Marketing entertainment in a content-saturated world


Last week, I had a discussion with my boyfriend about the business model of the Movie Pass service. We both subscribe to it, and are heavy users — we watch 1-3 movies a month. Almost every Friday, we’re at the movies. He watches it more frequently since his brother has it too, and they watch movies when they’re free on weekday nights. It helps a lot that I live right next to a great movie theatre in Huntington Beach. So you can find us hanging out there watching as many films as possible when we’re together.

We were wondering how Movie Pass makes money. With a $9.99 monthly subscription that allows you to watch unlimited movies, the value it provides is much greater than the financial cost to us. Their loss is almost equal to our gain: everytime we watch a movie, Movie Pass has to shell out the cost of every ticket and make that available in our Movie Pass cards, which we swipe at the credit card counter, just like a regular credit card.

Essentially, Movie Pass has to come up with the money instantaneously between we check-in to the app and we swipe our cards, which I would say happens in under 5 minutes. I’m not convinced yet about its longevity, but it is an awesome service especially for movie buffs like us.¬† Perhaps I don’t understand the business model clearly, but with the uncertain revenue source (the monthly fee is currently not enough to sustain the service), and the competitive landscape, they have to come up with an innovative business model.

There’s so many content providers out there these days– Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go. Actually, forget about all of them– even with Youtube alone, there is a non-stop supply of video c content that can last us a lifetime. Literally. As consumers, it’s hard to choose from so many different options, not just among the array of providers, but genres, and seasons and episodes…. and the list goes on.

When I was studying media management at Northwestern, my professor recommended that we read¬†Anita Elberse’s work on the business of entertainment. She is a Harvard professor and researcher, focusing on the entertainment industry and the business model/profitability of entertainment companies. One the most memorable takeaways from her research is how film studios lose money in general on smaller movies, but their business is sustained by the profit they make on blockbusters. Much like how car companies, such as Honda, use the profits earned from highly profitable cars like Civic, in order to fund concept / futuristic cars and develop advanced technology. The big sellers certainly subsidizes R&D for current and future projects.

In the entertainment context, the biggest asset companies have is their customer base. They can communicate to them again and again, convincing them to consume content, merchandise or beta test new projects. Another opportunity is the scale of reach that companies can realize with digital audiences. Even if you don’t have a customer base yet, it’s not too late to start one, given that so many people can be reached online. And preferences change so quickly. New trends are always introduced. If you treat digital content as a product or service, you can always shop it around and find new audiences to consume it.

So, if Movie Pass can find a way to get ahold of content through partnerships with content creators (ie. studios), and find a way to distribute it effectively and efficiently (maybe online, on demand, as soon as they hit theatres?) then perhaps those folks working at Movie Pass is onto something. They’re biggest bet will be on the audience they are cultivating, whether to sell their product, or to leverage as a data asset to do business with other companies. And the customers are highly marketable to others who want to reach them: a population of movie lovers with discretionary income for entertainment, who share a lifestyle around consuming content. And that is tantalizing to many companies, not just in the entertainment world— companies in luxury, sports, gaming, publishing, and other lifestyle-based businesses will fork out money to get in front of these consumers.


Setting a High Bar on Marketing Talent


There are many things required of marketers today. When I came back from Asia after a stint in strategy consulting around digital transformation, I knew I was in for a surprise with the new advancements that had taken place in the years I was abroad. In the context of the marketing function where I have expertise, it was even more pronounced. In 2015, attribution– the technique of matching sales with the channels that generated them– was just starting to become dominant in the industry.

Back then I was glad attribution was starting to get traction, after years of being ignored by marketing executives who had no appreciate for statistics and analyses.  I thought I was going to finally be able to do all these statistical techniques I was dying to try but couldn’t in Asia because the market was immature for this practice.

In reality, when I came back, I saw that all the junior analysts and new college grads were coding in Python, downloading advanced R packages, and playing with JSON, Bigquery, Hive and other tools that used to be in the bailiwick of engineers and technical specialists.

This means I have to keep up.  And I had to do it in a way that puts in several steps ahead of the junior folks. After all, I have more experience under my belt, had more education, and more interested in higher level objectives than learning how to code in a new language. In short, I don’t have to compete with them! I just need to figure out how to manage them, inspire them to do things for the team, and lead them effectively.

So I had to learn how to be a leader. And I am learning everyday. Every leader will tell you that everyday is a learning experience and there is no such thing as having “arrived” in this area. No matter how successful or senior you are. Everyday there is a problem, challenge, issue with the client, with the business or among your people. And being a good leader is proven by the act of leading.

Back to my surprise at how technical marketing professionals are today.  Marketing and technology seems to be intertwined in large organizations– we are seeing the reality of the prediction  made a couple of years ago where CMOs and CIOs need to work hand-in-hand to drive success in their respective teams and organization as a whole. We are living in a world marketing technology has proliferated.

