When it comes to cult cinema, fan expectations are incomparably high. Secret Cinema uses a variety of original ways to engage their highly devoted customer base. Above all, a commitment to customer-centric thinking gives the brand an edge when interacting with such fans. While immersive events clearly won’t be a fit for everyone, there are lessons here for all marketers looking to reach highly engaged fans and audiences.
Since it’s birth in 2007, Secret Cinema has become a celebrated spectacle amongst devoted groups of cinema aficionados. The immersive experience which combines screenings of cult films in secret locations, with live-action entertainment and theatricals, has become a runaway success.
Last year’s rejuvenation of the 1985 sci-fi classic “Back to the Future” saw the organizers recreating an incredible set of the story’s Hill Valley location, and after a shaky start, putting on a show to match.
This year, the event has its sights set on a galaxy far, far away. That’s right, Secret Cinema 2015 will capture the spectacular intergalactic space opera that is “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back”.
Engaging Cult Film Fans
At the essence, Secret Cinema relies on a simple, but hugely effective formula: engage a core group of highly devoted fans of cult film, and host an incredible immersive experience which is both exciting and social, allowing them to enjoy the event and connect with similarly devoted fans.
However, this business is uniquely challenging for one key reason: when it comes to cult cinema, fan expectations are incomparably high. The onus is on the organizers to flawlessly deliver complex, intricate productions and events – or else suffer the wrath of the fans.
Case in point: Last year’s “Back to the Future” production flirted with disaster when the first day of the event was canceled just 90 mins before it was due to begin, with many excitable attendees already in costume and on their way to the venue.
URGENT: Tonight’s Secret Cinema presents Back to the Future performance is CANCELLED. All tickets holders will receive an email with more…
— secretcinema (@secretcinema) July 24, 2014
Ensuring that this year’s event goes without a hitch is of paramount importance for the organizers this year, and it seems they are willing to go to some lengths to ensure fans and ticket holders remain happy.
For example, while “May the 4th” is unofficially recognized the world over as “Star Wars Day”, the scale and challenges of staging an intergalactically themed production have meant that this year’s immersive cinematic experience will actually begin a month later, on June 4th.
Fans and ticket holders of the event looking to celebrate Star Wars Day however, were not to be disappointed. In a spirited move no doubt designed to amplify fan engagement on a crucial day for “Star Wars” fans everywhere, Secret Cinema hosted a ‘RebelX Gathering’ (a.k.a., a party) in a secret location in London. Ticket holders were informed of the mysterious gathering via a swiftly worded email:
Customers were also teased with a guerrilla marketing campaign which connected real-life experiences to social media to provide clues of the events location.
The ‘Secret’ to Success
If there’s a real “secret” to the success of Secret Cinema, this would be it. A commitment (even if it was learned the hard way after last year’s delays) to ensuring an active brand presence in the build up to the event, and the fundamental assurance that customers’ high expectations are in no way compromised, especially when they are seeking a brand interaction.
The nature of Secret Cinema’s audiences – many will be highly devoted fans – means that it’s important that their cult film experiences remain unmarred throughout.
For Secret Cinema, sensitivity and awareness of the customer journey – from the moment a customer signs up to the mailing list or purchases a ticket, right through to their experience of the event – forms the backbone of the overall experiences that they provide.
As the examples below show, the organizers are mindful of the needs and desires of an audience of highly engaged, passionate filmgoers and fanatics, and react to those touchpoints accordingly. They do this by a variety of means, but the one aspect that unites their activities is their willingness to act on audience desires, and deliver exceptional customer-centric moments.
Here are seven ways Secret Cinema uses super-experiential experiences to engage cult film fans.
1. Engage Loyal Fan Bases
Naturally this is step one for Secret Cinema. Film has long inspired and stirred passion amongst admirers of the medium.
Whether it’s popular classics such as “Back to the Future” or “Star Wars”, or more cult offerings such as “The Warriors”, the great thing about engaging groups of loyal fans is that you can be fairly certain of an enthusiastic and willing audience. It’s fair to say that most fans will be willing to share content about the films, stories or characters that they are passionate about, and some, would bite your hand of at a chance to express their fanaticism.
