrons from theaters may seem minute, but the reaction confirms Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas is responding to something important to moviegoers. Where your company’s values and the values of your consumers overlap is precisely where growth can occur; consumers now know that Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas is actively concerned in preserving a positive experience for their customers in a demonstrable way other chains are not.
Moreover, there’s a lesson here about social media and being engaged in the conversation with consumers. Many companies are still hesitant to delve into social media because they do not or cannot anticipate a means of coping with public criticism or challenges to their brand from customers; social media is seen as a liability that could mushroom into a PR nightmare. Well, that’s missing the point; even though a larger, more corporate chain might entirely disregard a voicemail like the one featured in the video, the shrewd move would be to utilize it to reflect your values.
No one is going to side with the angry consumer, after all – I’d wager you couldn’t find a single consumer who hasn’t had at least one bad experience with rude interruptions during a screening. Never forget that consumers are smart and fully capable of making their own judgments about claims, be it sour words on Yelp or Twitter. This is brand building through shared values and it helps catapult Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas into a category of their own. Do their competitors demonstrate his kind of personality or dedication to customer experience?
With the right approach, an angry consumer’s obscenity-laden rant has extended a culture to new audiences and invited many more from all over the world to participate; in less than a week, it’s already emblazoned on apparel and featured on countless media outlets from CNN to Reddit. The censored and uncensored YouTube videos are, of this writing, each over one million views. Reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.
Do you understand what sets you apart from your competition? Not just in your own eyes, but in the eyes of your customers? If you do, do you know how to communicate that?