Movio’s Managing Director for EMEA, Sarah Lewthwaite, recently had the opportunity to sit down with Hoss Ghonouie, Director of Marketing for Everyman Cinemas in the UK, to discuss their recently relaunched loyalty programme. Extending their distinct brand identity and cinema experience to an equally distinct loyalty programme offering has been an exciting challenge for Everyman. We discuss their approach to building customer relationships, the challenges faced when revamping an existing loyalty scheme and how Movio Cinema data is helping them achieve their goals.
Sarah Lewthwaite: For those not familiar with Everyman Cinemas, tell us about what makes your cinemas and brand unique from other cinema chains?
Hoss Ghonouie: Everyman started as an independent, small network of cinemas in 2008. Our ethos, our heritage and our brand are about being a local boutique cinema for a local audience. We’re in the centre of town on busy high streets, and are focused on making that personal connection with our customers; it’s really about that customer relationship over the product we’re showing. How that has evolved, since the earlier days, is that we have a lot more venues now and a quite busy pipeline of cinemas we are opening. We now have 21 cinemas in the UK and are opening six or seven next year. The challenge now is to retain that extra-special cinema experience and to consistently deliver a great night out. Whether that be via an investment in our teams so there are more staff per customer versus your normal cinema experience, or fabulously-designed venues that are designed around creating a social atmosphere so that you don’t necessarily feel that you are in a cinema, or whether it’s the great programme of films that we put on. We’ve been coined a ‘boutique’ cinema chain, but this is just something that we do. It’s in our DNA - we are all about the customer experience.
SL: How would you say this ethos extends to your new membership strategy?
HG: Really naturally. In terms of where membership sits as a focus, both within marketing and within the broader brand, it is about rewarding, incentivising, encouraging and building that deeper relationship with our customers. The Everyman members are our core audience. These are the people who come the most frequently, and that we know the best. What the loyalty programme does for Everyman, is that it focuses in on that deeper understanding. It helps us build our relationship with customers who already know about us, who are already familiar with the brand, who come frequently and who either are, or will become, our brand ambassadors.
SL: What are your goals for the new loyalty scheme?
HG: The ambition was to do something that was more evergreen and more engaging throughout the year. Our previous programme offered members a package of movie tickets upon sign-up, which you would benefit from using on likely one or two visits to the cinema - and that was it. The ambition with our new membership was to do something that encouraged our members to visit us more often and remain a member for longer. If you can imagine where our cinemas are located, on the high streets, physically built with bricks and mortar, that should be a part of our customer’s everyday lives for years and years. So, the best thing that our membership can do is reflect that. We wanted to build the customer relationship over a longer period, encouraging people to visit more and enjoy more.
SL: How does the new programme work?
HG: There are three levels that essentially reflect three common frequencies of our customers. This was highlighted by some early analysis work on our customer attendance patterns. At the top end, we already had an ‘unlimited’ style scheme where we were seeing very high-frequency of users and of cinema-going. With the new programme, we wanted to retain something at that end but make it more accessible. We’ve rebranded this the ‘Everywhere’ membership, which offers an unlimited number of tickets for two people. This focus on two people ties in again to the physical way our cinemas are built. We have sofa seating, the average ticket purchase is often above two tickets - so we know that people are generally buying in pairs - and that a cinema visit is a social experience. Some other things that are included in that membership are invitations to member screenings, priority bookings for new films, a dedicated members phone line and special event invitations direct from your local cinema manager. Additionally, we offer a benefit for Event Cinema tickets, because we found that the people who come frequently are also attracted to the alternative event strands, like the Royal Opera House, National Theatre Live, and the MET Opera.
One step down in frequency from that, is the ‘Every Icon’ membership, which is built as a stepping stone on your way to an ‘Everywhere’ membership. It’s designed for someone who comes about once a month on average, with a guest. The third tier is the ‘Everyman’ membership, which includes six tickets and you can use whenever you want. With both the ‘Everyman’ and ‘Every Icon’ memberships, we have also built in a Monday offer to help introduce new members to the scheme. Members can bring a friend for free on Mondays as it is generally a lower occupancy time in the cinemas. It’s a nice time to have some fun and encourage members to bring friends and family, on the house.
