Marketing expert Barry Urquhart.

Audiences have a plethora of screen entertainment to potentially keep them away from cinemas: television, DVDs, internet-streamed content – and that's before considering pirated content. While the local box office remains solid, the US is facing more challenging times: retaining cinema-going audiences is an ongoing challenge.

Barry Urquhart, the managing director of Perth-based market research and strategic planning company, Marketing Focus, says the economy may be tough, but consumers are still spending money.

“It’s nothing to do with Coca-Cola – it’s nothing to do with the film title. It’s about the experience that consumers have,” he told an audience at the 2012 Australian International Movie Convention.

Excellent customer service is a crucial component of that experience. Urquhart says that less than 23 per cent of Australians have the right psychological profile to be a good service attendant.

“The five-second service, the people-greeters, are so fundamental – non-negotiable – if you want to optimise your performance. So it’s about people, it’s about humanity, it’s about engagement – that’s what people look for.”

If the experience is right, the customers will follow. For example, people are still eating out at restaurants: they want a guilt-free enjoyable experience. In comparison, retail is struggling – consumers say the sector is “dull, boring and repetitive and all-too predictable”.

“How can we get more people coming to the movies: how can we get them spending more and how can we get them coming back more often? Simple: invest in premises upgrades. That will give you the most immediate and universal increase in volume. It’s a very simple formula.

“Invest capital in your business and people will seek you out – that, more than discounting, more than promotions, more than merchandising, more than special offers will be what people are looking for across the board. Ignore it and you will minimise your potential.”

While cinema owners have already outlaid significant capital on digital upgrades, it is not having a direct impact on customers’ emotional experience.

“What you need to do is have a physical presence – think about your merchandising, your investment in your uniforms, your staff, the cleanliness of your theatres… it’s about the music that you play, the events that you hold.”

The mix of those factors needs to deliver what customers are seeking: escapism, indulgence, and rewards. Seventy per cent of the reason people buy products is because of emotion, not price, he says.

“There will be more profit made, more immediately and more consistently if you invest in people and relationships."

This article originally appeared in IF Magazine #149 (October-November 2012).

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  1. hmmmmm I don’t know about that, service is very important but for me personally its a tie between ticket prices and quality of the presentation. I go to the cinemas because I simply can’t watch a film the same way at home. (volume especially living in a unit)

    However if I have to pay $23.50 per session (including a ridiculous online booking fee, dont get me started) I will start selectively picking my films to watch at home. Dramas and comedies are home films, action films are my theatre choices. Scale the prices according to the size and quality of screen and I’m more interested. Why should I pay $23 to see a movie in no.9 with the small screen and sound compared to a vmax or xtreme screen?

  2. Dead right , price is everything to a lot of people . Throw in parking and popcorn and a family and it becomes an expensive day out.

    Like steev I only go to watch an action or adventure film because of screen size and prices should be scaled accordingly.

    They should also be scaled to quality why pay the same price for a turkey of a film and the same for a blockbuster. They should be rated before release and priced accordingly. But we know that will never happen

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