How a transmedia producer used mobile to create an audience for her documentary – with Choco-Locate creator Lalita Krishna
Mobile, combined with location, unlocks considerable value, we all know that. The thing that always surprises me is the sheer number of niche opportunities that this combination can bring to light. The obvious and most talked about area of impact has been the retail industry as a whole. The conversation usually slopes to the power of the consumer and the downward price spiral that location, mobile and complete pricing openness brings. The plight of the Big box retailers like Best Buy come to mind almost immediately.
But the stories that don’t get enough light when it comes to this dynamic combination are the hyper-local, hyper-niche retailers that are killing at it. For the first time since WalMart and Lowes and Barnes & Noble stormed the retail beach, smaller retailers have a new opportunity to influence consumer decision and steer them back to the shoppes of old. All thanks to mobile. All thanks to location. All thanks to the SoLoMo movement regaining steam (I say regaining steam here on purpose – we are witnessing “old school” community business rules coming back and mobile enabling that welcomed trend).
So what has this got to do with chocolate?
It, just like wine and coffee before it, is emerging as a niche market of fine local producers whose voice is starting to be heard and thanks to an app from Toronto company, Choco-Locate Media, they are using this mobile and location concoction to be found.
This might seem like a simple niche retail story on first blush but this is a deeper example of the use of mobile to create, support and engage a community for a greater cause. In this instance, founder Lalita Krishna used a mobile experience to start building an audience for her documentary on chocolate called SemiSweet. As you’ll hear, she started building the mobile aspects of her film at the same time she started preparing for shooting the film. And now that SemiSweet has been released, her product has morphed into a revenue generating platform and lives on in mobile perpetuity.
This episode is about more than her foray into the app space as we discuss the impact these new technologies are having on the way filmakers create and extend the life of their products as well as the transition and turmoil the industry as a whole is facing as a result of mobile and pervasive computing.
Chocolate lover or not, this is a broader discussion on how disruptive a time we are living in and how the niche is the new mass market.
Here is a quick reference of what we covered in the show. Click on the link and the video will take you to that clip
Backgound on Lalita 2:20
Her Transition to transmedia producer 3:00
Background on the documentary and action taking leading to mobile 4:00
Was mobile a natural extension for the documentary 5:50
Location as the natural way to find good chocolate 6:45
What does it mean that the film making industry has taken a hit 8:00
Is the audience of the documentary the same audience targeted for the app? 11:00
Is this a new era for audience development and out reach? 13:00
Advice #1: Build anticipation and an audience prior to launch 15:00
Was it a challenge shifting from story-telling in the documentary vs creating the database of locations for the app? 17:00
Why can’t you just put the website and documentary on the mobile app? Why wouldn’t that work? 18:45
Was it a difficult transition for your as a filmmaker to make this transition (20:37)
The first challenge of developing an app for the retail space 24:20
Being led by developers and how she decided what platform and developer to chose 26:20
How did you know what technology direction to go in with app 31:00
Lesson #2: Get them to do the next step 33:20
Focus on simplicity 36:15
How do you market the app and continue its growth as a separate entity from the film? 37:30
What is the revenue model? 39:45
How to augment marketing efforts through partners and clients – creating a community and a voice 44:00
Number of downloads 46:00
The challenge of awareness for app developers 48:00
The question of focus: Do you build new apps or focus on the one you’ve got 50:00
Best lessons – good and bad – during the app development process 51:45
Where to watch the documentary 54:45
My key takeaways
Think long term for developing your audience
When Lalita started the project she started focusing on audience from day one. Long before the documentary was ready for viewing, she and her team started building their audience through a mobile application that would engage and entice users to speak up and start making the cause personal. When you are starting without an audience you need to begin creating one immediately. This may seem so simple but is often overlooked. I see many companies build entire products and services without an audience and then launch to stillness. Building and engaging an audience helps ease the concern you are heading in the wrong direction, that feeling that you are alone and that feeling that no one is interested in what you are building. Lalita said it so well: Building an app is a whole lot easier than creating a feature film. For you, what is the easiest way to get in front of your audience? Do it now. Do not hesitate.
