Trailer Treasure: Hollywood’s Clever Drip Marketing Strategy

These days, you can follow a movie’s production schedule for months or even years before it’s released. Director and casting rumors, set photos, interviews with the right entertainment magazines and websites, social media campaigns — no rock is left unturned for a movie that wants to build incredible anticipation. However, there’s one movie-marketing tool in particular that outstrips all others: the trailer.

Today, a hot movie trailer’s debut is one of the most anticipated moments across the Internet. Facebook campaigns with official trailer countdowns are the norm. And some movies even go so far as to have a trailer for their trailer. (Like Inception, but instead of being mind-bendingly awesome, it’s mind-numbingly annoying.)

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Blockbusters, in particular, have developed a very specific way of rolling out trailers: something I like to call the three-trailer strategy. It’s similar to drip marketing, because the step-by-step process of my three-trailer strategy parallels steps you find in the best B2B and B2C drip marketing efforts — making it adaptable as a successful campaign strategy for other kinds of products and services besides movies. Let’s take a look at how.

The Knight and the Monster: Case Studies

Before we get into the three-trailer strategy, here’s what you need to know about drip marketing.

Drip marketing is a direct marketing strategy that involves sending out several promotional pieces over a period of time to a subset of sales leads. The key is to use targeting and segmentation and information about prospects’ online behavior to ensure communications will be relevant to each recipient.

Got all that? Good. Now let’s get into the nitty gritty of movie trailer rollouts via the three-trailer strategy. I’ll use The Dark Knight (2008) and Godzilla (2014) as case studies here.

Trailer #1: The Teaser

After months (or even years) of speculation, production time, set photos, casting rumors, vague interviews, the Teaser Trailer will be released. This will happen several months to a year before the movie is to be released.

The point of this trailer? To plant seeds. It’s the audience’s first official taste of the movie, meant to whet their appetite, while providing no real details about plot. Essentially, it says, “Here’s the type of movie you can expect, and it’s going to be freaking amazing.

The Dark Knight had the best Teaser Trailer of all time. Yes, I’m serious. Sixty seconds of nearly Shakespearean dialogue, gorgeous visuals, and, most importantly, it gave fanboys and fangirls their first glimpse into what they could expect from Heath Ledger as the new Joker.

Consider my curiosity piqued.

Meanwhile, Godzilla had the best Teaser Trailer of 2014. It’s moody, evocative, visually stunning, and unlike anything we’d previously associated with Godzilla.

After this Teaser, I knew there was no way I’d miss this movie.

So how does the Teaser Trailer map to the drip marketing sales funnel? It’s similar to the initial series of announcements a company uses to demonstrate that they are developing a product worth paying attention to. The Teaser’s counterpart might be an email news bulletin (“Something Big’s on the Horizon!”), or an intentionally dropped bomb in an magazine interview or industry conference.

Regardless of how it’s done, the goal is the same: to pique prospective buyers and leave them wanting more information about your product.

REAL WORLD APPLICATION: Hootsuite, a social media management tool, uses email campaigns targeted at its freemium members to give them a sampling of the benefits of upgrading their subscription. These emails may contain details about exciting new features, or offer promo codes for discounted subscriptions — but their role is always the same: they’re the initial contact that sparks interest.

Trailer #2: The Pleaser

Two to five months after The Teaser comes what I like to call The Pleaser. This trailer will focus on the movie’s central conflict or driving force, addressing major themes or overarching ideas — while still revealing very little in the way of plot. Its purpose is to compound the anticipation that’s slowly begun building.

After months of buzz and speculation, this is the trailer that gratifies the excited audience with some clues of the kind of action and drama they can expect. Meanwhile, the building buzz also attracts the attention of new fans and followers who missed the Teaser.

The Pleaser closely parallels the marketing materials a company might produce to help educate interested parties on exactly why they absolutely love this product. Introductory videos, whitepapers, and customer testimonials are just a few of the pieces companies create at this stage. And they’re all created with the goal of expanding upon that initial foundation of buzz.

At this point, the targeted customer is being guided toward the purchase, but isn’t being bombarded with sales language.

REAL WORLD APPLICATION: When Hootsuite wants a prospective customer to get serious, they invite them to explore the tools features, resources and additional services outlined on their website, with the help of easy tutorials and helpful articles. This way, the prospect gets to peruse the site at his or her own pace, while checking out the available subscription plans (which just happen to be between the “Solutions” and “Services” tabs on the website; how convenient!) on their own time.

Trailer #3: The Sinker

Two to three months after The Pleaser (and typically one or two months before the movie’s official premiere), The Sinker will be released. This is the trailer that will (finally) give the greatest glimpse into the plotline, demonstrating some of the most important set pieces, relationships and motivations in the movie. This is the last “official” trailer to be released, and will be followed by a slew of featurettes, carefully selected clips, extensive cast and crew interviews, magazine covers, blogs, photocalls, and then premieres and reviews.

In the world of drip marketing, The Sinker is that hands-on final step in the sales funnel: the product demonstrations, requested sales calls, and other types of fish-reeling strategies. This step is only reached by qualified leads that have shown significant interest in the product, so companies can be more assertive in inviting them to purchase the product.

REAL WORLD APPLICATION: When a prospective Hootsuite customer asks for more information from the Hootsuite team, their followup always, always includes a free 30-day trial. The offer is also detailed on the company’s Subscription Plans page, but regardless of how offer lands in front of perspective subscribers, the message is the same: here’s a risk-free way for you to try out our product.

Anyone can stumble upon that subscription page, but well-qualified leads will be directed there once they’ve made it this far down the sales funnel.

Conclusion

There’s one essential difference between film drip marketing and typical B2C/B2B drip marketing: opt-in. Films can get by just using social media (YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) to advertise their wares, and still use traditional advertising mediums to garner audiences (like commercials, posters, and events like premieres). B2C and B2B companies typically need to use a more pointed approach — like emails sent to an opt-in mailing list, or highly targeted tweets.

It’s easy to see how this movie trailer strategy can be adapted into a successful drip marketing campaign. It can serve as the initial step in the sales funnel, garnering interest in potential customers and leading them all the way down the rabbit hole into buying what you’re selling. Popcorn, optional.

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