You think the tech folks are celebrating? Those engineering types who roll their eyes at marketers who they think talk too much and are full of empty buzzwords? Not so fast. You engineering dude in the back. Let me stop you now before you rejoice.

There’s a good reason why tech folks would want to celebrate the rise of technology driven marketing: there are more jobs for them! And while this is true in many organizations, it is not so easy to think a whole new job market opened up for you and your kin. More qualified employees are in demand. Employers want both strategic and critical thinking skills AND some technical expertise. There’s still a bias on the former, because  what are numbers for if you can’t tie them back to business objectives that will drive more revenues–and profits– to the organization? In other words, the tech folks have new competition and they are your same old frenemies: that bunch of strategic marketers.

When I entered the marketing industry and was placed in the analytics team, I wanted to be part of the creative or media teams — because they are celebrated and always seem to get invitations to events that vendors threw at us — even while we cringe when a media planner would say, “I am not good at numbers!” or “What do these numbers mean?” Right now, analysts are having a moment. Especially since the business imperative is to become more customer centric and data driven.

So as we– my fellow analysts– sharpen our strategic thinking skills by tossing logic riddles at each other, let’s bask in the limelight until employers require us to learn the next hot thing, like… Python. In which case we have to drop everything and start practicing in CodeWars, because some of us are already being asked what Python packages we have experience in.

When Products Become Commodities

Here in the United States, we are spoiled with convenience. Drive down the street and you have access to decent fast food. Drive a little bit more to a nice area and you’re surrounded by top-tier restaurants. But at a certain point, the pleasure derived from a delicious food lessens the more accustomed you are to it. Same goes with products that are prevalent in our lives, and we start taking them for granted, as if they’re supposed to be there, made for us, waiting for our consumption.

A couple of years ago, I was traveling with a friend of mine from Manila, and we found this non-descript bakery in a small alley in Brussels. She ordered a pastry, a mille-feuille, and told me it was the best pastry she’s ever had in her life. I tried the pastry and I thought it was, perhaps, the worst mille-feuille I’ve had, certainly not comparable to the top Belgian bakeries nor even a touch close to those made by a small bakery in Paris. It was stale and the cream tasted oily. Then came dinner time and we went to an Italian restaurant, which was a sit-down place that served pizza and pasta, and upon my first bite of the spaghetti dish I wished we had eaten somewhere else, because one just doesn’t eat Italian food in a francophone city! My friend, on the other hand, completely loved it and expressed that it was a spectacular meal.

You see, for a well-traveled, resident of a developed country like me, these food items have become commodities. Yet for my friend, there’s a sense of wonder and satisfaction to be had for merely experiencing well-prepared food. At a certain point, when she gets accustomed to this kind of food, she will realize there is no magic sprinkled around them, they are just decent food.

I’m also a frugal customer. I am guilty of always comparing prices to figure out which provides the highest value, treating brands as commodities. For me, Tide detergent is no different from Arm & Hammer detergent, I look at price when making a decision. A bag of Whole-Foods brand almonds are just as good as artisanal ones. I’m sure there are plenty out there who think this way too.

As marketers, how do we move away from looking like everyone else? In today’s time, I think there’s this pressure to do what everyone else seems to be doing, especially because with social media, it is so easy to know what others are doing. And we tend to copy them, because they are safe. Tried and true, safe bets. But what do consumers really want? Here are my findings:

1. Pleasant experiences. Even for thrity consumers, an element of surprise is always appreciated. That product that is packaged with a free, trial size version of a variant? That’s a pleasant surprise. Food samples as you are walking down the grocery aisle? That drives purchase on the spot. Everybody likes surprises and pleasant things happening to them. Even the most frugal consumer and skeptical marketer (like me) can be won over by a nice surprise.

2. Differentiation in order to stand out. There are trends in design that creatives follow when recommending branding projects to clients. As such, brands are starting to look the same. That white, lean branding of Chobani yogurt? It looks almost exactly the same as Siggi’s. When products start looking the same, consumers won’t immediately see what’s different about each one, even if the ingredients or their essence are complete different. Brands need to think more about brand personality, and let that shine through packaging and branding campaigns.

3. Fulfilling a legitimate need. These days, customers are smarter. They know that the premise of marketing is to create the illusion of desire, a need for a product, and develop something in order to fulfill it. We need to conduct more consumer behavior studies to understand what our customers need, which is almost always different than what customers of other brands need. A heavy reliance on consumer insights is required of marketing decisions, if you want to achieve it.

What other ideas do you think will enable products to move beyond commodities to maintain a special quality?

The Suitability of Surveys

Are surveys dead? Actually, I think they are underrated.

I like working on quantitative research projects. There’s a kind of tangibility that numbers lend to a project, especially when data is needed to support decisions and validate hypotheses or opinion. What I like most about working with data is that it provides an evidence that will somehow lead to an answer, a decision, or a new insight. It’s up to us researchers how we decipher the numbers and interpret it in ways that is useful to the real world— especially when we are solving problems at work.

