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We Need More Face-to-FaceTime

Whoever thought it was a good idea to put pockets on men’s swimming trunks owes me $200.  I don’t know if you’ve ever taken three kids under the age of nine to the pool before, but it’s easy for your attention to get pulled into multiple directions.  You’re so focused on the kids that you forget about yourself for a while.  Such as forgetting that as you were leaving the house to head to the pool, you slipped your iPhone into your swimsuit pocket.  Hey, it’s just like a pair of shorts right?  Until you arrive at the pool and the kids are anxious to get in so you wade into the pool only to realize that the phone is still in your pocket.  Crap.  There goes $200.

I had a serious dilemma.  Do I spend the money to replace the phone, or do I go back to my pre-iPhone phone sitting in a desk drawer (which I saved just in-case a situation like this occurred)?  Although I enjoyed the iPhone greatly during the time I owned it, could I really justify spending the money to replace it?  If you’re wondering, there is a specific clause in the extended warranty that says “Hey dumbass, don’t take it into the pool.”  Ultimately I did replace the phone but it wasn’t because of my love of Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds.  I replaced it because of FaceTime.  There are two main reasons I felt I needed FaceTime and I also have some thoughts regarding its future use.

For those of you unfamiliar with FaceTime, it’s Apple’s video-calling experience.  It lets two iPhone 4, iPad 2, or Mac users connect and have a face-to-face conversation.  Science fiction has been touting this type of technology for years and versions of video conferencing for work have come on to the scene and then never utilized because of poor quality of either the picture, sound or a combination of both.  I’ve been impressed with the ease of using FaceTime and the quality of the connection but here are the reasons I thought it was worth the money for a new iPhone.

Mom & Dot enjoying some FaceTime

1.  Work Travel.  My wife recently started a job that requires her to travel more frequently.  They aren’t incredibly long trips, but when you’re away from family it can feel like you’re missing out.  This is especially true with small children who change and grow so quickly.  My wife would call to talk to the kids (and perhaps me – but pretty sure the kids were her priority) but they never really focused enough to have a real conversation.  In particular, our 3 year-old, Dot, was still puzzled by how a phone worked and what she was hearing.  She knew how to hold the phone and would smile when she heard her mom’s voice, but she wouldn’t talk.  Like most kids her age, she’d just stand there holding the phone.  With FaceTime, Dot could actually SEE mom smile and have a conversation face-to-face.  My wife could SEE what was happening at home and actually be a part of it.  Totally worth the expense.

2. Grandparents.  My parents are retired and live three hours away.  It’s not a huge distance but long enough that we weren’t making very frequent visits.  A recurring comment when we would see them in-person was how much the kids have grown and changed.  Once my parents became owners of an iPad 2, there was a new level of involvement in seeing the kids grow.   Our calls would be via FaceTime and they could experience what was taking place here at our house.  Yakko and Wakko would show them the medals they received for playing baseball over the summer and Dot would play a game of hide-and-seek where she’d sneak into the picture somewhere until either grandma or grandpa would spot her.  Phone calls are nice, but FaceTime adds a new level of enjoyment.

3. The Future of FaceTime.  Bringing families closer together is a definite advantage to technology such as FaceTime.  There are plenty of outrageous future applications for video calling but I’m going to leave you with one that makes the most sense and is probably the closest to being a reality.   I see FaceTime impacting how companies screen employment candidates for in-person visits.  It’s expensive to bring candidates into your office for face-to-face interviews.  Combining the phone interview with FaceTime allows the employer (and the employee) see how they handle themselves during an interview.  It also opens up an entirely new industry as prospective employees will need “professional backdrops” to hide the dirty laundry on the floor.  Finally, a reason to buy something from fathead.com.

Who won the World Series? Did I miss it?

As I sit here watching a meaningless preseason NFL football game, it has suddenly occurred to me that I have no idea when the World Series will be held.  Oh yeah, I don’t care.  Here’s the thing.  Football season has started which means I’m busy thinking about things like my fantasy football team name (‘Orton Hears a Suh’ was my favorite name I saw on Twitter) and how the Huskers will fare in the Big Ten Conference this year.

