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 reportedly uses almost 35% of internet downstream bandwidth, with the average American home using a whopping 20.4G every month for streaming movies and TV from the provider alone. According to a study released earlier this month at CES, 51% of people ages 13 to 34 consider Netflix subscriptions “very valuable” compared to 42% for broadcast channels and 36% for cable subscriptions. But Netflix’s domination of our homes and screens is about more than their vast library and seamlessly 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 (and possibly to quell rising anxieties about dwindling contracts with movie distributors), 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, Peaky Blinders, The Fall and even the 4th season of Arrested Development. 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. Evolution is key in staying alive in the wild world of content (even if it means taking a step back in time and developing Pee Wee Herman’s first movie in 20+ years).

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

With eighteen new series to launch between this year and 2016, Netflix isn’t just consistently creating unique content. 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 can

It’s no secret that data and machine learning lie at the very core of what makes Netflix so successful. So much, in fact, that the brand created the Netflix Prize and awarded $1M in an open competition to best their highly regarded recommendations algorithm in 2009. While its interface may be gorgeously simple and easy to use, what’s going on behind the Netflix curtain is complex. 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.

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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 NY Times piece on female inmates that was really thoughtful and insightful… and just happened to tie in to 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 House of Cards this week, remember that, as marketers, there is more to be learned from Netflix’s stellar rise to success than from Frank Underwood’s clever manipulations and ruses. Happy watching, folks.