11 business stories and marketing tips from Rotten Tomatoes co-founder Patrick Lee

Rotten Tomatoes is a leading entertainment website focused on movie reviews and news. The business was founded in 1998 by university students Senh Duong, Stephen Wang, and Patrick Lee.

Since then, Patrick Lee has become a serial entrepreneur, startup advisor and expert, and mentor. He advises businesses including Casetify, ChargeSPOT, Instaread, Kiwibot, Oishii, WePloy, and Zeuss Technologies; and is a mentor at a number of organisations including SOSV, Berkeley SkyDeck, Blue Startups, and Founder Institute.

In our weekly webinar on April 24, 2020, Easy Weddings Chief Marketing Officer Kristen Holden chatted with Patrick about what businesses can do to get on top of their marketing during COVID-19.

We’ve taken some of the best marketing advice and business stories from Patrick to give you ideas and inspiration for what to focus on in your business.

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Building a brand on trust

Patrick says that a lot of building the brand of Rotten Tomatoes revolved around trust.

While they first chose the concept of a movie review platform as something they knew people wanted to use and could be used immediately, they continuously tried to keep adding features and doing more to improve traffic or brand revenue over time.

But Patrick says that the most important part was finding something that was not only useful to customers. But something they could trust as well.

The team worked with film critics to educate them on how the platform worked and how they could use the product. They also worked with studios, directors and producers in the film industry so they understood what the system meant.

This created trust on two fronts; with the studios who were having reviews about their movies, and with consumers who could trust that the scores of whether or not you should see a movie were legitimate.

Think about who you need to create trust with to run your business. Is it couples? Their parents? Other vendors? When you can educate your ideal clients and users on the value of your product and service, you build a business of trust.

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The current homepage of Rotten Tomatoes

Perfecting your focus before you expand

Patrick says the one of the biggest pieces of advice he gives to businesses, and particularly to startups, is to find the focus of your business.

One thing he says many entrepreneurs make the mistake of doing is trying to be everything for everybody. They add a lot of features and services, but then don’t have the time or resources to do everything. Rather than doing one thing well, they end up doing a lot of things badly.

Patrick uses the start of massive global companies like Facebook, Amazon and Google as examples. Facebook first started out being a platform for Harvard students. Amazon used to only sell books. Google used to just be a search function.

Only when they perfected those focuses and held their desired market share they were able to expand to a new focus. Facebook expanded geographically to schools, Amazon expanded the categories they worked in with DVDs and CDs, and Google expanded its features with things like Image and News search. The rest is history.

Patrick says to find your focus in a smaller market and make sure you are servicing that market in the best way you can. Your market can be chosen by geography and location, you could choose a category or product you specialise in, or a feature and service you offer. This could be a specific genre of weddings. It could be a specific demographic of couples. Or it could be couples in your local area.

However you define your focus, start servicing that market very, very well before you expand.

Amazon in 1994

The most important parts of your marketing

The biggest part of marketing that Patrick says is most important during COVID-19 is content creation. Now many businesses have more time up their sleeves, creating content to engage with your audience at the moment is incredibly important. Once you have your content created, you then need to know how your audience engages with that content.

This could be anything from emails to social media depending on what works best for you. Patrick advises businesses to leverage this content to create more interactions that could hopefully lead to a sale.

This could be through one-on-one chats over Zoom, educational videos to a larger audience, or even a Q&A of questions that couples have. As couples are booking less at the moment there is a potential for longer lead times and more touchpoints with couples before they book. This is where you should target your content.

Marketing for selling vs brand awareness

Asking whether marketing for sales or brand awareness is more important is like asking what comes first; the chicken or the egg. Both are equally as important, however, during times that are more difficult to sell such as a pandemic, Patrick recommends focusing on your brand awareness instead.

This comes into how you educate couples on your brand. Patrick suggests that instead of trying a hard sell, encourage couples to send an email, list their details or book in a consultation that could turn into a potential lead down the line.

Think about your particular business and what you can offer now to keep people interested and talking with you. And remember, this also comes into trust. Give your couples useful conversations and information that will make them interested in you to begin with, but trust you when it is time to convert the sale.

The importance of referrals

As couples are less likely to commit at the moment, referrals and reviews are incredibly important. And we tend to agree with Patrick when he says that this all comes down to the experience you provide your clients.

Patrick says that your referrals actually tie back to your focus. When you are doing something incredibly well you under-promise and over-deliver. Referrals don’t just have to be a review or someone actually referring your business. Patrick says they also come into case studies, the content you can use on your website (or storefront), and what you can add to your portfolio.