It’s not that I don’t like baseball.  I do.  The first professional sporting event I attended was a baseball game in Kansas City when the Royals were playing my favorite team, the Detroit Tigers.  Growing up, I didn’t play football or soccer during the summer….I played baseball.  Granted, I enjoyed the fact my baseball games were at Riverside Park which meant we had to drive past the A&W Drive-In on the way home and would occasionally stop for a root beer float (love that frosty mug taste).  I have some very fond memories of baseball.

I clicked on mlb.com to check the schedule.  The regular season started on March 31st.  The World Series this year will be October 19-27th.  Does it really take seven months to determine which team is the best?  Just to give a little perspective, the World Series will take place during week 8 of the college football season.  College football (FBS) will have completed over half of their season by the time Major League Baseball finally gets around to the World Series.  The National Football League (NFL) will already be in Week 7.  The National Hockey League (NHL) will have started their regular season (October 6th) and the National Basketball Association (NBA) will have started their preseason games (assuming they get their contract disputes resolved).  That’s four other major sporting leagues (NFL, FBS, NHL, NBA) pulling potential viewers away from baseball’s signature event.

Looking at the MLB standings right now, there isn’t much drama that will be unfolding.  Teams have already played 130 games this year.  After 130 games I think you have a good idea of who deserves to be in the playoffs.  In the American League, it’s Boston and New York in the East; Detroit (yay!) in the Central and Texas or the Angels (I prefer Anaheim to LA) in the Western Division.  There’s even less drama in the National League.  The New York Mets are in third place in the Eastern Division only 21.5 games behind leader Philadelphia! Milwaukee looks to have the Central division wrapped up and it’s either Arizona or San Francisco in the West.

What should they do?
My suggestion would be to hold the World Series a month earlier.  The simple fact is that the World Series hasn’t had more than 25 million viewers since 2004. Last year’s highest viewed game was on only 15.5 million televisions (for comparison last year’s Super Bowl had 110 million viewers).   I don’t believe sports fans choose either baseball or football.  Both events are worthwhile but baseball needs to take advantage of the fact they have a championship event while football is just getting started.

Build a Youth Movement
Have the Little League World Series (LLWS) open the MLB World Series.  It would be a decent opening act as it highlights kids who are playing for the love the game (yes, I realize that was also the name of a Costner baseball movie).  You have to admit, one of the knocks on professional athletes is they are overpaid (not to mentioned baseballs image problem with steroids).  The pro teams competing in the World Series should attend the Little League final game in South Williamsport and invite the winning LLWS team to the first game of the World Series.  The LLWS is also taking place right now which makes the timing perfect for a shortened professional season.  However, the LLWS may overshadow the “world” series since it actually includes teams from other countries.

Don’t prolong the agony
Of the 30 major league teams, 15 have double-digit deficits they would have to overcome.  Poor Houston is sitting at 35 games back.  Their season is over.  The fans know it and the players know it.  The only people who don’t know it are the schedule makers.  Stop making fans pay for it (both financially and in ridicule) and end the regular season earlier.  Again, teams have played 130 games.  They’ve had their chance to prove it on the field, another month of games shouldn’t make a difference.

It’s time for baseball to realize that the competitive landscape has changed.  They may still be “the greatest show on dirt,” but if nobody is watching does it really matter?  Baseball’s monopoly on the sports landscape is over.  The casual fan has lost interest in a season that’s just too long.  If something doesn’t change soon, it will continue to slide into obscurity.

The Evolution of Location-Based Services

For the past several months I’ve been experimenting with various location-based services (LBS).  Foursquare, Gowalla, and Yelp have been the main ones I’ve been using.  I realize there are others such as Facebook Places, Loopt, Brightkite, etc., but I had to start somewhere to see what all the fuss was about.  I have a couple of initial thoughts on each of the services and then I’ll get into where I hope location-based services will evolve.

For the record, when location-based apps first launched I saw it as nothing more than a stalker’s dream come true.  As I read more about how these programs were developed, it started to make more sense to me and I could see other possibilities.  The social-networking element of these programs is really their strength.  While trying to meet up with your peers at a conference, having a service where you can check-in and see where everyone is currently located is valuable.  Keeping it limited to people you know is the key to reducing the “stalker risk.”  Businesses got into the mix because they saw a way to see who was in their store and could target a marketing message to them.

