Giving Rewards and Gaining Insights: Cinema loyalty clubs benefit both the public and exhibitors

Cinemas Features

Loyalty clubs aren’t new. 

By the time Thomas Edison invented the movie camera and the Lumière brothers designed the first successful movie projector, loyalty programs were already up and running in other industries. They offered stamps, coupons or points for discounted or free merchandise or services; their goal was to build purchase loyalty among their customers.

The concept took a while to be fully adopted by exhibition. Today, loyalty programs are widespread—and their uses range from simple to sophisticated. On one level, they provide free rewards; at another, they bring exhibitors a deeper understanding of guest behavior. Here, industry experts talk about the scope, purpose and analytics of loyalty clubs—and how they fit into the moviegoing experience.

Lyndon Golin (President, Regency Theatres): We started Regency Rewards with business card-sized punch cards; every time you saw a movie, we punched the card. When you saw five movies, you got a free one. The card initially had a six-month expiration—but our purpose was really to build frequency and the card seemed to be doing that. In 2005, we migrated to magnetic cards to integrate with our POS system.

Kelly Hawkins (VP, Loyalty Marketing, Regal Cinemas): The Regal Crown Club started in 2001. Our primary goal is to enhance the guest experience; we want to make the experience something more than they expect. We like to call it “the credit that they deserve.” Today, we have roughly 12 million active members.

Sarah Van Lange (Director of Communications, Cineplex): SCENE is a 50-50 joint venture between Cineplex and Scotiabank. Our goal is to have a large group of happy customers who continue coming to our theatres and engaging with our program. Today, one in five Canadians is a SCENE cardholder—and 20 percent more Canadians between the ages of 15 and 19 belong to SCENE than have a driver’s license.

Leon Newnham (President, Vista Entertainment Solutions USA): Consumer demand—and the importance of the data those programs provide—have driven the growth of loyalty programs. As chains consolidate, data has become increasingly important to help management understand what’s going on at the grassroots level. Without a loyalty program, they just have transactions, they have no way to know who their customers are.

Matthew Liebmann (Senior VP, the Americas, Movio): A loyalty program should also be a profit center. It’s about motivating people’s behavior—driving their frequency and their preference—so the exhibitor can generate extra revenue and profit. And the only way to do that over time is to have a program that’s valued by their members. So it’s a true win-win. 

Newnham: The loyalty programs that work best are simple. 

Van Lange: Our “earn and burn” proposition is easy to understand and that’s part of what resonates with our guests. You earn points when you see a movie and after ten movies, you get a free one on us. 

Newnham: Cineplex has created a program that’s easily understood but has great coverage.

Van Lange: We also have a partnership with Sport Chek, Canada’s leading sporting-goods retailer—and an alignment with CARA Foods, who operate a number of popular restaurants chains. So, SCENE gives Canadians the opportunity to earn and redeem points for movie downloads, movie admissions, concessions, restaurant meals and sporting equipment—all things related to lifestyle and entertainment.

Hawkins: We not only use our program to reward our members, but to listen to them. We began to hear they wanted more choices; so last year we changed the program. We now have several different ways they can earn credits besides making a purchase—by watching exclusive trailers, by linking to their social profiles, and in other ways.

Newnham: Regal has done a really good job of understanding their moviegoers; it takes a lot of effort to launch that kind of initiative.

Hawkins: And now members can choose the reward that they want—it’s an individually customizable program. If they want popcorn, that’s their choice. But they can save their credits for free movie tickets—and we have an online reward center where members can spend their credits on exclusive movie merchandise. 

Golin: We publish our point structure on our website. At fifty points, members receive $5 towards a concession item; at 100 points, they receive a free companion ticket; at 200 points, they receive a free ticket.

Hawkins: We recently did a recognition program to reward our top customers at each of our theatres. We may also do surprise-and-delight credits or birthday bonuses.

Van Lange: As part of our launch of a new VIP theatre, we invited longstanding and active SCENE cardholders in the neighborhood to screenings where we were training our staff prior to the theatre’s opening. They were helping us with our staff training, but they were also seeing a free movie, and getting a sneak peek at the theatre, a free meal and a free evening out.

Golin: Also, on occasion, a studio will offer us an advance screening of some upcoming movie for our rewards members and that’s a great offering.

Newnham: A loyalty program personalizes an exhibitor’s relationship with their customers. And, it enables them to really tailor their communications.

Hawkins: We know what movies they see, so if there’s a movie coming that we think they’d like, we let them know about it. But we’re also going to let them know about some others as well, because they may have an interest in seeing them if we communicate in the right way.

Van Lange: Based on their movie-watching habits—where they’re watching, what they’re also buying, who they’re going to the movie with—we’re able to tailor promotions to them. A big component of the SCENE program is encouraging groups to go together.

