Monday, December 28, 2009

Transmedia: Connecting With Fans (Part 5 of 6)

This is an article in a series called The Filmmaker's Roadmap to Value. You may read all the articles in this series by clicking here.

Telling a movie's story outside of a movie—i.e., in other media—is called "transmedia" and it's fast becoming a dominant model for filmmakers who realize transmedia's power to cultivate and exploit fans for their projects. Robert Pratten of Zen Films wrote a superb analysis about transmedia business models called Moving Filmmakers to a Transmedia Business Model. Pratten emphasizes how critical it is to target and nurture fans in the earliest stages of a project in order to build a platform before the product is even developed. From a cost perspective, this is fundamentally true. Filmmakers determined to only make a feature film may have difficulty understanding that making and selling feature films in themselves will become an increasingly outdated model. Of course, filmmakers will still be able to make feature films the old way by trumping for funds before connecting with audiences, but it will just get harder because other filmmakers will have already been feverishly connecting with their fans. If you were an investor, which film would you rather dump money in—a project whose target audience has never even heard of the film, or a project with a growing and vibrant community excited about a film's release despite it not having entered pre-production yet?

Pratten's Transmedia model explains how using transmedia to connect with fans early in the process is integral to getting funding sooner. For independent filmmakers, Pratten's overview should be like getting manna from heaven. Unfortunately, Pratten doesn't really address the other part of the formula, which is getting consumers to buy. The assumption goes that consumers involved in the development process will automatically buy the final product, and that's probably true. Still, I feel it deserves more attention. If I'm a fan connecting with your film across multiple media—what am I inspired to buy from you, and why? I love your story across DVDs, movies, the web, forums, software, etc., but why should I plunk down cash for your product? I'm not talking about the tired Old Guard defense, "I made a DVD and slapped a price on it—that's why you should buy it." I'm talking about what makes your product so unique, so clever, so irresistible that I would pay money for it even if I could already get it for free.

Transmedia shows us how and why we can get eyeballs on a product, but how do you covert those eyeballs into dollar signs? This is the part where we have to talk about CwF + RtB = $$$:

Connect with Fans + Reason to Buy = Profitable business model

First, we look at a product(s) we produce and ask, what benefit does it provide? Are consumers buying the film itself or the enjoyment of the film's story? Then, we take that benefit and figure out which components of it are scarce and which are non-scarce (or abundant/infinite). Tangible goods are scarce, intangible goods are non-scarce. For example, CD's are a tangible good and a producer's ability to produce 1 million CDs is limited by the producer's bank account. However, the music on those CDs is an intangible: a song can be listened to and copied infinitely with no cost to its original producer.

Non-scarce or abundant goods add value to the scarce goods. An infinite/non-scarce good like trust adds value to a scarce good it's associated with. For example, given two cars of equal retail price, we will always choose one brand over the other because we know one brand has a longer history of reliabilty. This brand's cars never break down. We trust that company to make a reliable product. So the infinite good (reliability) adds value to the scarce good (the car). Consider the example of this clever music band:
...The String Cheese Incident, a band that recognizes, "The more people are exposed to the music, the better it is for the band." The music (the non-scarce good) helps them sell a lot more tickets to concerts (a scarce good). However, that band took it a step further. They set up their own travel agency to help fans attend their concerts—and have been making money there by saving people time (scarce good!) and helping them secure flights (scarce good) and lodging (scarce good), all in the pursuit of access to the band (scarce good) who they value so much because of the music (non-scarce good).

Trust is a non-scarce good, but also a specific tool to influence behavior. Sally Hogshead has spent years trying to answer a simple question: why are we fascinated by things? The results are in her new book, coming out in February, called Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation. In Sally's words:
There are seven different "triggers" that activate our fascination: Power, lust, mystique, prestige, alarm, vice, and trust. Each trigger shapes our behavior in a different way. For instance, the mystique trigger provokes our curiosity, making us want to seek out more information. The lust trigger makes us crave an experience. Alarm increases anxiety at the threat of negative consequences. Trust calms us with familiarity and reliability.

All seven non-scarce triggers are used to entice customers to buy certain products or, put another way, to add value to scarce goods. If you are marketing any kind of product (and "product" includes stories and characters!), Sally's book will become a must read in an age of "free" where attention is our most valuable scarce good, a good which every company fights to obtain.

This article is part of a series called The Filmmaker's Roadmap to Value. You may read the entire articles by clicking here, or the other articles here:
  1. Save the Tower Theatre
  2. A Plea to Consumers
  3. A Rotating Film Tour
  4. What Are You Really Selling?
  5. Transmedia: Connecting With Fans
  6. CwF + RtB For Filmmakers (12/29 09:00 PST)

Parts 5 and 6 of this article series would have been impossible without Mike Masnick's lucid and insightful writings on Techdirt. To say I owe Mike a debt of gratitude here is an understatement of the grandest possible measure.

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