Web Marketing and DIY Filmmaking Article in Filmmaker Magazine-

Filmmaker Magazine has featured an article that I wrote about DIY web marketing, drawing attention and self distribution for Spring 2009. You should check it out, here is the article.

In this installment, Jon Reiss looks at DIY Web marketing.

So you’ve authored your DVD and perhaps even replicated it. You’ve found a fulfillment company that you are happy with. Now, how to get people to buy it?

In the last installment of this series, which appeared in the Winter 2009 issue of Filmmaker, I outlined how to maximize your DVD release strategy and before that in the Fall 2008 issue I discussed ways in which filmmakers can get their movies distributed through DIY self-distribution methods and hybrid strategies, all of which are based on my own experience self-distributing my graffiti doc, Bomb It. For filmmakers who are extending this DIY thinking to DVD retail by selling their own discs through a Web site or online store, this article will explore some of the ways you can cost-effectively publicize these releases, draw in potential customers and create revenue for your film.

An Overall Strategy for Your DVD Release
Selling your DVD should not be a stand-alone operation. While much of what I discuss in this article can be done at any point during your DVD release, it is always more effective to implement these methods in conjunction with a larger publicity strategy. The old way of doing this was to simply ride the coattails of a well-financed theatrical marketing campaign. However for independents today the time and money that was once devoted to theatrical marketing might be better spent on Internet resources that are more directly targeted to the audience preinclined to buy your film on DVD. This is a choice that each filmmaker must make based on their specific film.

In discussing all of these issues I will occasionally reference two specific tools. The first is Marc Rosenbush’s class “Internet Marketing for Filmmakers.” At $400 it is not cheap. (However, he is moving to a less expensive monthly system.) I recently enrolled in the class to see if there was anything I could learn after my year of doing this work myself, and, frankly, I wish I had known about the course before I started selling my DVD. The second is the set of Internet marketing tools that Neoflix (my fulfillment site) has been developing for its filmmakers.

Creating a Presence on the Web – Laying the Groundwork with Your Web site and Blog
The Web is the most cost-effective way for you to promote your DVD. Your Web site is the frontline in your sales to the outside world.

I recommend that you maintain a dynamic (i.e., continually changing) Web site. You may have a beautiful site that tells everyone what the story of your film is, lays out your cast and crew biographies and invites people to join your mailing list. However Web stats indicate that few people read this material. To attract people you don’t already know — people who might be interested in buying your film — you need to regularly change and update your site with new content and blog posts. Unless you have a large budget for paid advertising, a dynamic site is one of the key tools that you can use to drive a continuous stream of new visitors to your site.

If you don’t like to blog, you should think about finding someone who does. One of our producers, Tracy Wares, handled Bomb It’s blogging for the first three years of the project’s existence. She then had to move on and get a life so I enlisted Harrison Bohrman, who earned his co-producer credit through a two-year commitment to blog and tag on the Bomb It site almost every day while running our street teams and managing other sundry distribution tasks.

Blogging helps in two ways: First, it drives traffic to your site as you link to new and interesting stories that are related to the subject of your film. (For Bomb It, we post news about graffiti around the world.) And second, your blogging activity will help your site’s SEO (search engine optimization). This will result in higher search rankings for your film in relevant categories. (For us, “graffiti movie,” “graffiti documentary,” etc. We’re still not there yet for “graffiti” but we’re working on it.) All of this was taught to me by my completely amazing “Web Presence Consultant” Michael Medaglia, who has been revamping and improving my Web site for the past three years.

Image #1.
Tagging: Search engines pick up on key words in the title of the blog post and in the words you tag. (See picture No. 2 to see the tags in the title and official tagging area.) We tag every post with the following words and then we add more tags based on what the post is specifically about: Bomb It, Graffiti Film, Graffiti Documentary, Global Graffiti Documentary, Street Art Film, Street Art Documentary, Graffiti, Street Art.

What to Blog About: Of course you should blog about your film and your screenings, but you should also consider blogging about subjects that relate to your film. This will make your film relevant to your audience on a broader level and keep them coming back to your site. One simple way to come up with information to blog about is to use Google Alerts. We receive a weekly Google Alert about “graffiti” and “street art” and select a few top articles to blog about.

