In mid-June, the film about Superman, Man of Steel, opened to mixed reviews. A mere week later, I started receiving email invitations to preorder the film on Blu-Ray or DVD. The film was still in theaters, and they were already trying to sell the DVD for me to watch at home! This moment was an inevitable consequence of our realtime media environment.
During a speech several years ago, I jokingly used the phrase "window of suckiness" to describe the old dependable phenomenon that even bad films could make respectable money at the box office because there was usually a full weekend when people would see the film before word got out that it was bad. Sometimes budgets for films were based on that window. (How else do you think they managed to release seven Police Academy films?)
Clearly today the world is different. People tweet about a bad film instantly—sometimes even as they are watching it. That window of suckiness has been reduced to almost nothing. In response, Hollywood has to make more money more quickly from fewer people. The only way to do it is to sell faster. Offering a DVD for pre-purchase almost immediately is one sign of that change. Yet there is also a second driver leading to this newly rapid time to market for DVDs: piracy. As it becomes easier to distribute files digitally, the film industry is worried about the black market cutting into profits as it has for the music industry. How do you compete with someone's ability to get your film for free?
Hollywood seems to have discovered that the best strategy to work against the loss of that weekend of opportunity as well as movie pirates is to move faster than they can, and out-market them in the process. There is a sales lesson in this, and it has everything to do with moving faster than your competition. The slow and steady approach can work to build a brand—but sometimes the only solution to drive your business to success is to increase your speed. How can you do it? Here are a few tips:
1. Upsell to advocates. The Man of Steel strategy might seem geared toward capturing a new audience of people who will see the film by pre-purchasing the DVD instead of going to the theater. My guess is that this won't happen that much. Instead, the die-hard fans who love Superman and lined up on opening night to see the film will be the ones most likely to pre-purchase the DVD version of the film. They want it first, and they are most likely to talk about it to others. The advocates are driven by their passion, and they want to buy deeper and richer experiences. When you upsell to them, you give them more reasons to share your product or service with others—and to continue to be a loyal customer themselves.
2. Rely on content. No matter how quickly you might want to sell your products or services, every industry has a sales cycle, and selling quickly isn't right for every phase of that cycle. People don't walk into a car dealership on a whim and buy a car. They research and consider the purchase. Having great content online, for example, can help to answer key questions from potential consumers and move them more quickly toward purchasing by giving them something useful in the moment they need it.
3. Lock them in early. The classic subscription model where you pay once and then have a recurring charge might seem like a great business model for anyone. After all, guaranteed income is good—right? The trick with this, though, is to make sure you have ways of showing enough value on an ongoing basis for your customers who have prepaid. The challenge with locking them in early is having enough value that they will be a customer over and over instead of just suffering through the term they have already paid for.
Selling faster is one of those things that's easy to see the value of, but can be hard to actually achieve. No matter what technique you choose or what industry you're in, selling faster is likely to help your business beat the competitors you already have, as well as the ones you can't predict.
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