SL: The UK seems to have a number of paid loyalty programmes (i.e. monthly subscription schemes) across the cinema sector. What makes yours distinct?
HG: I think the way we offer benefits for two people definitely feels unique. A lot of loyalty schemes are built around the individual, around one person’s behaviour, whereas we understand our customers come in pairs more often than not. I know it doesn’t sound like a massive “eureka” moment, but I think it’s a big benefit as it shows understanding of what our customers actually want. Beyond that, I think it’s also about what’s beyond the core offer - those extra things that are included in our memberships, such as special events, free screenings and priority bookings. It, again, highlights our ethos of offering special benefits to our members versus to all of our customers. We could easily open up some of those benefits to a wider audience, which would probably have a faster commercial benefit, but I think that would be quite short-sighted. The bulk of our admissions every year are coming from our most frequent customers, so we should be rewarding them.
SL: Do you think the cinema sector faces any unique challenges when building a customer loyalty programme versus other sectors?
HG: I don’t think there is anything totally unique, I think it’s just about protecting your value. Whether it’s a retail loyalty card or a supermarket loyalty points card, your offering has to be worthwhile for the customer to sign-up to. I think there is a bit of a fallacy in membership whereby people think they need the most members in order to be successful, and that these members will be loyal automatically. I actually think that’s flawed thinking. We should start by asking ourselves certain questions: why does your programme have value to a customer and what value will you get from having that customer join your programme? It then needs to make sense commercially for both you and the customer. I believe this is the same challenge faced in all industries.
SL: How is Movio Cinema helping you to target and incentivise customers to join your programme?
HG: As I mentioned, we are in the really early stages of launching our new membership and there are some cool tricks we are looking at using through Movio Cinema at the moment. This includes segmenting audiences that we know come frequently but have never stepped up to buy a membership - potentially giving them something extra if they do want to join during a certain time-period. I think that the opportunity is for us to sharpen our marketing, and focus on speaking to the relevant segments of our customers instead of to everyone. The sharper we make our message, and the better we target our audience, the more likely they will engage with us.
SL: Managing changes to a programme structure can be challenging amongst your current membership base. How did you manage this with your existing Everyman members?
HG: I think it is so easy, when you do something new, to forget why people liked the previous version. The way we have approached it is more of an evolution of what had existed already. We did not completely scrap and change the functionality of our existing loyalty programme - the core fundamentals of rewarding frequency are there. Our focus was on protecting what our existing audience liked and enjoyed already about the programme, and avoiding alienation of our existing members with the changes we made. We simply wanted to make it better and, by listening to what they liked and also what they didn’t like, I think it’s been a positive step forward.
SL: How do you plan to use the data generated from your new programme?
HG: I think the biggest, most obvious ambition is to increase attendance frequency. It’s about getting someone who goes to the cinema four times a year to go five or six times a year. We want members to experience new things and come more often, instead of us trying to convert audiences who don’t come at all. This is how we will also measure success. If we see our membership group growing in frequency, then we will be very, very happy. If it grows in size as well, that’s also fantastic - but the focus is definitely about pouring our efforts into getting customers who already come to visit more.
SL: What has the initial customer feedback been? Are you seeing any early results?
HG: Yes, it has been really positive, actually. We are seeing that people are stepping up more to higher tiers of membership. There is a bigger transfer than we originally expected and each tier of the programme is growing at a really healthy rate; we are not seeing cannibalisation. The monthly payment mechanism we introduced has also made it a lot more accessible to more people. I think we are seeing the positive results of giving people more options overall.
SL: What’s next for the Everyman loyalty programme?
HG: It’s top secret! It’s letting this very recent launch grow organically, building on our segmentation and targeting our campaigns using Movio Cinema, along with building our digital conversation on other platforms. You can try to forecast and predict how your audience is going to use something but, until they actually start using it, you never really know for sure. I think it is about listening for a bit now and looking at the data that comes out of it.
We wish Hoss and Everyman Cinemas the best of luck with their new programme!
About Hoss Ghonouie:
Hoss Ghonouie is Head of Marketing at Everyman Cinemas. He has seven years experience in the film industry, previously studied creative writing, and lives and works in London.