Other Ways to Keep Your Site Dynamic: Take advantage of social networks that allow you to embed changing information on your blog. (Our Flickr site allows people who are interested in graffiti and street art to participate in the project by posting their own pictures.)

Creating Relationships Blogging is a way to create relationships between your site and other organizations that should be interested in your film. This is an especially useful strategy for documentaries that naturally have a wide range of potential issue-oriented sites to connect to. But with a little outside-the-box thinking you can probably find relevant sites for your narrative film as well. This is actually an assignment that I require my Cal Arts students to do for their thesis films.

Ways to create a relationship with other sites/organizations:

Blog about their sites and link to them.
Request that they link back to you.
Send them your film and ask them to blog about the film and/or review it. (This also helps your search engine rankings — search engines will improve the rankings of sites that other sites not only link to but also write about.)
Go one step further: Create an affiliate relationship with those sites or organizations (discussed below).
Use this relationship to generate community screenings. (The subject of another article.)
Beyond the Web site/Blog — Other ways to Generate Interest
Once you have an interesting and dynamic site in place — one that allows people to buy your DVD or at least add their name to your mailing list — you need to implement a whole array of techniques to drive people there. These should all be part of a single marketing strategy for your film. I strongly recommend that you start planning this strategy as soon as possible, even at the inception/script stage, for the following reasons:

You integrate the marketing and Web life of your film into the film itself. The marketing of your film will be much more organic as a result.
It gives you a longer lead time to develop your audience.
With actors and crew accessible, you can create the materials you need while you are making your film.
Related to the point above and very important: By preparing marketing elements early, you accomplish this when you have the most energy and the largest support staff to help you. Too often filmmakers are burnt out (and broke) by the end of post and are simply unable to summon the resources necessary to create good marketing materials.
Utilize Social Networks
Create film pages on Facebook and MySpace, as well as all the video and photo sites. While on these sites, spend time and effort going to other groups with similar interests, joining them and encouraging them to become friends with you. Tubemogul, a free video publishing and analytics site, will launch your trailer out to all the usual suspects and, later, tell you what kind of viewership you received. Also create accounts on YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, Fotolog, etc. so that people can join your sites and receive news from you about your film. None of these sites, however, give you a way to capture the e-mail addresses of the members of your social network. You can try using widgets such as Box Office Widget (described below) to collect these addresses. Or you can include incentives on these pages to drive viewers to your Web site where you can then collect their e-mail addresses and try to sell them your movie.

Web Press Promotion: Just as you promote your theatrical release on the Web, you should promote your DVD online too. Reviewers for major publications might be hard to approach with a film that didn’t have a large-scale theatrical release, but there are more and more film bloggers every day. Specifically, look for writers and sites whom you think will already be interested in your film’s subject matter, and don’t restrict your search to film sites.

Viral Videos: Viral videos are the holy grail of Web promotion. It isn’t often that a clip “goes viral,” so you must use your imagination if you have any hope of your clip crossing over into the Internet mainstream. Think also about releasing multiple trailers over time, ending each with links back to your site or, better yet, your store. One of our producers, Kate Christensen, worked a deal with a group of Web marketers who put an ad for a t-shirt company that they were promoting at the end of a couple of extra trailers that we released in the two weeks prior to our DVD launch. They then promoted the trailers to the relevant video bloggers around the net. We also did a little outside-the-box viral marketing for Bomb It: The nice folks at the creative agency Team One took us on as a charity case and they created a way to “write” on other viral videos and post them to the comments section of original video.

Both of the above campaigns ran at the beginning of our DVD release and we subsequently saw a definite spike in Web activity and sales.

