How Being Open to Change Can Maximize Your Film’s Reach

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In our last article, we discussed the importance of data for filmmakers and provided some key analysis and digital marketing terms to know. Now I’d like to contextualize these terms by explaining the practice of analyzing data through the use of feedback loops and providing examples of these systems found in the independent film industry. Let’s start with a production feedback loop example: Dailies. You watch them during production in order to evaluate your performance and make the appropriate adjustments the following day. With new technology at our fingertips, it’s now easier than ever to apply feedback loops to distribution and marketing.

Feedback loops are systems that collect and digest data in order to maximize the impact of their output. In simple terms, they allow us to make better decisions rooted in concrete factors. They’re a consistent and iterative process -- imagine a circle or triangle, where every piece of information that comes out of the system is immediately fed back into the system in order for it to become more informed, efficient, and impactful.

The creative distribution and marketing process is ripe with feedback loop opportunities, as we’ve seen first hand with our two current fellowship film teams. There’s an abundance of data you can collect from your audience starting from day one that can affect the future success of your project. Setting up these listening devices early will help you understand who your audience is and what their needs are. Below are a few concrete examples of feedback loops we’ve seen in action throughout the creative distribution process.

Analytics -- it’s not as boring as it sounds.

Facebook insights, Google analytics, Twitter analytics -- these are all analytics tools your team would benefit from implementing and monitoring. They provide insights around who is seeing your digital content, who is engaging with your content, and what kind of sentiment they have around your work. These detailed dashboards breakdown demographics of your followers, where they’re located, and the ways they’re interacting with your content. For instance, let’s say you’ve mainly been posting content in the morning and a couple times you decide to post content at night. When you look at your dashboard you realize the content you’re posting at night has a higher percentage of engagement (likes, shares, comments). You take this feedback from your audience, start posting more content at night, and voila! You’re getting an uptick in your weekly follower count. And if you dig a little deeper and realize your video content is performing better than any other content types, then double bonus. Your system has just provided you with two concrete pieces of feedback you can implement in order to reach more fans.

Listen to and engage with your audience early.

The earlier you can build an audience, the better. This initial fan base gives you a vantage point into the needs and wants of your community. Take our fellowship film Unrest, for instance. A month before their theatrical opening, they already have over 16,000 Facebook followers. The filmmaker, Jen Brea, made it a point to engage with her followers early in her filmmaking journey to help grow her audience and understand what resonates with them most. This community has helped identify appropriate messaging around ME and has revealed geographic hotspots of the film’s largest fan bases. Listening to and engaging with your audience also helps keep them informed about your distribution choices. Jen has done a fabulous job answering her followers’ questions, like “Why don’t you put the film on YouTube?”. She takes in their feedback, crafts responses that help them understand the reasoning behind Unrest’s release strategy, and keeps them updated every step of the way. By letting your audience know they’ve been heard, you’re creating an invested group of fans that will likely follow you through the trajectory of your career.

Ads aren’t just for selling.

When marketing a film today, digital ads, like the ones you see on Facebook and Instagram, are a must. However, these ‘ads’ are much more than just a card in a scrolling feed. By providing rich data on who is clicking your ads when and where, these ads help you drill down on the specific interests of your audience. When creating these ads, digital marketers take a page from the scientific method playbook and hypothesize who they think the target audience is for this content. They run the ads and use real time metrics to test and continually optimize their audience groups. Recall our mention of Cost Per Click and Cost Per Thousand in the last data article? These are metrics digital marketers look at in order to assess the efficacy of their ads. Good performance, defined by a low cost metric and a high engagement metric, is an indication that your content is appealing to the audience targets you set. You could find that your ads are reaching your target audience, yet the engagement is low. This might be an indication you need to change the creative assets and written collateral you’re using in your ads, to encourage more interaction from your fans.

Our fellowship film Columbus did exactly this.

Columbus is set in Columbus, Indiana, a mecca of modern architecture. They knew certain groups of architecture enthusiasts would enjoy this film, yet their ads had a low engagement rate within this community. So they crafted architecture specific ads for this community, and started receiving a higher level of engagement from this group. Again the wonder of a feedback loop at play: the output from the ads is put right back into the ad process to make sure your content is getting to the base that’s most interested in what you have to share.

So now that we’ve outlined a few concrete examples of distribution and marketing feedback loops, let’s go over some resources filmmakers can use to set up efficient feedback loops.

Google Analytics

Apply this to your website to collect site visitor data, such as demographics, user behavior, and how long visitors are staying on your site.

Facebook Insights, Twitter Insights, Hootsuite

These are all tools that help you collect and monitor data about your social media community.

Mailchimp

Don’t underestimate the power of a newsletter. Email is still known to have a high conversion rate. Use mailchimp to help you A/B test emails, manage email lists and track open rates.

Feedback loops are about being agile and open to change. Take the time early on in your filmmaking journey to establish a team devoted to these systems. The earlier you and your team identify the most constructive feedback loops and set them in motion, the more fans you’ll be able to reach and retain. Stay tuned as we continue to explore and share insights surrounding creative distribution and marketing for independent filmmakers. And of course, we always love hearing your feedback. What are some effective feedback loops you’ve used during your filmmaking process? Do you have any questions or comments surrounding this process? Reach out to us anytime: creativedistribution@sundance.org.


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