SEO, Digital Marketing and the World of Indie Films
When we talk about SEO we are oftentimes talking about SEO for business products. We want to have our content come up during the discovery process that customers and prospective customers go through as often as possible. That can be intensely competitive when you are trying to market and sell things like life insurance or women’s shoes or (insert product here). But what about independent films?
Huh? How did we get here? Well, an email from the Co-founder and President of independent film company One World Studios Ltd., Zack Coffman, started the process. You see Zack gets it and simply notified us here at Marketing Pilgrim that had mentioned us as a top resource in an SEO post he did on the Sundance Institute’s site.
Now, I am not a big indie film guy but I know about Sundance so we started to talk a bit. As a result of his great article and smooth way of getting PR mileage, we ended up with this email interview that helps us see just how important this practice is in the world of independent film making.
MP: Describe life in the world of independent film marketing. Are you always working on shoestring budgets? What are some of the techniques you use to identify your market?
Zack: The indie world is all about shoestrings! We’re firm believers that in order for an indie to survive you have to work within very focused niches. Every impression, every click has to be maximized and grab hold of the viewer’s attention. I find that a well focused film/TV/transmedia property should already have the market identified for you. When we begin developing a property we ask ourselves, “Who is this for?” “Who will enjoy it and rally around it?” It’s much harder with a small budget if you are handed an unfocused property and asked to create a market for it.
MP: How long have you been at the SEO and Internet marketing game? Could you point to a success or two that you might want to show off with?
Zack: I came to the web marketing game by necessity. We had produced a motorcycle movie called “Choppertown” in 2004 with a stack of credit cards and we started our marketing with a simple website and trailer on MySpace. I reverse-engineered Jesse James’ website and learned html code by plopping different pieces into DreamWeaver. Then as it became apparent that we were going to self-release the film, I started researching a thing called “PayPal” and how to take payments for DVDs directly on the site. A buddy told me about “SEO” and it was obvious we needed to integrate our strategy. We ended up selling 20,000 DVDs out of an apartment in West LA and launching an entire brand and distribution company around that film. Now all of our properties both in the motorcycle world and the paranormal world (we just made a Ouija movie) routinely get ranked higher than big-budget studio properties.
MP: As the president of an indie studio do you have staff for these kind of endeavors or is everyone involved in an ‘all hands’ kind of way?
Zack: All hands on deck! Everyone wears a lot of hats, but we have recently been building alliances with other indie studios that excel in closely-aligned areas such as social marketing and theatrical distribution.
MP: What has not worked in the Internet space that surprised you? What has worked that surprised you?
Zack: The idea of online “world building” faded faster than I would have guessed. Things just move so fast these days. I was really into it when Blair Witch created the first sort of quasi-reality ‘net experience and then big studios followed suit with ambitious trans-web strategies like “A.I.” and the like. Even musical artists like Peter Gabriel were experimenting with world-building and it was fascinating. Nowadays everyone is on their phones and multi-tasking so it’s not really possible to get them involved in a brand-new online world unless it’s really got some money behind it and various social and gaming integrations. But the fantastical element seems to have gone away which is a shame because I love that kind of thing!
I’m always amazed how various properties go viral. We like to design many of our trailers and teasers in a viral way and have been quite successful at it, but when the Honey Badger goes crazy online you just sit back and smile. That’s the organic beauty of the ‘net that I love. After a few beers I’m sure to begin waxing poetic about the continued joining of analog and digital, but that’s for another time.
MP: How does social marketing (or social media marketing) fit into your marketing efforts? How do you track conversions? What do you consider to be a conversion in most cases?
Zack: Social marketing is important and various degrees of it play into everything we do. Conversions are the trickiest part of the whole equation and it’s something big companies are always trying to quantify so they can justify continuing spending huge amounts of money on the marketing plans, which I totally understand. The problem is that apart from a direct click-through to purchase scenario, it’s almost impossible to gauge what kind of an impression you’ve made on a viewer until much later. Our motto around here is “Market to the heart, not the head.” If you approach your viewers with intelligence and passion and engage them in something they love, then you can really make a lasting partnership. They can be speeding down the highway, inundated with all manner of huge slick ads appealing to their head, but if they get just a hint of a tiny thing that appeals to their heart and passions personally they will slam on their brakes and support you for many years. Of course you have to deliver or they will feel cheated! That’s the “art” part, right?
MP: Are there things you can do that more traditional marketers may not be able to due to restrictions from corporate etc? Do you see risk taking in marketing as essential to your success?
Zack: That’s the whole reason to stay independent! It’s the freedom of experimentation that keeps it interesting for us. Taking chances is the only way to grow. Sometimes you get in trouble, but as long as you try things with your eyes open it’s always a learning experience that you can apply going forward. We love being small and fast enough to react immediately to any situation. For instance, we have a long-standing policy of sending our motorcycle movies to any service member serving overseas who requests them. When a Marine Staff-Sergeant wrote us asking for a couple films for his guys on the front line we sent them a whole box. Later we got a package in the mail with a hand-written note of thanks and a folded American flag. There was a signed plaque stating that the flag had flown over the base for 24 hours and had been dedicated to us by the entire company. I had to sit down after getting it and still get chills telling the story. If we had been some big company, we may never have had a chance to interact with those guys directly and thank them in our small way for their sacrifices.
MP: How much do online and offline mix and play together in your world?
Zack: There’s no separation any more as far as I’m concerned, especially with the younger crowd. Kids leave class and immediately check their phones for whatever their friends are saying and sharing. People at work check their Facebook and other social networks constantly, even when watching TV. The more you can provide engaging content across all these platforms simultaneously, the more you can engage your fans for life.
MP: What projects do you have coming up and what are you working on to promote them?
Zack: Right now we have our Ouija movie “I Am ZoZo” that is coming out this Halloween. It’s based on a real story involving a demon called ZoZo that has been widely reported on for years as using the Ouija board exclusively as its mode d’emploi. My business partner Scott Di Lalla, who wrote and directed the film, did months of research into the paranormal and shot the film in a unique style that is seriously scary as hell. We’ve been quietly putting out bits of info on the film and it’s slowly building into a demandable property. We’re setting up a ZoZo artwork contest with DeviantArt that should be really exciting.
Also we’re working on setting up a platform and brand integration for our hit online live ghost hunting show that got several million views in just 72 hours when we launched the pilot a couple months ago. Even though we have a long-standing relationship with Dickies that has been wonderful, soliciting brands is not traditionally what I do. So I’m meeting with a lot of interesting new people in the more traditional ad space and examining the potential of having a brand seamlessly integrated into the show and having all those engaged viewers. We partnered with the number one ghost hunting app and can now send updates to several million mobile devices before every show.
Thank you to Zack for giving us a view of SEO and digital marketing as a whole from the indie film perspective. How you do SEO and social is highly dependent on what your market is like. The cookie-cutter approach to SEO and social media is not the way to go and Zack’s approach as it relates to the niche market of indie films shows that. Keep an eye on Zack and his efforts moving forward since he is certainly paying attention to what the SEO community is doing.
Hometown: Dundee, NY Education: UCLA (World Arts & Cultures), Yonsei University Korean Language Institute. Resided in Seoul, Korea from 1992-2000. Professional highlights: Head of Acquisitions, HMJ Films (Korea.) Asian correspondent, Variety. Line-producer and location manager for several Korean films including Korean/Philippine co-production Weekend Warriors. Translator, Korean International Trade Association. Co-founder and President of independent film company One World Studios Ltd.; a feature film production and distribution corporation in Los Angeles.