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Marketing Mix Podcast with Joshua Cole

Josh Cole discusses the creative role of influencers in entertainment marketing

October 17, 2019

 Joining us on the Marketing Mix Podcast is Josh Cole, CMO at Sky Zone. Josh discusses the creative advantages of marketing in the entertainment sector, the importance of earned media and publicity, and the value of media integrations with Hollywood movies. In describing the role influencers play in reaching Gen Z, Josh discusses how Sky Zone is implementing a more predictable and controllable integrated marketing strategy, as well as the brand’s high-performing story and geo-filter partnership with Snapchat.

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Jeff Ragovin: You've had extensive experience in the entertainment industry. You were VP of Marketing & E-Commerce at Universal Studios Hollywood before moving over to Sky Zone where you are now the CMO. What makes marketing within the entertainment industry different from other sectors? 

Josh Cole: Prior to working in the entertainment industry, I was in the financial services industry, which I really enjoy learning about still, but the marketing was constrained by it being such a highly regulated industry. When I went to Universal, I was amazed by how open the company was to creativity, and how much of an expectation it was to be creative. When we opened up the Simpsons ride at Universal Studios Hollywood, we literally shot a guy out of a canon over a wall for him to be the first one into the ride, and that was part of our publicity stunt. That would not happen in the finance industry. At Universal, my colleagues and I came up with all kinds of crazy, creative ideas. Some worked well, some not as much. We had the ability and the licence to try them and Sky Zone is similar - we have tried all types of things, and that’s something I really love about the company. 

In entertainment, and this is a big advantage I will admit, you tend to have great content to work with which is a gift. For example, at Universal, there’s an annual Halloween Horror Night event and my team and I would go out there and we would film people being chased by clowns with chainsaws through the park screaming. At Sky Zone, we film people jumping on trampolines flying through the air. As a result, we get great content of people laughing and being joyfully in the moment. You don’t need actors to pretend they're having fun - you get real people overflowing with real emotions, and that’s a lot easier to come by in the entertainment world than it is in other industries so I really appreciate that part of it. 

Another great example is when Kevin Hart wanted to visit a Sky Zone with Anna Kendrick to test out trampoline dodgeball for his YouTube series What The Fit. Those types of things happen sometimes and are just more likely to happen in the entertainment world than in other industries. There are challenges too, but those are some of the advantages. 

Jeff Ragovin: Skyzone sounds fun - can you tell us more about it and the scale at which it’s currently operating globally? 

Josh Cole: In 2004, Sky Zone opened the first ever indoor trampoline park in the entire world and it started a whole new industry. We also have basketball nets and dodgeball courts in our trampoline parks which is super fun. In recent years, we have added to those attractions. We have added Ninja Warrior courses, climbing walls, ziplines dropping into foam pits and many more activities that augment the trampoline park experience. Our product is active play. People come to the park to have fun, but they are also exercising at the same time without realizing it. We know that active play is crucial for kids’ development and the cool thing is that when they come to our parks, they're getting that mental stimulation and developmental benefit without realizing it because they're having fun. It’s not just for kids, adults love it too. 

When we look at social media, we see that one of the most common things posted by adults about us is our ability to make them feel like a kid again and that’s just a great feeling to enable others to capture youthfulness again. From 2004 until now, we have grown from 1 park to about 210 around the world including countries like Saudia Arabia, India and Guatemala. Being a franchise company, our partners have allowed us to expand rapidly in a lot of interesting places. 

Jeff Ragovin: At Sky Zone, you refer to your audience as guests rather than customers. From your perspective, what’s the difference between a customer and a guest? 

Josh Cole: It’s a great question. I believe it's a mindset question because a customer is buying a product, but when a visitor comes to one of our parks they are buying an experience, so they become a guest. Whether you're coming in to jump for an hour or you're hosting your child’s birthday party and you want to create the most awesome experience your kid has ever had, we are an experienced based business. In our internal literature, we always capitalize the G in guest to reiterate internally how important our visitors are to us, so that mindset is providing excellent customer service. When you're in the location based entertainment business or any experience business, customers are crucial for getting people to come back so we need to treat them in such a way. 

Jeff Ragovin: As CMO, you and your team have massively increased brand awareness in the last three years as as much as 37 percentage points from 40’s to 80s. Congratulations! Can you talk to us more what strategies you've implemented and lead to achieve such results? 

Josh Cole: Building the brand is one of the top priorities we have as a franchisor. We need to deliver for our franchisees a strong brand that’s differentiated from their competitors and one that really resonates when they do marketing locally. There are a number of strategies that we’ve undertaken. One is partnerships. We have a great partnership with Carnival Cruise Line which has resulted in a lot of earned media publicity which is another big part of our strategy. That partnership was really fun because we activated a Rose Bowl parade trampoline float. 

Another strategy we have is being here in Los Angeles and working with producers and directors as they make content for mass media, movies and television. When I think about the brand, there are two things that audiences must do. They must be aware and they must care. In our case, the caring boils down to them wanting to come and enjoy themselves with their kids and that’s a hurdle to overcome because you're getting people to dedicate their leisure time, which is more and more compressed these days. One of the key driving principles for us is that we are always trying to showcase our brand experience in action and this works out well for us because jumping on a trampoline is an action in itself. We want to bring together that experience and the emotions that go with it in a way that captures the attention of people watching at home and motivates them to come visit us. 