If you’re a non-researcher, you may ask, when do we need quantitative surveys? Why aren’t focus groups enough. I get this question a lot. The answer to this is, quantitative surveys allow us to collect data at scale in an efficient way. We issue a standard survey to a group of people (sample), get the answers back, make sure it’s representative, analyze it, and start looking for insights. The data we collect can be generalized to a bigger population that those that we surveyed, and it is statistically sound. On the other hand, qualitative methods are limited in that they ask a very small group of people (5-10), so it’s hard to generalize findings over a larger population.

There are additional benefits to a quantitative survey. For one, if you collect enough data, you can cut the data in different ways that show nuances among segments of the population. Also, having a lot of data points allows you to contrast and compare the numbers across certain variables that could surface interesting insights.

Quantitative research is suitable when you want to collect information that is numerical in nature. There is power in numbers. In today’s world, data has become so critical when making decisions that those who can analyze, process and interpret it can create success for his or her project and team. Even more importantly, we are bombarded with data and information that is not always accurate or important. Introducing ways to validate and measure data with a systematic approach and in a statistically sound way is the way to go.

What can you measure with a quantitative survey?

  • Frequency
  • Rankings
  • Ratings on a scale
  • Percentages
  • Price ranges



What Do Consumers Really Want?

We all wish we know exactly what customers want. It would save us hundreds of hours of trying to plan the right marketing program, the best promotion, or the perfectly timed message in order to win their hearts and minds.

But the reality is, consumers are people just like us. We don’t wake up telling the world what it is we want, or need, because sometimes, we don’t even know what it is yet! There are a lot of things we don’t have an opinion about, until we get prompted to express how we feel about something. Marketers tend to look at consumers from an observational standpoint, as if they are part of another species.

The good news is, there is a way to figure out what consumers want: through a series of techniques borrowed from the interdisciplinary fields of psychology and business. There are two components every marketer needs to know about understanding consumers: attitudes and behaviors. The research methods used to ascertain attitudes are different from those meant to collect data on behavior. Attitudinal data is about understanding how consumers think and perceive something, while behavioral data is about understanding how consumers act.

People don’t always act based on what they think. How many of us know somebody who would talk about wanting to kick a habit, but then a year later, we find the person consumed by the same habit? Sometimes, we think about doing something and then we go ahead do something completely different.

To have a well-rounded understanding of consumers, we need to know who they are inside and out.

Collecting Attitudinal Data

Surveying people is a common way to collect attitudinal data. In a survey, questions are designed to prompt people about a certain topic. Surveys typically include 10+ questions meant to get responses on many dimensions of a given subject. A good survey design maximizes the number of completions, which is the basis for successful data collection. The way a survey is designed can begin from simple questions to more complex questions, even adding “skip logic” which is a way to organize the questions so that if a person answers one way, a series of questions will branch out, or the question will skip to the next section to spare the respondent from answering questions that don’t apply to him or her.

One of the benefits of a survey is it is an instrument that can gather data at scale. The resulting data collected allows researchers to analyze them quantitatively— which is exacting and allows us to use more evidence to prove or disprove a hypothesis (by the way, every research study needs to include a hypothesis). Compared to qualitative data, you can use a lot more analytic methods on quantitative data.

However, qualitative data is also very useful to understand consumer behavior because it helps us understand latent attitudes that is hard to surface through a survey. Qualitative data can be collected via techniques such as intercept (where you stop people on the street to ask them a question) or focus groups (where you gather people in a room to probe them about a topic). Qualitative data allows you to probe a respondent further in order to get into more depth about the given subject— something an online survey can’t do because it is limited in the number and type of questions it can ask.

Collecting Behavioral Data

Behavioral data is a collection of data points meant to investigate how people behave.

Tracking pixels is the easiest way to collect behavioral data online or via digital devices. Usually, trackers are set up online or in mobile phones (ie. through the mobile browser and apps). Online websites and advertisement have tracking pixels in place so marketers can better understand who is visiting the website or looking at their ads. Typically, websites have a dozen or more trackers in place in order to triangulate the data and determine the variances between trackers (trackers count things differently, so they may have variances in counts). A simple way to find out which trackers are installed on a given website is to install Ghostery ( in your browser. Once you activate it, it will show you all the trackers installed on every website you visit.

Putting it All Together

The holy grail for many researchers is to be able to match attitudes and behavior among consumer groups over time. Often times, when companies commission research, it’s either an attitudinal project or a behavioral project. In some cases, when clients are research-minded and have budgets set aside for consumer insights, attitudinal and behavior research projects are done in phases— the first phase might involve an attitudinal survey, and the second phase may involve tracking behavioral data among a statistically similar group of customers. But when doing both types of research is not possible, researchers need to be creative in the way they collect data. There are a lot of emerging research methodologies that are pushing the research industry forward, such as eye tracking, mobile research or immersive technologies. As customer behavior change, so does the way researchers track their attitudes and behaviors.