There is no such thing as one target audience
In this transmedia world we live in we are often not targeting a single audience type. In Lalita’s case, she produced a documentary, Semisweet: Life in Chocolate, that “takes us from the hyper commercial world of Hershey to the frozen lakes of Northern Canada, from the busystreets of Paris to the heat of the forests of West Africa as we follow the unique journeys of people whose lives have been transformed by chocolate.” There is a very targeted audience for this film but the app she created to compliment her documentary, Choco-locate, brings to the forefront the great chocolate creators in your neighbourhoods. If you are interested in the story of how chocolate is made, watch the film. If you want to find beautiful, natural, hand-crafted chocolate in your city to buy, use the app. Two different audiences, one cause, two different business models. What part of your business could you extend to mobile that brings with it a new audience and new revenue opportunities?
Don’t be afraid to stretch the definition of your craft
It was once up to the story tellers to tell the village history and that was their job. Flash forward to movie and documentary producers and they have become the worlds story tellers. They focused on one medium and honed their skills within it. Today, reach is important and extending the job of the story teller beyond the big screen is essential. That is exactly was Lalita did moving her tale from the big screen, to the web and to mobile without hesitation. Throughout this episode she talks about her transition from traditional director and creator into a transmedia producer – she stretched the definition of her craft, something necessary to remain relevant. What are you fighting? What is your market telling you about the product or service you are offering? Time to stretch a little? Time to stop being so rigid?
Follow your gut – simplicity rules
This should really be a mantra of this new generation of business. Sometimes you are challenged with the latest and greatest and there is temptation to be everything to everyone. Remain true to the vision and follow your instincts. Always look at the thing that is right in front of your nose – the thing that is easy to ignore. That is what you should be doing. Let the rest will come to you when they are the next simplest things to do.
Be led by outcome not technology
So often is the case that we build things to satisfy our technology needs and not those of our customers. Lalita was faced with this numerous times throughout the development process. Ideas are great, pushing the boundaries of technological capabilities are great but if they don’t augment your ability to hit your goals (be they revenue growth or audience growth for example) DON’T do it! Technology should support goals – never the other way around. Never lead with technology. Lead with outcomes and let the technology support those goals. What are you over-complicating because you want to use a specific technology? Reverse that equation to get unstuck.
Be ready for massive change to staid industries
This is an obvious one as every single industry is poised for change. For Lalita, her profession is undergoing rapid transformation both behind the camera and in the way the audience expects to interact and influence the outcomes of her work – two or three screens complicate a traditional one-screen business. What are the things you see coming for your industry. If you don’t constantly assess what is happening in your industry (by constantly, I mean quarterly) you will lose your track and wander aimlessly until an upstart has fed you your lunch. Change is happening at a rate that is really hard to follow. Find someone who can help keep you in the know. Informed decisions are important. Wait for too long and you eliminate your ability to make those decisions and you are no longer in control.
What do you think? Also, what do you think of the new format for the episodes? Do you like the chapters for quick reference? The takeaways? What else would you like to see. Leave a comment or two below or email me.
About Lalita Krishna
Lalita Krishna is a Toronto based filmmaker and transmedia producer. Her work has been broadcast on all major networks in Canada, and featured at film festivals around the world.
Lalita’s Interactive documentaries are produced with award winning game producers and mobile developers. As the Co-Chair of the Documentary Organization of Canada’s Toronto chapter, Lalita oversees DOCShift a two year initiative to develop the core capacity of producers to create interactive documentaries using a variety of delivery platforms.
Lalita sits on the Board of Hot Docs- North America’s leading documentary film festival. Lalita is a featured speaker at prestigious conferences and professional development events.
Lalita has been awarded the DreamCatcher Award for using her craft to better humanity and is the recipient of the 2010 Reel World Trailblazer award.