This article is part of our April 2019 series about customer experience. Click here for more.
For film lovers, there’s nothing quite like watching a movie on the big screen. And when they sit in an IMAX theater—which uses state-of-the-art cameras to provide an immersive experience—it’s clear that no one delivers rich cinema experiences quite like this entertainment giant.
In 2017, IMAX hired Denny Tu as its new executive vice president, global brand and creative. A 20-year senior executive veteran at establishing brands in the media, entertainment, and technology sectors, Tu worked previously for Sky, a leading European entertainment media company. There he felt responsible for “keeping people at home,” so the switch to IMAX was akin to “moving to the dark side,” Tu joked.
At IMAX, Tu was instrumental in designing a new brand campaign called “Films to the Fullest,” which saw the company cross the $1 billion mark at the global box office for the first time. In late February, Tu was named IMAX’s new CMO.
In this exclusive interview with CMO.com, he talks about his plans to ensure audiences continue to embrace the power of the “IMAX experience.”
CMO.com: Can you touch on your business philosophy and how that applies to the company’s strategy?
Tu: One of the things I always ask my team is, “What can we do to make the boat go faster?” My business philosophy is how to move from complex to brilliantly simple. We focus on the why and try to take off blinkers or assuming this is the right way to go because we read a white paper. We should be talking about the problem we want to solve and then delivering in a crystal-clear way to ensure it’s driving our core business.
CMO.com: How would you characterize the experiential entertainment experience?
Tu: We enjoy the human experience. It’s core to our nature, so when you see something that moves you or makes you feel something—like an incredible story—you want to do it with people you love and care about. We see ourselves as an unabashed enthusiast for that shared experience.
For us, it’s more important than ever to give audiences a superior and differentiated experience they can’t get anywhere else. It’s such a noisy landscape, so we have to ensure that the out-of-home experience breaks through the clutter.
CMO.com: Last year IMAX set record box-office numbers. What were some of the marketing efforts that helped propel the growth?
Tu: It starts with an absolute focus on the right problem. To that end, we did a reset when I joined, and the creative marketing arm of IMAX transformed from a small service-oriented entity to a revitalized, in-house brand team that is the heartbeat of everything we say and do.
We talk a lot about not trying to be brilliantly clever, but be brilliantly simple. ... We introduced a brand design that allowed us to deliver “heart-led” messaging, which was incredible pieces of imagery and creative that we worked with and collaborated with studios on. ... The other piece that drove that $1 billion figure was revamping our digital and social media strategy. We currently have a network of about 7 million followers on social media globally, and within a short time, about six months, we were able to increase engagement by 82%.
CMO.com: How is IMAX leveraging emerging technology?
Tu: We’ve been known for our leading tech for many years, but we continue to push. In the last year, we launched a game-changing projection system called IMAX with Laser. It leverages the power of lasers to deliver these incredible clear pictures on these large screens. It goes beyond anything we’ve been able to do in the past. It makes audiences feel they are immersed in the movie.
We are an experience-based company. We focus on proprietary technology, and we’ve got an amazing team that puts a lot of time, care, and research into finding ways to enhance that experience.
CMO.com: How have changes in the way people consume content impacted your business and marketing models?
Tu: We can’t take things for granted. The idea that audiences are out there to consume our marketing is very outdated. We have to fight for their time by delivering simplicity and clarity in our marketing messaging. … With “Films to the Fullest,” IMAX’s new brand strategy, we evolved from having multiple messages and creative in the market to … really clear messaging to communicate what IMAX is, why audiences should experience a film in IMAX, and drive home the differentiation between IMAX and any other way to see a film. The core strategy behind the campaign: to provide clarity in our messaging, to have a clean, consistent platform, and to communicate that globally.
The “Films to the Fullest” campaign features a new design concept called “The IMAX Frame.” … The blue frame represents the limitations of the standard movie-going experience and drives home the message that IMAX takes audiences beyond the frame so that they can experience films to the fullest.
CMO.com: Can you talk about your social media strategy?
Tu: We have a tailored approach to each platform and leverage differentiated, exclusive content [vertical video, short-form square formats, etc.], as well as optimize these in real-time based on performance. … We also actively engage in listening as well as pulling key learnings and insights that help us understand what formats/content are resonating better with our audiences. When planning each campaign, we dive into these learnings and apply them to the strategy. This allows us to evolve our executions and continue to keep our strategies fresh, which is key in the ever-changing digital landscape.
CMO.com: What is IMAX’s approach to reaching new audiences in this digital, on-the-go era?
Tu: It’s leveraging that incredible footprint we have in social media to break through the clutter with original content executions and continuing to establish a tone of voice that’s unique to IMAX. It’s a brand that you would have known for many years—we’ve been around for more than 50 years at this point—and we need to continue to establish that relationship on a one-to-one basis with customers.
A key area of focus for us has been engagement on IMAX’s Instagram, which is up 82% from 2017. Also, in less than a year, we nearly tripled our Instagram followers. ... We’re also leveraging new platforms, including Instagram stories and live-streaming events, so that we can have more one-to-one relationships.
CMO.com: What can we expect from IMAX in the years ahead?
Tu: In terms of growth, what we’re focused on is our very engaged and loyal fan base, and we want to continue to strengthen this in the future but also to expand our headroom and educate and bring into the IMAX fold a broader range of movie-goers.
We’re also going to continue to work with our trusted partners in studios, filmmakers, and exhibitions to integrate our brand into their highly sought-after blockbuster IP. We are focused on innovation and disrupting to drive bigger benefits in the market. We have built a brand on disrupting the cinema space and providing audiences the most immersive film experience, and we’re certainly poised to rule a new era of movie going and continue to give you reasons to get off your couch.