Earlier this month, Netflix — the streaming media behemoth — began looking for someone to make toys.
Yes, we’re talking action figures here. Perhaps some fan-service clothing like backpacks and T-shirts. Maybe even a novelty flamethrower or two …
“Merchandising! Merchandising! Where the real money from the movie is made …”
— The Great and Wise Yogurt, “Spaceballs”
But what stood out to me more than the merchandising angle — because clearly the world has waited too long for a talking Frank Underwood bust — was what Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos gave as the real goal for this hire: Marketing.
“We don’t want to make any shows to sell toys,” says Sarandos (although they have rebooted Voltron, which was originally made to sell toys). “What’s really important is there’s a marketing component that comes with [the toys] … Kids carrying the backpack sells the show.”
This isn’t a hard concept to extrapolate into current marketing metaphors. The Kids wearing the backpacks are customer advocates, their friends are new prospects (and they trust that kid’s word WAY more than yours) and the backpack … Well the backpack is a way for that advocate to play with your brand.
What ways, what toys, do you offer your advocates to play with your brand?
I think of this as bringing people into your orbit. These customers and fans may be very positively inclined to you, but unless they have some way to express that, something to play with, it’s wasted. They fly by and drift off into space. But if you catch those folks with something that makes them stick around, your galaxy of influencers grows.
There are a lot of ways to engage these folks by giving them a voice on social media, putting on events, etc. But those are things you do for them to be a part of.
What can you offer that these advocates can take away and play with themselves?
Now, if you have an action-figure-worthy character, by all means, give it a polyethylene kung fu grip and tell your fans how to get one.
Beyond that, here are a few other ideas:
Your content marketing can be a type of toy. If the content is really interesting to your target audience, they share it, talk about it, make their own content expanding it, etc.
If that’s the way you’re going, consider offering assets these advocates can use in their content. If you provide brand images, themes, logos, presentation decks and the like for your advocates to use to build their own websites and content, that’s a whole chest of toys.
Wearables, Accessories and Swag
Clothing and gadget accessories are another way to let fans play. You may even already have some of these as booth swag for you events marketing. Is there a way for your fans to get them without jumping through hoops? Offer a way to get them through your website or social media properties. If an advocate wants something you were giving away anyway, why not enable that?
Yes, enable the fandom.
Speaking of enabling, many products and services have some kind of tools that can help in their use. Whether those tools are actual hammers and screwdrivers, or more conceptual tools like planners, worksheets or design templates, that’s a great kind of toy to offer your advocates. These can be as simple as pdfs, or as complicated as augmented reality apps that put your products in their world.
Two notes on offering tools:
- The ideal tool creates something the advocate can share. Your goal isn’t just to give them a hammer, it’s to get them to use the hammer and show it to other potential advocates.
- Don’t let your toymaker compete with a real toolmaker. Car enthusiasts love showing off their favorite brands, but no serious gear head is buying a Porsche ratchet. Real tools come from Snap-on, Craftsman and other high-quality toolmakers. In this case, your tools could make your advocates look dumb. That’s why car makers focus on clothing, accessories and actual toys.
So take a lesson from Netflix, and think about what a toymaker cold do for your brand. You may not need to hire someone just for the role, but spending some time thinking about it could unlock great advocate marketing opportunities.