Foursquare
Probably the most refined out of the three I’ve tried.  It’s easy to add new locations and already has a very extensive list of businesses and locations to check-in.  It’s strength is in its popularity so it has the most businesses that offer specials.  Rarely have I been in an area that had less than 6 specials indicated nearby.  Unfortunately, most of the check-in specials are little more than a digital punch card…”check-in the business ten times and receive ‘x’ for free.”  Granted, I’m less likely to lose my punch card before I can get my free sub, but if it was really that big of a motivator I wouldn’t lose the card in the first place.

Gowalla
I’ve been using this for about a month and I have yet to see any actual offers or incentive to continue using it.  Most businesses in the area are listed multiple times (the gas station I usually go to is listed 3 times) so I’m never sure which one I should be using.  Also, I keep getting random digital items like blocks, bats, various fruits and vegetables.  I have no idea how these items are supposed to be used.  I suppose I could look in a FAQ or something, but really if it requires that much work to understand it, I don’t think I’ll see the value.  Of the three I’ve tried, this has definitely been the least useful.

Yelp
I first started using Yelp on a vacation to San Diego.  My wife and I were looking for local restaurants and activities and Yelp has the most extensive customer reviews.  We found some great local establishments that we otherwise would not have found/tried.  For the day-to-day tasks, this isn’t as helpful but when looking for something new to do it’s really been a valuable resource.

The Evolution of LBS
Location-based services should/could be so much more than digital punch cards and user reviews.  Most mobile marketing “experts” say you should have a specific promotion that isn’t available in your other channels.  To a certain extent I agree, why should I use Foursquare if I can get the same offer in the email you send?  Where I disagree is that this approach has nothing to do with the fact this is a location-based offer.  What can you provide knowing that a customer or potential customer is down the street?  Here is a random sample of potential enhancements companies could make using location-based services.

Doctor/Dentist Office (really any place that requires an appointment)
Register that you have an appointment using the location-based service.  Once you arrive in the area, if it matches the appointment time you get an alert that asks if you’d like to check-in for your appointment.  By the time you’re in the waiting room, the nurse is ready to take you back to the exam room.  Have your insurance information and co-pay taken care of electronically and you’re good to go.

Individual Products
This is where Facebook Places could really shine.   When someone “likes” your product/company page on Facebook, it automatically tags the item to give you an alert when you are close to a location that has the product on sale.  For example, say you Like the page for Pixar and you are close to an AMC Theatre which is showing Cars 2.  If the showtimes are within a preset window (say 20 minutes) you get an alert that links you to the site to buy discounted tickets.  Or let’s say you Like the page for Dr. Pepper.  When you are near the grocery store, you get an alert that says 12-packs are on sale.  Of course you don’t want to be bombarded by location alerts, but those could be adjusted in the settings to customize either the products, the amount of the discount, etc.

Restaurants
I have to be careful here.  My wife has an idea that she swears is a money-maker and doesn’t want me to share it in the blog.  However, I will share a small portion.  In a location-based program like Yelp when you’re looking through reviews trying to decide what restaurant to dine, have it link to the current wait time.  There have been numerous times we went to a restaurant only to find the wait time was longer than our stomachs could handle so we had to move on to an alternate choice.  As an additional feature, if I’m down the street let me add my name to the wait list and let me check-in when I arrive.

Amusement Parks/Zoos
We recently went to Disney World and Universal Theme parks and there were numerous opportunities for location-based services.  Give me a special map of the park that tells me which characters are currently close to my location so my kids can have a photo-op.  Going back to the wait times above, let me know which rides have the shortest wait times so I can maximize my visit.  Is it hot that day? Highlight which locations in the park have water or ice cream available (I say this because on our vacation to Universal Studios, even though every treat stand we went to had a picture of an M&M Ice Cream bar, none of them had one available which meant three disappointed kids).  Put some GPS trackers on the monorail and shuttle buses so we can see exactly when the next shuttle will arrive.  Although I enjoy the “anticipation” of when a bus will arrive, when you’re hot and tired…the thrill is gone.  Or if you prefer, let me indicate where I want to go – if enough people in the area are going to the same place, re-route a shuttle to improve efficiency.

