What Can Marketers Learn from the Netflix Research Machine?

Effective Problem Solving Tools help your organization succeed.

Netflix began as a DVD rent-by-mail service that evolved — first into a video on-demand provider and most recently as a broadcaster of original content. In January, Netflix premiered “House of Cards,” a political drama directed by David Fincher and starring Kevin Spacey. The show is loosely based on a British television show of the same name. It is exclusively available — for no extra charge — to Netflix subscribers.

The show has garnered critical praise and plenty of buzz among analysts who question whether Netflix will succeed in the original programming game.

Don’t bet against Netflix. The company has made a very educated bet on this program — a bet that can teach all marketers some valuable lessons.

“Executives at the company knew it would be a hit before anyone shouted ‘action’,” according to a New York Times article that describes Netflix’s decision to carry the show.

Before committing to “House of Cards,” Netflix studied data from its 33 million worldwide subscribers. According to the Times article, the company looked at several data points:

  • How many people and who watched from beginning to end “The Social Network,” the 2010 film about Facebook also directed by Fincher.
  • How many people and who have watched films with Kevin Spacey.
  • How many people and who watched the British “House of Cards.”

The intersection of these data points represents a vast, prospective audience for the new show. Even those who fall into just two of the three camps — Social Network, Spacey, and British version — are likely to give the new show a try. Netflix wasn’t guessing when it committed to House of Cards. Netflix knew it had an audience for the show.

So what can small business marketers learn from this behemoth with 33 million customers?

The question Netflix asked is the same question you should ask: How many and who? The more you know about your prospects and clients, the more you can offer products and services that will sell, and the more you can identify and connect with those most likely to buy.

You can employ marketing media and tactics that answer the questions:

  • How many people and who opened the email I sent?
  • How many people and who clicked the link in that email?
  • How many people and who liked and/or shared that post on my social media page?
  • How many people and who downloaded the free report I offered on my web site?
  • How many people and who checked the box indicating interest in product ‘x’ in my online survey?

The “House of Cards” story shows how a company may use this data to instruct product development.

“How many and who..?” also can help a business separate prospects from suspects. I haven’t received this email yet, but it won’t surprise me if I eventually receive an email from Netflix promoting a new film with Kevin Spacey, or another movie directed by David Fincher, or another show like “House of Cards.” I might receive that email because I’ve been watching “House of Cards” and Netflix knows it.

The more you know about the people on your list, the better able you are to deliver relevant content to them.

Amazon mastered this long ago. Netflix is well on its way.

The good news: You have access to email marketing, social media, web analytics, and other tools that empower you to ask and answer — just like Netflix: How many and who?


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