Making a low-budget independent horror film is hard enough – marketing it can be murder. In this article, Jennifer catches up with an old friend and follows him on a whirlwind tour of innovative social marketing strategies.
When Jennifer first became friends with Lance Weiler about 15 years ago, he was a soft-spoken, long-haired dreamer, a young man who was passionate about independent filmmaking and brimming with big ideas. These days, the ponytail is gone, but otherwise, Lance is the same.
We caught up with Lance this year during his do-it-yourself nationwide tour to promote his independent feature length horror movie, Head Trauma. Lance made Head Trauma for only $126,000 and he’s now following the film around the country in a swirl of speaking engagements and meetings during its 15-city theatrical release.
To promote his movie, Lance is employing the kind of multi-reach, social-networking-intensive online strategy that falls well beyond the radar of most corporate marketers. You might call it “viral marketing” or “guerrilla marketing,” but Lance’s work is hard to describe with a few trendy marketing buzzwords. Here’s our take on his innovative approach:
Beyond the Official Movie Website
If you were looking for a job, you wouldn’t just tack your resume out on your front door and call it a day. Nope, you’d probably send the resume to some prospective employers, post it on a few websites, maybe pass it around in an email to friends and former colleagues, and – we’ve all been there – even dropped one in the mail to cousin Bess who knows someone who might be able to help you. We call it “multiplying your marketing channels,” and it’s exactly what Lance has done for his movie.
Lance explains, “Many production companies finish their film, then say, ‘Oh, I’d better put up a website.’ So they slap up a trailer and some pretty graphics and it’s done.” These websites are missing out on huge opportunities in online marketing.
Sure, Head Trauma has an official movie website, headtraumamovie.com (see screenshot, below). The site has some very cool and creepy comic book-inspired Flash features. But like any Flash-intensive site, the tradeoff for coolness is a hampered search engine presence. (Read our article on Flash and SEO to learn why Flash is a problem.) To put it bluntly: if this website were his only online presence, Lance might be having a hard time reaching out to a search engine audience.
But Lance has also created:
- A MySpace page
- 4 other social networking pages
- A separate domain, www.htmob.com, which houses his blog
- A Head Trauma YouTube channel
- A podcast: “Head Trauma Radio”
- Lance’s own website, www.lanceweiler.com
- Two hidden websites within the official website. (You’ll have to uncover these for yourselves…)
By our count that’s ten unique channels that Lance has created for spreading the word about Head Trauma! Admittedly, managing all of these sites – and their unique content – is a difficult undertaking. But Lance’s reward for looking beyond the traditional has been a multitude of venues and pathways for connecting with his target audiences.
Targeting the Elusive Online Buzz
Lance has one overriding (if exhausting) goal: to provide a one-on-one, viewer-to-director experience for his fans. Lance wants his fans to have direct access to him, and he reaches out to them in many personal ways:
- Using MySpace and other social networking sites to target regional audiences in the cities where his movie will be shown in theaters. He starts by doing a regional search of all his “friends,” then he sends out messages encouraging locals to post flyers for his movie. He even gives his volunteers the opportunity to submit photos of those flyers, so that he can personally thank them.
- Personally inviting thousands of “friends” to his social networking pages
- Ditto for his YouTube channel
- Sending regular email newsletters to opt-in fans
- Personally responding to as many emails as humanly possible
- Providing buzzworthy content on the official movie site, which includes the hidden websites that add some adventure and mystery. (It sounds obvious, but it bears mentioning: Your website content must appeal to your visitors in order for your marketing efforts to pay off. This is especially true when you’re looking for that elusive word-of-mouth winner.)
- Personally searching the Web for new blog mentions and reviews, and adding these to his own sites. As a shortcut, Lance tags each post or review using his del.icio.us account, then uses Feedburner (an RSS service) to distribute them to his various blogs and sites.
- Making his podcast, “Head Trauma Radio,” available for embedding in any website. It’s easy for Lance to phone in his audio blog from wherever he happens to be traveling, and the updates are automatically pushed to the embedded players everywhere.
Lance’s bright ideas and devotion to updating and distributing new content have been great for his Web presence. Is it working? Yes, in a lot of ways: Lance’s site is ranking well for the incredibly general term “head trauma.” And his DVD is enjoying brisk sales. Could he be doing better? Sure. A quick review of his website shows that it lacks some basic nuts-and-bolts SEO and hasn’t been optimized for DVD sales. Luckily he’s got an old friend in the search engine marketing business who just might be able to help out a bit!
We know that not every company can gear up in camo pants and go guerrilla on an everyday basis. But take a closer look at what Lance has been doing and you’ll realize that it’s really just a translation of an old-fashioned personal sales approach to today’s Web medium. If using the Web to build relationships, loyalty, and fans is a goal of yours, we’re betting you can take some of his ideas and put them to use in your marketing plan.