Isabella Barbato
Aug 2, 2016

How Netflix has changed content marketing

Those tasked with content marketing can learn a lot from the behaviour of the streaming-entertainment giant.

Isabella Barbato
Isabella Barbato

What started out as a DVD-by-mail company is now one of the most popular streaming websites in the world, dominating the Internet and taking the entertainment industry by storm. Netflix, the global provider of streaming films and television series now has a whopping 81 million subscribers from 190 countries.

With the recent launch of new programming localised for Asian audiences, such as the upcoming series in India based off Vikram Chandra’s hit novel Sacred Games, Netflix will likely grow to become a household name in Asia soon as well. By 2020, Netflix is estimated to have 9 million subscribers across Asia, according to media analyst Media Partners.

Not only is Netflix revolutionising the entertainment industry, it is also pioneering a new and innovative way of content marketing—one show at a time:

Dare to be different

“I have a deep respect for the fundamentals of television, the traditions of it even, but I don't have any reverence for it,” said Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer of Netflix, during a late April interview with Hollywood Reporter.

This attitude to bravely challenge conventions is echoed in Netflix’s content delivery model. In a 2013 survey across 16 markets, Netflix found that 73 percent of online streamers enjoy binge-watching television, and most do not get hooked on the pilot. So while other video streaming sites are releasing episodes one at a time, week by week, Netflix decided to break out of the norm by releasing entire seasons of its original content at one go. In doing so, Netflix empowers its viewers with full control over how and when they watch their shows, and even allows itself more flexibility and innovation in the way it tells stories.

As Sarandos put it, “Part of the conversation early on is thinking about it as a 13-hour movie. We don’t need recaps. We don’t need cliff-hangers at the end. You can write differently knowing that in all likelihood the next episode is going to be viewed right away.”

Originality sells

Beyond being different, Netflix is proudly original. From its first original series Lilyhammer to one of its most recent ones, Jessica Jones, Netflix has created thousands of hours of original programming, and plans to push out another 600 hours this year. Having transitioned from content curation to content creation, Netflix has differentiated itself from the crowd of video-streaming sites and is exclusive in a way other sites aren’t; you can’t watch Orange Is The New Back or Daredevil anywhere else except on Netflix. Netflix’s first widely publicised original series House of Cards was so successful that it pioneered a new model of content delivery, informing Netflix’s business strategy and setting the tone for its subsequent offerings.

Do the math, but data is not everything

In a bid to improve its movie recommendation system, Cinematch, Netflix launched the Netflix Prize in 2009, an open competition for the best filtering algorithm to predict user ratings on films based on their viewing preferences, and awarded US$1-million to the winners.  Knowledge is power, and with it, Netflix is able to more accurately customise and recommend content to its audience.

Nevertheless, while metrics matter, what truly wins audiences over are stories. Beyond page views and rankings, content is paramount. Netflix never loses sight of this and continues to prioritise content quality over quantity.

Target the individual, befriend your audience

From business strategy and pricing model to content delivery and marketing initiatives, the individual is always at the heart of everything Netflix does. Netflix has taken personalisation to the next level when it created seven different trailers for House of Cards, each with a different focus. Some heavily featured female characters while others zoomed in on politics. Which trailer plays when an individual navigates to Netflix’s website depends on their viewing preferences and history.

At the core of Netflix’s success is, therefore, an openness and commitment to listening to its audience. Because Netflix prioritises building long-term relationships with its audience, it knows exactly what stories to tell, when to tell them and whom to tell them to. Through surveys and research, Netflix is able to get to the heart of what its audience wants and feed that demand. For instance, it allows up to five individual profiles within a single account, so that family and friends who share an account can enjoy a personalised Netflix experience without their favourite shows and viewing history overlapping. This is especially important given that two-thirds of Neflix users share their account credentials.

Market meaningfully and creatively

The interest Netflix builds around its shows goes beyond mere hype. Netflix shies away from simply creating the short-term buzz that marketers and advertisers traditionally use, choosing instead to creatively package its marketing initiatives in a more meaningful and relevant way. One example is the sponsored native ad Netflix ran for Orange is the New Black on The New York Times in 2014—a 1,500 word article on female incarceration in the US, replete with animated infographics, video, charts and audio. By marrying marketing and editorial, Netflix didn’t just entertain, it also informed and brought to the surface a much-needed conversation on the struggles of female inmates.

Netflix has also aimed to bring alive their content offline and Singapore got a taste of this earlier this month when the company transformed OverEasy into Litchfield Penitentiary Cafeteria, and served complimentary Litchfield grub cooked up by Singaporean chef Bjorn Shen, of Artichoke and Bird Bird—potentially a first of its kind.

Anywhere, anytime

Finally, Netflix understands that we are transitioning into a mobile-first world, which is why it provides readily available streaming services that are mobile-friendly and responsive across all devices. By making content available digitally both in the home and on the go, Netflix is able to appeal to a growing consumer base that has been looking to mobile for their entertainment needs.

Netflix is a fast-growing company that knows exactly what its audience wants and how to give it to them by offering not just products, but experiences too. By being both an entertainer and a content marketer, Netflix has captured the attention of audiences worldwide, and more importantly, their hearts as well. It has truly changed the way we have viewed content marketing in the past.

Isabella Barbato is head of marketing for Southeast Asia and India at Outbrain

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