Media integrations is one way to do this. An example of this is our work with The Bachelorette. They held a group date at Sky Zone with the guys competing in a game of knockout dodgeball with the last man standing winning the right to bring the bachelorette on a solo date. We did something with Bad Moms Christmas too and that did really well.  We love collaborating with shows for a lot of reasons. One is that a lot of these shows have great audience sizes that overlap with our parent demographic. Reaching parents of Gen Z kids is really important to us. 

Secondly, it weaves our content right into the fabric of our brand storyline. Getting our brand into the story that people want to watch and are consuming is really important. When people are at home watching a show, like the Kardashians, and they see the stars having a blast at Sky Zone it’s really poignant and can make the parks inspirational and even adds a level of credibility and relevance to our brand. When they do come, they are inclined to naturally post about Sky Zone on their social media to show they are at the same place these celebrities have been at. 

We know intuitively those types of integrations bring a lot of impressions and do a lot to add to the brand so it's great, but what’s really great is when we can measure them, and we’ve actually had the ability to measure them especially on some of the larger integrations. We have been able to see a spike in website traffic in the week or even 10 days after the movie is launched or the show has aired. We measure that versus the prevailing trends and a spike in e-commerce ticket sales. We can pretty closely measure the impact on brand building as well as revenue growth. 

Jeff Ragovin: You have also activated numerous social media influencers in your efforts to grow the Sky Zone brand. Can you tell us more about this strategy? 

Josh Cole: We see social influencers as another facet of the media integration strategy. They are a great way to showcase our brand in action as we have some of the influencers come in and do something that they enjoy, so it's very natural. We tend to invite influencers who already have an affinity for the brand too so it becomes part of the storyline. 

In addition to that, there are some very unique benefits that are associated with influencers. One is that it's a much more effective way to reach Gen Z. For them, YouTube and social video is essentially the new television. Studies show that Gen Z trust social content creators more than they trust traditional celebrities. Kids through teens make up the real core of our jumpers so we need those kids to really want to visit. The second way I think influencers are different from traditional ways of media integration is that the logistics are very controllable it terms of what type of content is created, when it is created and what the content focus is on. You partner with an influencer and you can map it out in advance so it all happens on a schedule. In the case of mainstream media integrations, that’s simply not the case. We’re simply part of a storyline that we can’t influence that much, we can only suggest ways that characters interact with the park. On the other hand, with paid influencer content since we can and since it's more malleable, it’s much better suited for promoting a specific marketing objective. 

An example of this is the influencer activation we launched during the NCAA March Madness. We hosted a competition in Spring called March Mania. The idea was that you could come to the park during a given week and take part in a shot contest. It was aimed primarily at kids who were out of school on Spring break. We wanted to work with an influencer who could reach the right audience for us, which in this case was kids who love basketball. So we found some influencers who were already making basketball content. It was a group of friends, one of them named Tristan Jass who in particular had made basketball content with NBA stars. He has a really cool video with James Harden. We had the group of friends come to the park and they created content showing their own version of the shot contest a week before we launched the campaign. Influencer activations are malleable, so we were able to integrate a CTA into their content about coming to the parks and doing this yourselves next week when the event was live. One of the videos they put on YouTube hit YouTube’s top 50 trending videos which we love to see. We have had a lot of success using influencers in this fashion where we can meld what they do and who they are with something they we as a brand want to talk about. 

Jeff Ragovin: You have partnered with Snapchat on 3 24-hour Snapchat Stories that have generated over 450M brand views. Can you tell us more about what these snapchat stories looked like?

Josh Cole: We hosted a dodgeball tournament called Ultimate Dodgeball Championship. It has been the largest dodgeball tournament in the world as far as we know and it brings in an incredible level of talent in the world of trampoline dodgeball. We have created a lot of content about championship day and Snapchat liked the content so much Snapchat actually sent someone to the venue to help us with content creation. Snapchat turned those 3 days into Stories which were live for 24 hours. It was an amazing partnership and they were very happy because it’s the type of content that users want to see. It also helped to create a really great relationship with Snapchat on a deeper level and we have been able to partner in other ways since then. 

Jeff Ragovin: You also were one of the first-ever partners with Snapchat on the launch of their new geo-filter product for retail businesses. The Snapchat geo-filter product has generated over 60M peer-to-peer brand impressions for Sky Zone. How are you using geo-filters to enhance brand awareness for Sky Zone? 

Josh Cole: We were the first ever. Snapchat created a new product that allows multi unit businesses to launch filters across all their venues but controlled through one account. Before you’d have to go venue by venue and put a filter up, and you can still do that but it's very time-consuming if you have over 200 venues. This new product launch allows someone on my team from one office to create, launch and manage those filters and swap them out from one account and it's just a much more efficient way to do that. Snapchat came to us, probably based on the partnership that we have developed through the Stories I mentioned, and asked if we wanted to be the launch partner for it and we said yes and it’s been great and we have continued the geofilters for 2 years now. They have generated tens of millions of views for us. That’s another example of a brand building initiative that we are using that works well in today’s world because this is a case where guests are in the park, they're having fun, they take a short video and they can then just swipe and choose our branded filter and send it out to their peers, so it's pure marketing. That’s the highest quality type of brand impression you can get so it's a wonderful product and we continue using it. 

Jeff Ragovin: Thank you for joining the Marketing Mix Podcast.

Please note, the above has been paraphrased for editorial purposes