When I used to go to the movies it was an Event. Two hours away from more of the same, and transported to somewhere new.

An escape.  Something different. I’d be excited, alert, aware. Fidgety even. Sitting in my seat. Waiting with anticipation.

There used to be a neat screensaver – oily, lava-lamp colors projected on the screen. Anticipation built. There was trivia sometimes; not GEICO trivia, movie trivia. Designed to speak to people who, well, loved movies. To encourage that love, even. The day-to-day fell away.

Then darkness. Then previews. Exciting, because I hadn’t seen them before.

Then the movie and I’d get lost in it.

Today when I go to the movies, it’s my living room transported to a public space with worse seats.

I see all of the commercials I see at home. They’re just bigger here.

Then too many previews I’ve already seen.

Then, finally, darkness, movie and larger-than-life screen – that part’s still exciting.

But if I miss it, I know it’ll be out on Netflix or DVD in the space of about 60 days or so, so if the experience is pretty much the same, but more costly and without added benefit, what’s the point?

Theaters complain. Hollywood complains.

But the simple truth of the matter is this:  they’re doing it to themselves.

They are no longer inviting us to escape. Instead, they’re asking us to experience exactly what we could otherwise at a greater cost and with less convenience. They are taking a short-term view of profitability, grasping at straws without a larger strategy. Nickel-and-diming and trying to extract every penny of built-in yet dwindling demand, instead of capitalizing upon – and amplifying – the incredible opportunity they already have.

In a world of people dying to get away, even for just an hour or two, they’re ignoring the obvious; they are uniquely positioned to succeed.

Instead, they see us as fish in a barrel; trapped and unable to get away, at least for a little while, from the old marketing game. For now, for that brief window of experience before the movie starts, we remain a captive audience. Rather than being creative with that opportunity, they ham-handedly exploit it .

The movie experience is fast becoming all too similar to what you can get somewhere – maybe everywhere – else. It is, essentially, neither special nor unique anymore – not really. It is the result of greed, fear of risk, and a lack of creativity on the part of the theater industry. And that is very sad.

As with all brands, if you do not differentiate, you die a slow and painful death. It is what I call The Rule of the Parity Provider: when you offer the same thing as everyone else, price becomes the sole differentiator.  Margins shrink as you try to compete and, eventually,  you simply go under. This is what’s happening here.

Twelve bucks for a ticket for two hours, OR twelve bucks for a month of Netflix?

If the movie theaters understood their opportunity to position themselves as a provider of escape, entertainment and respite from the world, this would be a magical ticket — a temporary pass to somewhere else —  that anyone would buy.

They have the opportunity to provide – and capitalize on – something truly unique. But they don’t.

They should. In fact, they must. There really is no alternative.

And when it comes to your business, and your brand, so should you.

What do you provide that’s truly different?  Be honest with yourself: What does your business do that’s the same as what your competitors do?

Once you figure that out, the important question becomes what do you offer that’s different?

What’s the one thing you can identify that you do Best, and that people can’t get anywhere else?

Build on that, and you’ll not only survive, you’ll thrive. And also suddenly discover that you no longer have as much competition as you used to.

And wouldn’t that be nice?

That’s what the Movie Theater Industry needs to do. And pretty much everyone else.