Sporting Events/Concerts
Ok, so broadcasting wait times for the women’s restroom may be overkill for the wait time idea.  But, what about ordering food?  Show me which vendors are walking close by or better yet, let me order my food through the app and have it delivered to my seat.  The new Livestrong Park in Kansas City is working toward something similar.  Each seat has a QR code that the person can scan to “check in” to the game.  Unfortunately, right now that’s all you can do is check into the game.  The code doesn’t provide any special benefits or any real reasons to scan it right now.

Haircuts
I take my kids to Great Clips for their haircuts.  When a new customer walks in, one of the stylists has to stop the haircut they’re working on to collect the customer information and add them to the queue.  Have the check-in from a location-based service automatically add them into the queue.  The stylists get to continue their work uninterrupted.

Ultimately, if location-based services want to move past the early adopters and be utilized by mass consumers, companies will need to expand beyond the basic “check in.”  Providing badges and mayorships will only engage customers for so long.  The benefits of utilizing location services must outweigh the privacy concerns and other barriers to mass consumer adoption.

A 3-Step Plan for AMC Theatres

I’m a member of AMC Insiders which means I occasionally complete surveys about ideas they’re bouncing around in the corporate offices of AMC Theatres.  One of the recent surveys I completed included questions to gauge my interest in several potential services they could offer while you watched movies.  Some of the ideas they asked about included pet grooming and having your car washed/detailed.

dogs watching a movie in the theater

While I applaud their creative thinking, they are missing services that don’t require focus groups or surveys – just a little common sense.   There are several steps they could take that would enhance the movie-going experience and increase revenue that don’t require a theater full of dogs and cats.

Step 1. Remove barriers to movie attendance.

My wife and I found a sitter for our three kids and went to see the new X-Men movie.  We refuse to be the people that take their 2 year old with them while they see X-Men: First Class at the Fork & Screen.  Our fun night out was disturbed when that 2 year old started screaming.  Did the couple remove the child from the theater? Of course not. They let him cry for awhile until he finally stopped.  If AMC wants to improve the moviegoing experience and get additional people to attend, they should take a page from gyms, community centers and even churches by offering an on-site daycare. The biggest barrier my friends and I have to enjoying a night out is finding quality, affordable daycare.  For a minimal charge (and an AMC Stubs Membership; see this post) AMC can offer to have certified childcare providers watch your kids.  Put the kids in a playroom, purchase the rights to show some G rated movies, add in some snacks and you’re good to go.  Give the parents a pager in case anything happens with their kids so they can discreetly leave their movie.  It’s a win-win.  The parents can enjoy PG-13 and higher rated movies knowing their kids are safe and other moviegoers don’t have to be distracted by a child that shouldn’t be in the theater in the first place.

Step 2.  Create new programming streams.

I’m more than a little surprised AMC hasn’t worked out a partnership with ESPN yet to display 3D sports content.  AMC has such a competitive advantage right now with three key areas already in place: food, alcohol and equipment.  Their theaters are already equipped to show 3D content.  Neighborhood sports bars aren’t going to be willing to make the financial investment necessary to upgrade their equipment to offer games in 3D.  AMC needs to jump on this opportunity before it’s too late.  Here’s the thing, they shouldn’t charge for the game.  Let people come in and experience the games for free and make money off of the food and beverage.  I don’t think the average person will be willing to fork out $16 to go watch a game in 3D…the technology is too new.  Target the sports bar crowd and offer a comparable experience.  Make going to the theater as natural as going to the bar and you’ll find they’re more likely to come back for movies as well as sporting events.

Step 3.  Please exit through the gift shop.

When you think about AMC Theatres, it’s doubtful you would naturally put them in the same category as major league sporting events or amusement parks but these are indeed their competitors.  They compete to get a share of your out-of-home entertainment wallet.  What those other venues offer that AMC does not is merchandising.  When we went to DisneyWorld last year, it wasn’t by chance that almost every ride had us exit through a gift shop.  The same holds true with any sporting event you attend.  The concourses are lined not only with concessions but also with merchandise booths.  If AMC would like to boost their bottom line, a couple of booths set-up to sell the latest movie merchandise wouldn’t be a bad thing.  Why not capitalize on the latest new releases with some Green Lantern, Cars 2 and Captain America t-shirts?  It’s a safe bet that people will be lining up for the last Harry Potter movie hours before the start time.  Take advantage of that fact with a cart branded like Olivander’s Wand Shop and sell wands and other merchandise up and down the line.  At a minimum, they should create some pop-up stores for the holidays and take advantage of people looking for unique, movie-themed gift ideas.

