What Marketers can Learn from Netflix's Content Strategy - Insights
Industry Leaders

What Marketers can Learn from Netflix’s Content Strategy

by Dayna Sargen

9 minute read

Disney World may be known as the happiest place on Earth, but if you ask Disney executives this week, they may argue that Netflix indeed holds this title. With the impeding execution of the agreement between Netflix and Disney for exclusive streaming rights, Netflix now has a stronghold over the hearts and eyes of many customers (and future customers) across generations.

Netflix has come a long way from their early days of mailing DVDs to your home and managing your queue with the diligence and precision of a surgeon. Today, the brand has moved away from recognition as a post office gem to being known for top-notch original content and streaming services across devices. What started as a classic distribution channel for movies and entertainment to households everywhere has quickly become a content channel of its own where top Hollywood talent dream of housing their original work.

Even with this brand transformation, Netflix has still struggled in recent months to reach analyst expectations, beat market forecasts, and drive stock prices to new highs. That is, until the imminent exclusive streaming rights of Disney films is rounding the corner and we get close to the expected September 2016 start date. The news bubbled up to headlines again recently and sent the Netflix stock soaring back to highs that have left Wall Street and analysts claiming that Netflix could again become a darling of the market and rebound like no one expected.

While stocks rebounding and fluctuating with headlines and breaking news is not particularly revolutionary, what is of note is how Netflix’s announcement centered around content could have such a noted impact on the bottom line. Many networks have taken great strides into this new “content first” frontier – most notably HBO who is known now more for its groundbreaking shows than the access to blockbuster movies that warranted its original naming convention. Likewise, the growth of Hulu, Amazon Prime, and more have proven that the opportunity and demand for original programming is not going away. In fact, great content has become an imperative for the new generation of powerful networks and channels to thrive and grow in today’s media landscape.

As a content marketer, hearing that content is at the center of this growth and opportunity is music to my ears. As marketers, we’ve all embraced the understanding that without compelling content, our stories and messages will not reach our intended audiences. However, few brands and marketing teams can claim the success that Netflix has already found. So what lessons can we all learn from this incredible brand resurgence and actually use as we evaluate our own content strategies every day? 

Quality over quantity

It seems to be a very knee-jerk reaction for marketers to think that the more content they produce, the better their performance will be. I mean, marketers think in funnels after all, right? Well, in the case of creating quality content that will impact your business and marketing goals, it is actually the complete opposite. Focussing efforts (and budgets) on higher quality content rather than spreading your resources thin across content that may not be up to par is a far better strategy. While the deal with Disney was estimated to cost Netflix approximately $300 million, it will pay back exponentially given the demand and passion for Disney content. The Netflix executive team could have easily looked at this line item on a budget and asked, “Couldn’t you produce or purchase numerous other programs in place of this one large-scale deal?” However, they saw the opportunity to have a big impact and achieve their goals in one fell swoop with the reach and influence of the programming they now have access to.

At NewsCred, we have also found this to work well in our content marketing efforts. In fact, we reviewed exactly how we do this in our recent case study examining the success of our strategy. Rather than spreading our team, resources, and time thin across countless pieces of content, we focus our efforts around content that meets each of our goals and expectations. By instituting a content score card to really keep ourselves accountable to excellence, we are able to quantify if a piece of content is worthy to be published on our channels and hence worthy of our time and attention.

Know your audience – and the opportunity

Anyone who has worked in marketing children’s products knows that the balance of messaging to parents vs. the child is essential.  Many marketers incorrectly assume that strong messaging and positioning to parents about product benefits will be exactly what is needed to lock their brand loyalty and drive purchase intent. However, these marketers have likely never been in a house of screaming youngsters who demand to see “Finding Nemo” immediately. At the end of the day, the children run the roost and their desires are what really influence parent’s purchase decisions.

