Content marketing lessons from Netflix original content--'House of Cards'

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When Netflix launched the original series "House of Cards" this weekend, it proved it could produce original content with the best of them--and along the way might have shown why you too should be thinking big when it comes to original content.

No, I'm not necessarily talking about producing a high-end drama series starring Kevin Spacey that runs you $3 million an episode--although if you had the budget ...--but I am talking about producing compelling original content that people talk about for days afterward.

Content marketing isn't anything new, but too few enterprises I see practice it, and of those that do, too few take the time to do it well. According to the Content Marketing Institute, "Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience--with the objective of driving profitable customer action."

It actually has several purposes in my mind. It could be to drive profitable action, but it could also involve promoting brand recognition or simply building your reputation as industry experts. The idea is to produce content that people want to read, share and talk about--whether it's a white paper, an infographic, a report or a blog post--or a combination of all the above. It could be a funny or educational YouTube video or a podcast interview with an industry luminary, but whatever it is, it has to be captivating--which is what "House of Cards" has proven to be.

Netflix did a number of things well when it launched "House of Cards." First of all, it built up the hype cycle ahead of time to get people revved up about it. It got star power in the form Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. It did something different. It launched all 13 episodes at once, encouraging its viewers to binge on it if they wanted--which many reportedly did.

And if you want to know if it's successful, look at this article as Exhibit A. People are talking about it. I've seen it widely discussed and debated on Twitter and Facebook (NASDAQ: FB). It's created buzz and that, my friends, should be the goal of any content marketing campaign.

It's unclear if Netflix will ever make back its investment, but that might not be the goal. It's also nearly impossible for us to know how many people watched--although you can be certain that Netflix has detailed analytics and understands all too well. But there are no commercials, so Netflix isn't trying to impress advertisers with its detailed demographics. It just wanted to show off its content street cred--and it did that in spades. It has to hope that it's the start of making Netflix a go-to content destination.

What else could Netflix have done to get our attention? It could have spent $4 million for a 30 second ad on the Super Bowl, which is one of the few times people watching actually pay attention to the ads because it's become a showcase--but it probably wouldn't have gotten a significant return. People don't generally take action when they watch ads. 

What else? They could have written a press release and launched a marketing campaign about Netflix. They could have placed newspaper ads or sent out direct mailers. Heck they could have used spam email campaigns, pop-up ads or robo calls if they wanted to annoy people.

But none of these efforts would have resulted in the attention they got from producing spellbinding content. 

And you need to understand this. People like Seth Godin and David Meerman Scott have been preaching for years that the days of conventional interrupt marketing techniques and carefully worded marketing collateral are over. In the age of the social internet, you need to communicate with your audience in an entirely new way--and a big part of that is producing content that matters. Netflix did it. How about you? - Ron