Here’s the kicker: when you engage loyal fan bases, the stakes are simply higher. Certainly, there are bigger, better opportunities to engage, but loyal fans have particularly high expectations and it means there is a greater risk of disappointing customers.
2. Put On A Show
If you look at Secret Cinema’s history over the past few years, you’ll see that there is very little expense spared in the way of production quality.
Taking over an abandoned school in Hackney, 2013’s production of The Shawshank Redemption saw attendees having to participate in prison drills before being sentenced to watch the film.
2014’s Back to the Future Production allowed audiences to have a burger and a milkshake in a replica 50s diner just like the one that featured in the film.
The benefit of putting on an incredible show is that it moves people emotionally. That filters through to people’s social media and image sharing networks, and the digital conversations become part of the event.
Limits are pushed because that’s what it takes to amaze. When it comes to entertaining super-fans, a brand is expected to deliver an amazing experience.
While not every business will be based around events, especially where target audiences are devoted fans, putting on a “show” that can amaze and delight (perhaps major tech keynotes are the best example) can drive conversations and positive engagement around an event.
3. Capture A Moment
Right from the early days of Secret Cinema, there has been an innate understanding that immersive moments are the key to defining incredible experiences. The organizers look to create environments that audiences can wholeheartedly embrace.
As Secret Cinema founder Fabian Rigall said in an interview with screendaily:
“When we create an experience, we give everyone a character, we wanted to create an experience in which the audience steps inside the moment… We create this world for the audience to become a part of.”
Immersiveness is becoming a benchmark for standout brand experiences. It’s something that is increasingly being applied to digital content – check out recent examples from HBO and National Geographic’s Killing Jesus.
These days, when brand experiences are looking to encourage shares, immersing audiences, and letting them get lost for a moment can inspire real loyalty.
4. Create An Experience That Elicits Social Interactions
Secret Cinema’s experiences are always highly social, and the popularity of the event amongst millennial audiences means that social media networks are a key part of the event’s promotions. During the events themselves, these networks will light up with activity. According to Rigall:
“The other thing that’s really important to me is the sense of community… Maybe with the rise of digital culture, we become more and more disconnected, that by creating these experiences, people are coming together.”
While Secret Cinema’s actual events are markedly experiential, one that audiences can feel and touch, what it really does is bridge the gap between real life and consumers’ digital lives. The overall journey, including buildup and hype, have a strong online presence, especially when it comes to the way fans are eager to share experiences on social media.
Secret Cinema used guerrilla marketing tactics to drop clues about the this year’s secret location.
5. Use The Power To Change People’s Perceptions
This one goes right to the heart of the Secret Cinema concept. One of the reasons why the concept works so well is that it redefines something that audiences already know and love, and changes their perceptions of what to expect.
For founder Fabian Riggall, it was to make viewing a film a journey. Not only between the start and end of a film reel, but beyond that, creating an experience that immerses and has the capacity to wonder and amaze.
Secret Cinema has the power to move people, and change their perceptions of what seeing a film entails. When you have to power to move consumer, it means you can stand out from the crowd and win the loyalty of your audiences..
6. Infuse A Sense Of Mystery
In the early days of Secret Cinema, the events were promoted with the tag line “Tell No-One”. It gave the events an air of exclusivity, but above all it created a sense of mystery and thrill around the whole event.
As Rigall said, Secret Cinema seeks to “play with the idea of the mystery… I always come back to this quote (Roald Dahl), and that the world has lost a little bit of that mystery, that romance that adventure.”
Secret Cinema aims to capture a sense of mystery that is fleeting and rare in everyday life, because often, that’s exactly what consumers want. The natural reaction for a brand doing these kind of events may be to push a heavy promotion schedule, but sometimes less is more. Thinking from the audience’s perspective allowed the organizers to consider how building mystery served an important aspect of the experience.
7. Do A Bit Of Everything
The live nature of Secret Cinema means that it is always going to have it’s hiccups. What audiences love about the events is that everything more-or-less comes together on the night, to create an unmissable overall experience.
Infusing a sense of mystery means that people can be surprised by events, and their expectations can readily be exceeded. That then filters through into social media conversations which also becomes part of the event.
What makes the concept so strong is that all the activities that Secret Cinema engage in contribute to the final result.
Do you know any other valuable ways to engage super-fans? Let momentology know on Twitter or in the comments below.