While Netflix had recently focussed heavily on adult programming, their original content line up was certainly in the category of TV shows that need to be watched long after little ones are put to bed. I mean, have you seen the last season of House of Cards? Frank Underwood has become a more impactful villain than Ursula. Breaking into the children’s market and knowing that kid-friendly programming will make not only children, but their parents, very happy is a smart move for sustained growth of the business. Not to mention the ever-elusive group we lovingly call millennials who are obsessed with nostalgic items, brands, and entertainment from their 90s childhoods.

Creating and producing the content that your audience actually wants is what sets the best brands apart from the others. We all have an idea as to what people are looking for, but truly understanding what your audience wants and needs takes a content strategy to a whole new level. If you put yourself in the shoes of a Netflix executive, what would be the most compelling reason for a customer to continue their subscription to the service? Speaking for myself, while I may be able to live without the next season of “Orange is the New Black,” it would be incredibly difficult to listen to my child complain about not being able to watch “The Lion King” whenever they want to. The value of having a happy viewer can not be underestimated – and parents are often the most willing to spend whatever it takes to make their audience as happy as possible.

Staff appropriately

Having the right people on your team focussed on the right tasks is half the battle. When you have organizational buy-in and support for a full content marketing program, you need the right people on your team to execute and get it done. Companies like Netflix used to focus their staffing needs on operational efficiencies, audience development, and other essential functions. However, the hiring and support around Netflix’s chief content officer, Ted Sarandos, proves that the company understands how essential it is to have a visionary leading the charge for their channel with the most opportunity.

Searching for new team members with a perhaps unconventional background will prove to drive innovation and disruption in your traditional business model. While running content within a marketing team can be one of the most impactful roles, it doesn’t necessarily have to go to a traditional marketer with years of experience in the field. It should, however, go to someone who has a balance between creative and analytical skills and is able to establish a content strategy that will not only resonate with your intended audience but also drive results to the bottom line.

Beyond the leaders of the team, having the right teammates working with you is equally, if not more, important. Hiring marketers with strong writing and creative skills has never been more essential. Without an eye for content, your marketing team will not be able to grow. Today’s marketer needs to be agile and have incredibly strong communication skills. It is essential that leadership teams recognize this need and hire only those with the strongest eye for content on their teams.

Evergreen content will flourish

Will there come a time when certain favorite shows and movies are not as relevant as they once were?  Of course. The best opportunity for content that will last is to invest and focus on evergreen content that will cross generations. One of Disney’s most magical elements is how their content has lasted from generation to generation and continues to do so. Some of the most popular Disney movies aren’t even from the last decade, yet they still resonate and are popular with children today. We all know that “nothing is certain except death and taxes” but I would argue to add the certainty of rabid Disney fans in there. There is no doubt that more and more children will continue to be mesmerized by their characters, stories, and animation. And generations to come will still be demanding the amazing stories that Disney has to tell.

Be available where your audience wants you

Those of us from a certain generation remember the stacks and libraries of Disney VHS tapes that used to line our entertainment centers as children. Today’s viewer not only doesn’t know what a VHS tape is, but also demands access to content whenever they want it and where ever they are. There is no longer a need to wait for a tape to rewind or for your friend to return a DVD they borrowed. Or even worse, have to deal with a lost (or scratched) disc with no back up in sight for days. Would you want to be home when a 4-year-old finds out that no matter what, they just can’t see “Toy Story” tonight because the DVD was forgotten at grandma’s house? No thanks!

Streaming is not only expected these days, but it is a mandatory for parents with small children. Being able to deliver the content no matter where you are located, what device you are using, and what time of day you need it is a value that few would argue against. Netflix understands the stickiness of this value to their target audience and ultimately what they expect. What parent would consider canceling their Netflix subscription when they have come accustomed to pulling up “Aladdin” at the drop of a hat? Netflix knows that this access is invaluable and that it will increase subscriber retention over time.


Dayna Sargen is a Brand Marketing Director at NewsCred.