AMC should be about entertainment – movies, music and sports.  All it takes is three simple steps and AMC will have found a great way to extend their brand and increase revenue.  Best of all, it doesn’t require coordinating a lobby full of dog and cats.

I’m Afraid of Hallmark Stores

“Birthday’s were invented by Hallmark to sell cards.” – Ron Swanson, NBC’s Parks & Recreation

Hallmark has received a bad rap as the “inventor” of several holidays with the intention of selling more greeting cards.  Although I’m not a fan of the phrase “they’re a victim of their own success” for Hallmark it may be true.   The quote above wouldn’t have been funny (or even used) if people didn’t think it was true.  That’s why I think their latest campaign is a great idea.  “Life is a Special Occasion” urges people to view every day as special and use Hallmark cards and products to build stronger relationships.

According to Hallmark chief marketing officer Lisa Macpherson, their target audience is “moms and grandmothers.”  Hard work and planning has ensured that the look and feel of their stores communicate to their customers. They have succeeded.  I’m afraid to walk into a Hallmark Store.  Their stores make me feel incredibly uncomfortable and I don’t find the way-finding very intuitive.  If I need to pick up a card for a special occasion, I’ll go to Target or the supermarket before I’d walk into a Hallmark Store.  Which is sad considering I live in Kansas City, the home of Hallmark.

I’m a stay-at-home dad (SAHD). I cook the kids’ breakfast, pack their lunches, take them to the doctor, help with their homework, vacuum, do the dishes, laundry, clean the house (sort of – it’s really not a strength) and volunteer on the PTO.  Lately there are a lot more fathers at home like me.  After doing a quick search online, I’ve discovered there are anywhere from 158,000 to over 2 million stay-at-home dads in the United States.  The numbers vary greatly in large part because there is still a stigma in the U.S. that the woman’s place is in the home and the man is climbing corporate ladders.  Rose Kreider, a family demographer with the Census Bureau said that the bureau’s definition of a stay-at-home parent is based on a 1950s stereotype of a breadwinner-homemaker family.  That’s not really a reliable measure of today’s economic climate.  However, it is believed that roughly one out of five stay-at-home parents is a father.

Unfortunately like most other companies, Hallmark is guilty of ignoring the SAHD market.  Of course it’s by design.  Companies aren’t going to risk time and resources developing products and marketing to an undefined segment like SAHD.  With the creative talent and technology they have available, I believe Hallmark is in a unique position to launch a new brand that targets dads.

The kids’ grandparents each live 3 hours away so they don’t get to see them as often as any of us would like.  There are several products that Hallmark could develop under a new brand that would assist me and the grandparents in showing how “Life is a Special Occasion.”

1. Movie Storyboards
I’ve been using my iPhone and Flip to record the kids’ activities and email them to the grandparents (which they love).  Programs like iMovie are great for editing and include a feature I really like which lets you build movie trailers.  The trailers give you a storyboard to help edit so the images flow together at appropriate lengths and have background music.  Hallmark could find an audience in creating some movie storyboards that are slightly longer and more flexible than the iMovie trailers.  Have the program available on a cloud with a simple solution for sharing and downloading the movies and they’re driving traffic to their site and potential additional sales.

2. Digital Cards and Story Books
To be honest, Hallmark may already do this, but I’m not aware of it (again, I’m not their target audience).  The kids love to draw and tell stories.  Combine them into a program where either I can either scan/take a picture of their creation and load it into a custom-made card.  If it’s a story, let me load their illustrations and text into a book platform.  There’s a site a friend used called Kerpoof Studio (www.kerpoof.com) that does something similar.  Once it’s created, let me send it to the grandparents who will view it on either their iPad or iPhone (yes, the grandparents are tech-savvy).

3. Milestone Creations
There are several viral videos floating around the internet where a dad (yes, a dad) took a picture of his daughter each day before school and compiled them to show how she changed throughout the year.  Great idea to make every day an important occasion.  Let me set up an account for each child and take photos each day or week.  If I haven’t been back, shoot me an email to remind me.  Then give the option to build other products around the photos like a “first-day of school” compilation where I have photos of each year they were in school or a “missing teeth” album, or a “bumps, bruises & scrapes” montage.  I think you get the idea.