Golin: Every quarter, we started sending our reward card members a free popcorn or soda to use over a particular weekend. 

Liebmann: There’s an old saying: “Fifty percent of my marketing works; I just don’t know which fifty percent.” In our case, we can see which efforts led to an incremental uplift, or which was ineffective or even loss-making because what was given away was too generous for what was expected.

Newnham: If you give away too much, it’s difficult to wheel back. And if you communicate too often, you end up in their spam file.

Liebmann: The critical thing is, when you know who people are, you don’t have to blast everyone with the same offer. You can get the right offer to the right person at the right time using the right medium. Your members learn that an e-mail from you is relevant, so they start to act on what you tell them. 

Van Lange: SCENE runs over 400 marketing campaigns a year. We’re able to use the information we gather from our guests to tailor our communications to them. But, since we’re now communicating with eight million members—each with their preferences—that’s no small task.

Golin: In the future, we’d like to utilize our program to better target our members by suggesting similar movies or events—including classic films, sporting events, ballet and operas—they might enjoy.

Newnham: A loyalty scheme poses a solid return on investment. But it’s not a “sit and forget” situation—it requires regular effort to make sure the program aligns with the overall goals of the exhibitor.

Hawkins: We want to grow our business, we want to grow our brand. We want to grow the loyalty club experience, we want to grow the moviegoing experience. The Crown Club helps us to understand why our customers chose us—and what we can do better to make them choose us more often.

Newnham: For several years, exhibitors have been assembling incredible databases, but that data has been underused. The next wave will include using analytics to tell you things you couldn’t have even dreamt about.

Van Lange: Measurement is a huge component of SCENE. The analytics we gather based on their behaviors tell us how to engage with them, how to serve them better.

Liebmann: We can go down to: by age and gender, show me the last ten movies seen—and the average concession spend—of everyone who saw the eight o’clock showing of a particular movie in a particular theatre.

Newnham: Some exhibitors charge for their loyalty programs; most are free. The advantage of offering a free program is that you’re likely to have more customers join the program because there’s no cost barrier. Many would say that more members is a good metric for a successful program.

Liebmann: If you have a paid program, your guests are putting money down, so they expect to get their money’s worth. They’re more attuned to your communications, your offers, and everything you do. 

Newnham: And the quality of the data may be better.

Liebmann: You can have both and they can work quite nicely together.

Newnham: Free or paid, a good program should enable consumers to quickly sign up at the box office, get the card and start earning points. Then, you need to have them register online—and confirm their data—in order to be able to start redeeming their points. So you don’t start giving away rewards until you know they’re contactable.

Liebmann: And make sure your program is tied to your overall corporate strategy—not being run off on the side. It also should be supported from the very top—it shouldn’t just be a function for the marketing team. Beyond that, everyone needs to recognize that loyalty is a series of exchanges; the idea is to work out what you must give at each stage to cause the behavior you want to see.

Hawkins: I think you also need to be always listening to your customers—and making sure your employees have been well-trained, so they explain the benefits of the club to their customers.

Newnham: The consumer should feel that the exhibitor understands them—and provides more offers, promotions and communications that link them to things they enjoy. 

Liebmann: And evaluate everything, so you can stop doing what doesn’t work and you can double down on what does. 

Hawkins: We look at such factors as: Are we getting new members into the program? Are we having members visit our theatres more often? Is member satisfaction with the program increasing? We want the program to be impactful for the company and for the members—because that’s what it’s here for.

Liebmann: Loyalty programs—and the data they provide—are becoming more critical to the exhibitor’s success. Most cinemas are playing the same movies, but if you can treat your customers as individuals, you can be successful in ways others can’t copy because they don’t have the same data to do that. 

Golin: The challenges to our program are the number of reward programs available and the number of cards a person can carry. Our program requires presenting the card—and members don’t always remember to bring it or can’t locate it and it slows down the transaction.

Hawkins: We’re really pleased with our mobile app, because members can use it to see their transaction history and their point balances—and it includes a QR Code so they can scan it at the theatre and members don’t have to carry their card with them. 

Van Lange: We have a whole team dedicated to working on our program, keeping it engaging and interacting with our members. We have a very strong consumer offering.

Golin: The program has been in our theatres for a long time. It provides useful information to us and hopefully it enhances customer perception of Regency and makes them feel a part of the “Regency Community.”

Hawkins: Remember what it felt like the first time you walked into a movie theatre as a young child—and you saw that giant picture on the screen? If you could take yourself back to that moment…that’s the feeling we want you to have every time you walk into a movie at a Regal theatre. And then, through our Crown club, we try to bring additional magic to the experience.

Pictured: Top row—Sarah Van Lange, Lyndon Golin, Leon Newnham; bottom row—Matthew Liebmann, Kelly Hawkins