Entertainment retail in 2014: less fun than a Soviet potato queue

Entertainment retail: about as much fun as a Soviet potato queue

Why is it that one of the most creative industries on the planet chooses to sell their wares in such a boring unimaginative way? Entertainment retail has been ripe for reinvention for a long time, so thank goodness the studios are finally stepping up and having a go.

When it comes to selling online, the entertainment industry has always been more “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” than “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.” You take your product - be it a movie, an album, a book, whatever - you chuck the packshot next to an ‘add to basket’ button and you wait for Joe Schmo to come along and purchase. From Joe’s point of view, he browses or searches, he clicks and fills in some forms, then he waits - either for a package to land on his doormat or a download to land on his hard drive. It’s an experience more akin to queuing in a Soviet potato queue than cascading into a world of fantasy and imagination.

Which is weird. Because this is the entertainment industry. It’s supposed to be about pushing boundaries and making dreams come true but, right now, the purchase bit - arguably, the most important bit - is just about the most leaden experience imaginable. Don’t worry, you’re not about to read yet another state-the-obvious tract about how pirating media is easier and more accessible than paying for it (the internet is sagging with the weight of those) but, if the digital bootleggers are a threat - and they clearly are - surely the one thing the entertainment industry has in its locker is making legitimate shopping fun?

Well, maybe. Certainly, there are positive signs. This month, we at Buyapowa are embarking on a journey with one of the world's largest media and entertainment companies, NBCUniversal, powering their cutting-edge forays into Social Selling. They changed the way movies are made, they changed the way television is broadcast and now they’re about to change the way entertainment is bought. It’s all a bit exciting. And NBCUniversal aren’t alone. In recent months, we’ve helped everyone from Robbie Williams to Tesco Direct to Hachette Books make the jump from traditional retail (the vendor chooses what to sell, the customer chooses what to buy) to Social Selling (the vendor collaborates with the customers to define the offers, the customers collaborate with their friends to define the deals).

So, what makes Social Selling such a perfect - and inevitable - fit for the entertainment industry? First, it’s a technology thing. The world of entertainment lives and dies by changes in technology as, every year, the tools we develop allow us better to realise the dreams in our heads. Where would we be without CGI, without MP3s, without all those funny acronyms that have pushed sound and vision further and further each and every year? So, sure, production is all about technology, but the way we sell entertainment online simply hasn’t kept up with the biggest technological transformation of the past decade: the jump from the solo web to the social web.

If you go to iTunes or Amazon - the two behemoths of digital entertainment retail - the experience is much the same as it’s been for the past ten years: you, a screen, a catalogue and a credit card. And that used to be fine: once upon a time, everything on the internet (including shopping) was a solitary pursuit. But, in 2014, 80% of a consumer’s digital time is spent being social, and that means you need new, social tools to convert potential customers into paying customers.

We created the Buyapowa platform to make these tools available to any brand, retailer or individual who wants to sell in a relevant, modern way. Tools which help you launch simple, immediate and highly affordable campaigns to bring your audience together, turn them into marketeers and drive viral sales through social; plus holistic analytics to help you keep track of success and strategise whole new ways of achieving it. That’s us. That’s what we do. By all means, get in touch for a demo. But the three cornerstones behind successful Social Selling are global, whether you use our platform or not:

  • A co-creation component allows your customer to influence what products and offers go live,
  • Dynamic pricing allows offers to improve as more people get involved, and…
  • Gamification rewards buyers for bringing in other buyers.

Combine these three elements and suddenly, social isn’t just a place where you talk about your products, it’s a place where you can sell them, too. It’s a whole new channel. And that’s the path the entertainment industry is beginning to explore as, finally, technology is beginning to power the way it sells its wares as well as producing them.

Beyond the technological issue, though, there are some other, very persuasive reasons why Social Selling is a perfect fit for entertainment. Let’s start with numbers. Entertainment - as an industry - is all about numbers. I couldn’t tell you what the best selling deckchair is in the UK, but I can absolutely tell you that Scarlett Johansson's ‘Lucy’ is Number One at the box office (that’ll date this article, but forgive me if you’re reading in the future). I can tell you who’s top of the pop charts, what’s heading up the bestsellers lists, which games are blistering the nation’s thumbs the quickest. And behind those numbers are people, punters, customers - existing fans, for sure (that’s why there are so many sequels around these days), but new acquisitions, too. If you’re not selling to new customers with every release, if you’re not growing your numbers, you’ve had it.

That’s why the studios spend a massive 35% of the average movie’s gross budget on marketing. It’s not enough to make something, you have to get out there and tell people to come buy it, too. You have to influence them to put their hands in their pockets, a little bit deeper, a little bit more often than they did before. Of course, the best way to market entertainment products is word of mouth. Your friends take you to gigs, your peers lend you books, no one goes to the cinema alone. No one. (Okay, no one except me. Stop judging.) In fact, talking of movies, word of mouth is so pivotal they even put vox pops in the adverts these days, imaginary friends standing outside a cinema telling you that ‘Slime Monster’ 6 is the scariest movie since ‘Slime Monster 4’ (‘Slime Monster 5’ was a catastrophe, both artistically and commercially).

But let’s be frank: everyone’s starting to see this for what it is. Traditional marketing can try to wear the clothes of peer-to-peer buzz, but just isn’t keeping pace with the modern world. It’s still selling to an imaginary ideal customer, who’s loyal and trusting and wants to hear what brands - be they TV manufacturers or TV networks - have to say. But loyalty’s become a plastic card and some cookie-cutter coupons, while, according to Forrester, only 8% of people even believe what brands say online. How about social? Well, brands are a tiny bit better trusted there but, unfortunately, no one’s listening to them. We all knew that organic reach was tricky, but the latest data shows that as little as 2% of the content that brands produce makes it as far as their fans’ timelines and news feeds.

So, what’s the solution? Stop marketing altogether? No. You just need to try a new kind of marketing, where it’s all about giving the people who are on-message, the people who do love your products, ideas, campaigns and offers that they can take out to their friends. Because, while we don’t trust brands, we do trust each other - eight times as much, in fact. And that’s a massively compelling contrast.

The trick, though, is to ensure that your existing customers aren’t just talking to their friends, they’re selling to them, too. The cliché goes that social’s a party, and you can’t sell people things at a party - and, to an extent, that’s true. You can’t walk around a party hawking groceries or timeshares in Marbella. But try telling the Tuppaware Brands Company (who turn over billions of dollars every year) that you can’t sell things at parties. You absolutely can. You just need to sell the right products in the right way.

In this case, that means keeping people in a social experience, not jarringly dragging them out of it and asking them to spend five minutes, credit card in hand, at iTunes or Amazon - or even at your own D2C e-store. You need to provide a social call to action (“join me as I buy this” instead of “click here to purchase”), and you need to make the transaction itself social, blurring the lines between talking and sharing and shopping. And that’s what Social Selling is all about.

The activity we’re powering for NBCUniversal and others will do all that, and more. They won’t just be shifting products, they’ll be working with the fans to create products. They’ll reward their passion and evangelism with money-can’t-buy access to their favourite stars and influence over their favourite titles. They’ll actually be selling entertaining things in an entertaining way. Now, seeing as how this piece opened with the American Film Institute’s top two movie quotes of all time, it’s only fitting to paraphrase the third as we close. Social Selling? It’s gonna be a contender.