Utilize Free Streaming with Click to Buy Links: While ad revenue for streaming doesn’t add up to much from most reports, an additional way to monetize your streaming activities is to provide a “click to buy” link. This is part of the SnagFilms model. For many of their films a “Buy Now” link is found through their widget. At this point in time, while most people can only stream to their computers, most people don’t seem to stream a feature film for more than 15 minutes. I believe this will change when the computer/TV bridge is fully in place. But providing the opportunity to watch 15 minutes free is a great way to give an audience the opportunity to sample a film before buying. Arin Crumley from Four Eyed Monsters feels that putting his whole film up on YouTube with a “click to buy” link led to a large spike in DVD sales.

Incentivizing People to Join Your Mailing List
Getting people to just come to your Web site is one thing, but you also want them to buy what you have to sell. Before your DVD is available for sale, you need visitors to be able to join your mailing list and give them a reason to do so. (Once you have the DVD available you mainly want people to simply buy the DVD.) The best way to do this is to give them something. When we got our site up we offered people free stickers. It becomes a little cumbersome and expensive, but it did help us get 2,000 people to join our mailing list.

Here are some better (or at least easier to implement) ideas:

A Coupon Code. This is a coupon offering a discount to customers when the DVD is available. Or, perhaps, it’s an offer for a special DVD package, such as a poster/DVD combo, only available to those on the mailing list.
Better yet, if you are still in production or post on your film, you can offer many other items such as regular e-mail updates, access to behind-the-scenes footage, etc. Neoflix has just developed a site called Backstage that is launching at the same time as this article’s publication. Backstage is designed as a way to help filmmakers move from a project-toproject model to an audience-development model. Or Backstage’s tools can be used simply to help you develop your mailing list. It allows you to give your audience content that they must sign up for to receive. When they sign up, you get their e-mail addresses. In the best of all worlds your audience would pay cash for the content, but in the world of Web marketing, your customer’s payment is their e-mail address.
Mailing List Management
Some Web site hosting sites have decent mailing list managers built into their back-end. Others don’t. Either way you have to have some way to collect and manage your mailing list. Neoflix offers something pretty cool called Box Office Widget. This service allows you to set up widget with your trailer embedded that generates a mailing list. Once you set it up it’s easy to put it on your blog (see it on the Bomb It blog in image No. 1), and it provides clickable links for people to do the following.

Join your mailing list.
Promote your film (it gives people a code so they can embed your widget on their sites).
Locate other fans using a map feature.
Soon to come will be a “Buy DVD” link that will take people directly to your store.
Marc Rosenbush suggests another company — 1ShoppingCart. While this service costs money (and Neoflix’s are included in their fulfillment services), it does have an Auto-responder feature (which sends successive e-mails to your potential clients) that Neoflix has not yet created.

Incentivizing People to Buy

This is a key aspect of your Web site and one that I have to admit Marc’s course shamed me about. He is very upfront that the two main purposes of your Web site are 1) To Get People to Buy Your DVD and 2) To Get Them to Give You Their E-mail Address.

We have always had a click to buy banner on our blog. But Marc actually recommends having it three times in three different ways on your home page. Take a look at his front page for Zen Noir in image No. 2. Marc suggests making sure that all of your Web pages are designed to convert visitors to buyers and that your Web site as a whole is primarily geared to this purpose.

Image #2.
How much you can apply the hard sell, though, depends on the type of film you have, your audience (our audience is very over-sell sensitive) and if the purpose of your Web site/blog is strictly sales or if you are also using it to create relationships with other organizations. Depending on your profile and purpose, you may want to take a softer approach.

Direct Marketing for Your Film Advertising
There are a number of ways that you can pay for advertising on the Web, but you need to be cautious about how you spend this money because it can add up quickly. You will be paying a rate based on CPM (cost per thousand impressions). And remember, impressions don’t guarantee clicks and clicks don’t guarantee sales. But if you are going to advertise you can do so utilizing a variety of means:

