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5 Lessons in Content Marketing from Netflix in 2016

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Do you remember your first experience with Netflix? The ebb and flow of red paper-wrapped DVDs and the novelty of saving a queue and getting new film and TV recommendations based on magical algorithms were pure delight – both to adventurous early adopter techies and video buffs alike. Fast forward a decade and a half or so and Netflix now has 75 million subscribers in 190 countries, with rumors to enter China through a collaboration with Leeco on a smart TV, Netflix bundle. But beyond Netflix’s domination of the world’s homes and screens is their vast library of original and licensed movies and TV shows, integrated seamlessly through simple technology. Behind the entertainment giant looms some deviously savvy marketing minds that pros in the content industry can learn much from.

LESSON 1: Move from content curation to content creation.

In order to keep up with audience demands, Netflix began to acquire exclusive original content to add to its streaming service in 2011. What started with political drama “House of Cards” (first aired in 2013) has developed into a veritable juggernaut of outstanding content, including “Orange is the New Black” and “Peaky Blinders,” “The Fall,” and the hit new series “Stranger Things” – 2016’s biggest hit TV series. As marketers, Netflix understood that they had to sustain higher quality, unique content offerings and deliver them consistently to compete with television giants like HBO and Showtime – and their efforts paid off substantially. Today, Netflix’s subscriber count far surpasses HBO Now by 75 to 1.

Master of None Netflix
Master of None/Netflix


LESSON 2: Quality is head of state. And Chief of Staff, First Lady, Senior Advisor…

With 600 hours of original content to launch between this year and 2017, Netflix isn’t just a video streaming service. The brand is consistently creating unique content of the highest quality. With industry heavy hitters like Kevin Spacey, David Fincher, Aziz Ansari, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda/ Lily Tomlin, the Wachowskis and the Weinstein Company, Netflix partners with creative visionaries that will undoubtedly deliver the very best. Quality content is not just a buzzword for marketers: it’s an ethos that must be adopted, both to differentiate brands in an already cluttered marketplace and to better establish authenticity and legitimacy with your audience.

LESSON 3: Build relationships instead of creating purely transactional moments.

If Netflix had followed the traditional content delivery model, series would be released episode by episode, whetting audience’s appetite while slowly building anticipation over time. Instead, each season of a Netflix original series is released in one fell swoop, allowing addicted viewers to binge watch at will (and likely obsess over their favorite shows while awaiting the next season with bated breath). By tapping into its audience’s already existing behaviors and finding new ways to deliver content, Netflix has built a model that rewards hyper engaged viewers while fostering both short-term buzz and long-term connections. Even if a viewer originally signed up for a free month trial to watch a single show, they will be more likely to become advocates and continue membership once they have a great experience with a brand. Don’t be afraid to bend the rules a bit if it behooves and bewitches your biggest fans.

LESSON 4: Lean on data and make the most of it every chance you get.

It’s no secret that data and machine learning lie at the very core of what makes Netflix so successful. According to the “New Yorker,” Kevin Spacey stated that Netflix approached him with the idea of “House of Cards” and said, “We believe in you. We’ve run our data and it tells us that our audience would watch this series. We don’t need you to do a pilot. How many do you wanna do?” The brand has such intimate knowledge of viewers’ watching behaviors that it can invest budget dollars accordingly, making the prospect of original content creation less risky. When brainstorming how to promote season 2 of “House of Cards,” personalization was key in creating 10 different trailers for the different segments of Netflix’s audience based on the user’s age, gender, and viewing preferences. For example, a female consumer might get a trailer focused more heavily on the female characters in “House of Cards,” while a users who watches a lot of drama shows gets a trailer focusing on more of the politics and scandal of the season.

House of Cards/Netflix


LESSON 5: The most important part of content marketing is how you market the content.

Netflix has mastered the fine art of native advertising. Just take a look at the brand’s fully immersive partnership with “Wired” about how streaming technology is changing TV. Or the beautifully produced “New York Times” piece on female inmates that was really thoughtful and insightful… and just happened to tie into the season 2 premiere of “Orange is the New Black.” Netflix uses native advertising to deliver content that is both contextual and adds value without ever seeming superfluous or overtly self-serving. However, the brand doesn’t stop there. Consider the New Year’s Eve stunt in which Netflix launched a three minute video counting down to midnight that allowed parents to send their children off to bed thanks to the help of King Julien from the kids’ series, “All Hail King Julien.” Content can be both purposeful and promotional, when tackled in a clever way. As we hunker down to see how quickly we can cognitively absorb a full season of “Stranger Things” this week, remember that, as marketers, we must always be on the lookout for unique sources of content inspiration and look to evolve with the changing digital landscape to stay ahead of the curve and provide the best experience for our audiences. This article was written by NewsCred’s Ashley Karhoff.

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