What Video Storytellers Can Take Away from Netflix's Biggest Hits

Netflix didn’t start with having original content featuring Will Smith, Adam Sandler, and other household names. Regardless of how you feel about some of their video content they've successfully scaled up to 118 million subscribers. And even if you aren't looking to be as large as them, there are many strategies and insights marketers and videos storytellers can pick up from Netflix.

Creating Anticipation

Leave your viewers wanting more. The cliffhanger ending that encourages viewers to consume more content in a single sitting is something Netflix built a catalog of hits around and has influenced all forms of media. If you create educational content to build brand awareness, your teaser might be “I’ll share the best point last”, “I’ll tell you next time about…” or “Tomorrow I’ll reveal…”

Speaking of binge-watching — as much as people love it — Netflix realized humans are still creatures of regular habits. This has led to original programming that now releases weekly or monthly like the Joel McHale Show and Dave Letterman’s newest talk show. By creating a cadence your audience and biggest brand advocates can anticipate your newest content.

Scaling Quickly

Netflix used initially a majority of licensed content to drive brand affinity and awareness. They were also able to publish far more content frequently without any less quality.

By licensing content you can scale faster, quickly show results, and make a business case for developing in-house.

Leveraging Data to Produce Content

The creative side of your brain may not want to hear this but it has to be said: Netflix uses big data to forecast their hits.

Netflix discovered in Q1 of 2018 that sci-fi became their most popular genre of content edging out comedies. In response, they ordered the highest amount of original fantasy content to date.

With the data they accrued, they ordered House of Cards for two full seasons without ever needing to see a pilot. Among other data points, they successfully inferred viewers were likely to check out the show based on:

  • The playthrough rates of the David Fincher directed film The Social Network
  • The number of viewers that checked out the British version of the show
  • Those who watched the original House of Cards also viewed Kevin Spacey and/or David Fincher films

“We don’t have to spend millions to get people to tune into this. Through our algorithms, we can determine who might be interested in Kevin Spacey or political drama and say to them ‘You might want to watch this,’” said Steve Swasey, VP of Corporate Communications for Netflix.

Netflix has a trove of information they can use to inform everything from their recommendation algorithm down to the preview thumbnails.  Even if you don’t have your own proprietary algorithm you can rely on to hit your goals, your analytics can still help inform specific sections of content and your overall strategy. Review drop-off points, click-through rates, share statistics, and other KPIs as you look to develop new content.

Share Your Inspirations

Drawing from the storytelling of classic films helped propel Stranger Things to be Netflix’s biggest sci-fi series to date. From the parallelism of Eleven with ET to the boys walking along the train tracks ala Stand By Me, you can see scenes heavily inspired down to the composition.

Through sharing your influences in a transparent way you can create relatable content and find your most passionate followers.

Don’t forget the pause button to take notes the next time you’re watching Netflix. Your next source of inspiration could be right around the corner.