Static Banner Ads. If you have spent any time at all on the Internet, you know what a banner ad is. You need to create a set of banner ads for your film in standard sizes. Use eye-catching graphics and motivational text to get people to click. In addition to being placed on Web sites, you can place banner ads in your e-mails.
Flash Banners. The same as static banners, but they have some flash animation to make them more eye-catching (or annoying).
Text Ads. These are ads that just use text and they are commonly used in e-mails or alongside search engine results.
Affiliate Marketing
Affiliate marketing is Web advertising, but you don’t pay in advance for the ads to be placed on the sites — you pay based on the performance of the ad. In essence it is free advertising. You do this with organizations or Web sites who will promote your film (the “affiliates”) in exchange for some form of payment. You can pay your affiliates for “impressions,” “clicks” or for “sales.” You can pay a flat fee per click or sale. The more attractive you make the program to the affiliates, the more they will push your film. I pay 20 percent of the sale to the affiliate. Neoflix has their own affiliate marketing program — Indieclix. Here’s how it works:

Sign up as a merchant. As part of this process, you deposit money in your account so that the affiliates can get paid.
Program Creation. A “program” consists of the parameters by which you pay for Web activities generated by your affiliates. You can offer the same program to many affiliates. For example one program would be one in which you give affiliates 20 percent of any sale from your Web store. Another program might be to monitor impressions, clicks or sales from the banners on your own site.
Upload Your Banner and/or Text Ads. You should do a variety of banners so that your affiliates have a choice (most will only have certain sizes available on their sites). Indieclix will embed these banners/text links with the code needed for any activity to be credited to the affiliates.
Invite Affiliates to Join. The affiliates must sign up on Indieclix where they can get the codes to embed in their sites. These codes will have the banners automatically embedded in them. Note: One way for you to check the effectiveness of your own Web marketing from your Web site or blog is to sign up as an affiliate yourself and to use the text links and banner ads that you set up for yourself in a program that you as the merchant create just for you the affiliate. This program will track your activity but will be set up to only pay you pennies for clicks, sales and impressions. (Obviously you don’t need to be paying yourself 20 percent for the sales you yourself generate.)
Landing Pages
A landing page is a page hosted on your site that people click to from a banner or text ad. This page provides what you think is enough information to convert the click to a sale, while controlling the customers’ options of where to click next. Landing pages serve two purposes: First they allow you to maintain a less sales-oriented Web site if you need to do that for your film but to still have a place (the landing page) where you can put on the hard sell. Second they provide a place where people who are not familiar with your film can learn just enough about it to encourage them to buy the film. Landing pages provide them this information but give them only one possible action from the landing page, and that is to buy. Because of this second attribute, landing pages are great to use in conjunction with Internet advertising and affiliate marketing. The difference between a landing page and a main or home page is that the latter gives a potential customer a variety of pages to click to. A landing page only gives them one or two options: store or mailing list, for instance. Not all clicks need to go to a landing page. You can send people straight to your store. See the Bomb It landing page in No. 3 — it has some quotes and most importantly the embedded trailer. You may even want to consider not having an embedded trailer on the landing page because it creates a time lag in which to load the trailer, and time is money on the Internet.

Image #3.
E-mail Marketing
Remember that e-mail list you were creating with your dynamic Web site? Now your DVD is ready for sale and it is time to put that list into action. E-mail these fans with incentives to buy your film — coupons, special packages, autographed copies, etc. After our sales slumped toward the end of the year, we started creating special packages of our products and promoting them to our e-mail lists (both the one collected from our main site as well as Neoflix’s list of customers who bought from our store). Our sales surged dramatically in January and February.

Marc Rosenbush has a lot of great marketing suggestions in his course to make both your e-mail campaigns and landing pages more effective. Sign up for his mailing list and you will see part of his program at work as he works to sell you his program. (Or do it from my blog so you get $50 off if you decide to buy — jonreiss.com/blog.)

The final point that I can’t stress enough is that in order to sell your DVD you need to take your filmmaker hat off and put your sales hat on. You may have an aversion to the sales techniques but the sooner you can get over that knee-jerk reaction and realize that the reason these sales techniques exist is because they work, the sooner you will start selling more of your DVDs.

Finally I’ve decided to write a book about all aspects of DIY/self/Web/hybrid distribution which should be available this summer at the latest. If you want to know when it will be available, send me an e-mail, jonreiss1@earthlink.net, or sign up for my mailing list on my blog. The format will be very similar to this series of articles: practical nuts and bolts from a filmmaker’s perspective.

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