Embrace the app! Reaching today's customers with new communication tools

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It’s a new year, complete with all those wonderful resolutions to drink less, pray more, make more leisure time with the kids, etc. Others simply resolve to just get a little more rest or fit into their pants. But communication often makes the list: to listen better, to communicate effectively, or sometimes just to communicate in the first place. So in this vein, how about resolving to learn all about the communication device called the app and how it applies to the theatre business?

The app is short for a software application program that can be downloaded to the numerous smart-phones and tablet devices that are wildly popular across the globe. Many are free and many cost only $1. On Christmas Day, lots of people receive new devices as gifts, which leads to the downloading of apps to the device, to read, view, communicate, and play. How many apps were downloaded on Christmas Day? How about a quarter billion! Matt Brownell of The Mainstreet Newsletter found that figure in a report by Flurry, which makes analytics software used by such popular apps as Angry Birds, Skype and The New York Times. “Because the software is found on more than 140,000 Android and iPhone apps,” Brownell notes, “the company is able to extrapolate its data to estimate how many app downloads happen worldwide on a given day. Using this methodology, it estimates that there were 242 million app downloads on Christmas Day 2011.”

You may be thinking, “I’ve just figured out how to communicate on Facebook and Twitter, now I have to learn the latest app and how to use it?” The answer is yes, and yes. I sometimes laugh when people tell me that their teenager never answers his or her phone. That’s right, they don’t communicate by talking into phones in the same way that the 40+ generation does; many of them no longer even have land lines to use. For them, the methods of communication are as wide as the uses of the Internet itself—talking is only one form of expression. This is difficult for many older people to grasp, but if you want to communicate with younger generations, you must learn where they are communicating, and how.

The reason this matters to the cinema business is that teens are already our customers, and they will grow up expecting us to understand how to reach them. They rarely communicate by e-mail, they rarely talk on land-line phones, and they rarely read a newspaper. The new apps are just the latest twist to all the software programs that you are learning to use. Smart-phones and tablets are designed to be filled with apps, and companies all over the world are competing with one another to offer the latest and greatest app, with the biggest buzz to capture audiences. Revenue streams from this business model are wide and deep but circle around advertising and data-mining. For the cinema business, think the Fandango app for the iPhone, quick and easy to view without the need of a computer.

The app is the new generation’s tool for customizing the communication programs they have already mastered. Yes, it’s that fast-paced. For example, teenagers download apps that are used to filter Twitter, they download Viber or Skype, and communicate for free—without a record on their phone bill—with anyone they want, anywhere in the world. They download apps for Facebook which block views, hide posts, and basically dodge their parents all day long. The number of game apps to download is staggering and the number of apps that are designed to group people in areas of interest is just as staggering. Apps have become the tool for people, especially young people, to personalize their methods of communicating and interacting with technology.

The underlying message, that the consumer must come to you, look for you and subscribe to you, is the reality of social media. Simply showing the consumer what you want them to buy through a TV ad or a magazine ad is not going to reach the younger generation where they are spending their time. This is why newspaper ads for movie times have so dramatically declined. The immensity of the Web and the expanse of cloud computing have allowed even the smallest of companies to create apps that allow people to seek out and join groups, and find company news feeds and product information releases of their choice.

Theatre marketing departments have been hard-pressed to keep up with the changes in consumer behavior over just the past five years. The generation coming of age in recent years and moving into their 20s as a movie attendance group will expect to be communicated with accordingly. Creating the app that allows your website to be viewable on smart-phones and tablets, creating the app that allows your tickets to be purchased on the same devices, and creating the app to both send and read codes with special food and beverage offers directly on these devices are all initiatives that theatres should be considering. We talk about the ability to capture the audience when they walk in the door with the smell of popcorn or the beauty of the presentation. Have you noticed how many teenagers are looking down at their phones, all the time? Like it or not, that’s where you need to be to get their attention.

E-mail your comments to Anita Watts at anitaw@reactornet.com.