My point is that as a stay-at-home dad, I’m looking for creative ways to share the experiences of my kids with our family and friends.  The resources currently available are targeted toward moms and grandmothers (both in style and content). There is a real sales opportunity for the companies able to engage this emerging market.

Who built this toll booth on my information superhighway?

For years, the cable companies and telecoms have been promoting faster and faster speeds on the information superhighway.  Each company said their service was the fastest, most reliable way to download movies, music, and play online games.  Speed is sexy.  Speed is cool.  Do you want to be seen driving a Ferrari or an AMC Gremlin?    Unfortunately, while they were promoting all of this speed, there was one big thing they were forgetting to do.  Deliver.

According to the FCC, broadband service providers on average advertised speeds of 8Mb/sec while actually delivering an average speed of 3Mb/sec.  People really get worked up over their internet speed.  There are websites and message boards devoted to checking your internet speed.  Even if a consumer wanted to complain, legally, they wouldn’t have a winning argument.  After all, the ad did say speeds “up to 8Mb/sec.”  But what’s happening in the industry now should have consumers outraged.

Content providers have embraced these fast internet speeds.  Companies like Netflix and Hulu have discovered that there is a real market for online video.  It’s no longer a 30 second video on YouTube that people watch online.  Now it’s full-length feature films in high-definition.  Netflix discovered that it’s less expensive to stream their video titles than it is to mail a DVD to a person’s home.  What does this mean for consumers?  It means it’s finally time to take the cover off of the Ferrari and take it for a spin to see what she can do.  But wait…someone just put up a toll booth.

Broadband service providers have topped out the speed they can deliver over their networks and cut prices to be competitive in the market.  They needed to find new revenue streams.  Their answer is to place a toll booth limiting how far you can “travel” on the information superhighway.  Although the concept of limiting how much you can download should be more than enough to get consumers angry and rally in protest, there has been only silence.  Here’s the big kicker.  They’re building toll booths, but they don’t have a way to measure how far you’ve gone.  AT&T sent out a notice earlier this month saying that they would start to charge a fee for customers who used more than 150GB per month.  As I mentioned in a previous post, we cut cable and only view TV online.  I’ll be honest, I have no idea how much data we use each month now that we stream all of our video content to multiple TVs and computers.  So I called AT&T.  Several times.  Each time, not one person could connect me with someone who could report my usage.  I started with their online tech support.  They said that it’s a billing issue and transferred me to their department.  Billing sent me back to online tech support.  I think you see a pattern starting to form.  The email notification we received also was of little use.  They provided a link to an online reporting tool.  Of course, the tool provided this message:  “AT&T is not able to capture usage data on all of its customers.”  Excuse me?  You’re rolling out a national policy to charge customers for the amount of data they use and you can’t measure it?  Um, surely other people see a problem here.  AT&T will tell you it’s a small percentage of customers that hit that threshold.  Maybe today that’s true.  But come on, America!  Let’s look at the big picture.  Data usage is only going to increase as more and more content is available.  What happens when they decide 150GB was too high and they need to lower the cap to 100GB?  50GB?  Who authorized them to limit how much information we download and upload?  This is the issue that should have people outraged.  Call your representatives, the Better Business Bureau, the FCC, your neighbor’s dog.  Let them know this is unacceptable.  Speed means nothing if you have to stop to pay a toll.

Customer Loyalty – a look at AMC Theatres

AMC Theatres has eliminated their free MovieWatcher rewards program and replaced it with a fee-based program they are calling AMC Stubs.  I could make an argument both for and against loyalty programs.  At their core, loyalty programs try to motivate more frequent customer traffic and increase spending during each visit.  A loyal customer is more than just a card-holder.  A loyal customer is looking for something that sets your business apart and makes them feel special.

AMC’s MovieWatcher program took a broad stroke toward customer loyalty.  As a free program with set rewards, they were able to maximize membership numbers but probably saw it take a long time to reach a point where the program was profitable for the company.  I was a member of the MovieWatcher program and it actually did factor into my movie watching decisions.  The content (i.e. the movie) was the same if I went to an AMC theater or a different chain.  I found myself always looking first to the theater where I could earn rewards.  It definitely drove the traffic portion of the equation.  Did it increase my spending each visit?  Not really.  I’m an individual who has a hard time justifying spending $4.50 for a soda that I know is only .99 at the fast food place across the street.  Did I redeem my free soda or free popcorn coupon when I received them?  You bet!  But I wasn’t quick to buy anything else.  I can see where they would want to move to a fee-based loyalty program.