Patrick’s advice: one of the best ways to get a good referral is to do the best job you can. The quality of your product or service is reflected in the way you deliver it and this also adds trust.

If you show that you can do a good job, people will notice.

Using influencers to pay-it-forward

Back in 2018, Patrick was involved in the #GoldOpen strategy to make the film Crazy Rich Asians both a film and a business hit.

The concept was simple. They would buy out cinemas and invite influencers and members of the community to view the film. This was a great way of engaging the Asian community before the film came out so that they were excited and supportive before it was released. Engaging the community was particularly important as Crazy Rich Asians was the first Hollywood film in 25 years to have an Asian director, producer, writer and all-Asian cast. Rather than making them pay back their tickets, they encouraged these influencers to pay it forward themselves; buy out their own cinemas and have their own viewings or buy tickets for family and friends.

The film doubled its box office estimates in its opening weekend and helped green light many other projects from the studio behind it.

Coincidentally, it also has a 91% score on Rotten Tomatoes and also helped boost the song ‘I Can’t Help Falling In Love’ into first place for the most popular wedding song for 2020.

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The wedding scene from Crazy Rich Asians, via the @crazyrichasians Instagram

Making the most of the online world

COVID-19 has forced us all to take our businesses online. But as Patrick says, this is an opportunity to make the most of this technology.

Take conferences and events for instance. Even the webinar we held with Patrick himself was something that we wouldn’t have been able to do in person. Virtual events mean lower costs flying guest speakers in, and wider availability of who is available. Patrick says that every second day he’s doing an international webinar, which was much rarer before isolation.

Patrick recommends venues to offer Zoom chats and tours to walk couples through. Or even having videos or photos available that can be shown via a screen share so you can also talk a couple through what they are looking at. The same goes for other businesses and consultations. There is now a lower barrier to entry for some couples who previously wouldn’t have gone out in person. Now you can show the value of your product or services through video chats.

Patrick says to get these processes in place and see what is working for you, and consider keeping it once everything starts to go back to normal.

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Managing negativity about your brand online or in the press

While he was working with Rotten Tomatoes, Patrick says they didn’t focus on what their competitors were doing. Instead, they spoke positively about what their brand was doing instead. Patrick says there’s nothing to be gained from matching negativity with negativity.

Instead, he says to focus on what you are doing, what is useful, and be positive. He recommends trying to take a conversation offline if you want to discuss a negative comment or review. His method is to educate the person on what has happened or help them understand a certain situation. He also recommends being honest and responding to negative reviews in a positive way.

Patrick himself says that he has a better impression of businesses who respond to negative reviews in a unique and positive way. It shows that your business is responding appropriately and not trying to hide anything. Instead, it comes back to education and trust.

Standing out from your competitors

Patrick’s recommendation for the best ways to stand out from your competitors during COVID-19 is to take advantage of online media. He says that if you can take the time to educate your audience then you will stay top-of-mind with them.

If you show that you are working to educate and support couples, your business will stand out against others who are hunkering down with their heads in the sand.

Managing business costs

Patrick worked through the tech crash of 2000, the impact 9/11 had on the U.S stock market, and the 2008 GFC. Yet he says that the economic impact of COVID-19 is shaping up to be worse than the economic effect of the three of them combined.

His experience in the startup industry shows that it’s going to be difficult to raise money for the next 12 to 18 months. It’s also going to be difficult to bring in revenue. So his advice is to look at your existing costs and reduce them where you can.

If this is to do with your headcount, he recommends doing this in a single action. Patrick says to cut deep but cut once. Rather than having staff looking over their shoulders and wondering who might be next to go, Patrick says that cutting once will help build more trust with the staff you have left. Which will, in turn, make them more productive when needed.

Setting up your business to do more

While many wedding businesses might not use SaaS programs quite as much as the startup industry, Patrick says that now is the time to get your business processes in place.

He recommends looking at every step of your business process, from the marketing side to getting a client, closing an invoice, and so on. If you haven’t already, Patrick says to write out that process and make a short handbook for your employees or team so you can get this standardised.

Why? Because 2021 is going to be a bumper year for weddings as postponed weddings come into play with new couples as well. Prepare your business funnel so that you are in the best position to service more weddings in 2021 than you would have in 2020. A handbook will help you outsource processes where needed to ensure you can work on more weddings.

As Patrick says, if you don’t work on these processes then you’ll only be able to service what you would have this year. But if you prepare and can operate as if you are servicing double the amount of weddings, when we get to that stage in 2021, you will actually be prepared to handle that business without compromising on your level of service.

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Easy Weddings projections of the number of weddings in 2021 and beyond

Catch up with the April 24, 2020 webinar with Patrick Lee here.