A fee-based loyalty program really does two things for a company.  First, it provides cash up-front and gives a faster return on investment.  Second, you’re changing the dynamic of your customer base.  Only those customers that are truly committed will want to participate.  In an economic climate like we are in today, attracting customers to a fee-based program is a tough sell.  Even at the cost of AMC Stubs ($12/yr) customers will look at the benefits of the program to decide if there is enough value to justify the purchase.  This is where, in my opinion, AMC missed an opportunity when introducing this new program.

Introducing AMC Stubs

My introduction to AMC Stubs came when I received an email that said the MovieWatcher program was being eliminated and a new program was rolling out.  As a MovieWatcher member, I could get the first year at 1/2 price.  I immediately started to focus on the cost/benefit of the annual fee.  Two of the five benefits they listed were what I consider “fluff.”  No online ticketing fees (which was already waived as a MovieWatcher member) and something they called “Personal online ticket stub collection.”  Who knows what that means but I’m sure there is no value in it.  The email made me want to crunch the numbers.  It’s really too bad.  AMC didn’t want customers thinking about how much is costs to go to a movie. When I did crunch the numbers, I found out I needed to spend $200 at AMC before I would see a return on my $12 annual membership fee.  I also did the same thing as many other MovieWatcher members…I jumped on Twitter and professed my disappointment at this new program.  To their credit, AMC did respond and ask that I give the program a try.  However, my logic response far outweighed my love of movies and the seed of doubt was placed in the minds of potential new loyalty members who may have been reading the stream of upset customer feedback.

What AMC Could Have Done

What’s interesting is that a direct mail piece I received from AMC had the potential to be a really nice, engaging introduction to the program.

AMC Stubs Direct Mail

At the end of the piece it talks about how going to a theater to see movies are about the memories you create while you’re there.  The caption talks about how you can start tracking your ticket stubs and relive your movie memories.  My guess is that the ticket stub collection is really just an image of a ticket with the movie name, time and place printed on it.  How great would it be if tracking your ticket stubs tied into your social media accounts?  You could tag the friends that you went with.  Add photos of you before and after the movie. (Of course not during!)  Even better yet, have a place to post quick video reviews of the movie by you and your friends.  If AMC had focused the entire direct mail on the movie-going experience, I’d be mentally planning my next trip to the theater, not fixated on the cost.  Unfortunately, AMC ruined this direct mail piece by having too much focus again on the cost.  They would have been better off focusing on the experience only and having the call-to-action direct the customer into the theater or online where they can sell it.

What else could AMC have done?  While I appreciate the changes to the program; that all purchases (concessions, tickets, etc) apply toward earning points and popcorn and drinks can be upgraded to the next size for free at anytime; where is the “special something” that makes me WANT to pay the fee?  My suggestions:

  1. Make the center sections of the theater reserved seating for Stubs members.  Let me know my membership is giving me the best seats in the house.  Of course it would be when seats are available.  If I order my tickets too late, then I know I’ll need to fend for myself in the General Admission area.
  2. Let me bring in my own food.  There was a time when AMC allowed you to take your own food and drinks into the theater.  Bring it back for Stubs members.  Odds are, the same people who are smuggling in their drinks and snacks will be willing to spend a minimal amount to “do the right thing.”  I’ve felt guilty about sneaking in snacks for my kids and it made me enjoy the experience a lot less.  Eliminate the guilt and I’ll keep coming back.
  3. Give me a chance to be the first ones to see a movie.  Host some AMC Stubs “First Look” events and let me be one of the first to see the hot new release.  Then I’ll go online with my review and drive other people to the movie.
  4. Integrate your online ticket stub collection with social media sites.  I said it before but it’s worth repeating.  There is value in emphasizing the experience of attending a movie.  Stream some live video of people dressed up and waiting in line for the last Harry Potter movie, let people share reviews (and be creative with it.  Set up an app that places the movie trailer for the movie they are reviewing in the corner of the frame so it looks more professional).  Focus on letting members share their moments and show that membership has it’s privileges.