Netflix Knows Toys Are Marketing, Too

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 …

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 …

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“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“We don’t want to make any shows to sell toys,” says Sarandos (although they have rebooted Voltron, which was originally made to sell toys).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:

Content

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.

Tools

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Fan Funded: The Most Exciting Thing in Marketing Today

There’s a type of marketing being done today that is changing the way companies are built, and not nearly enough people are talking about it.

The Site:1 speaker from Princeton Audio was marketed and launched entirely through social media and crowd funding.

There’s a type of fan funded marketing being done online, especially on social media, that is actually changing the way companies are built, and not nearly enough people are talking about it.

One of the things that’s really worked well to get my attention as a consumer has been Facebook ads. Marketers have been able to dial those in to my personal interest with shocking accuracy. A lot of the time companies reaching me via Facebook are ones I’ve never heard of before. And often, they don’t even have a product to send me yet. … But they can still sell it to me!

That’s the really exciting thing to me. Platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo allow companies to launch without a product, without a lot of funding, and essentially presell enough product (with add-ons and kickers to boost order value) to guarantee the success of their first product.

In fact, one of the most successful of those for me has been for a product that doesn’t even exist yet, but I was very ready to spend $300 on: The Site:1 speaker from Princeton Audio in Wisconsin.

I didn’t actually end up buying one of these speakers, but only because the best speakers I currently own are probably the ones in my TV, so I’m not the kind of audiophile who can justify (to his wife) spending $300 on a speaker.

The marketing was done entirely through social media, Indiegogo, and word of mouth, and it had me totally sucked in. I was an inch from pulling the trigger, and I still might.

That marketing campaign created over $62,000 in funding, all of which represents various kinds of presales of the main speaker and various perks/upgrades. That’s more than enough to reach their goal and launch the company.

Think of what Princeton Audio did there. Too often we look at crowdfunding as nothing more than a donation engine. But that’s not really what’s happening here. This is the new face of social marketing, call it “fan funding,” and it is so powerful that it can actually let you use marketing to launch the company.

That’s really a 180-degree turn on the traditional way start-ups grow. Usually you come up with an idea, bring in a partner, bring in angel investors, then venture funding … all the while trying to develop your product and make some revenue on it. Marketing is secondary because your early goal is to get investor funding.

Fan funding lets you do the opposite. Instead of investors, you attract a fanbase, and that’s a marketing foundation that can carry your company for the long run.

The power of the fan funding/social media marketing platform in this case was enough to get to me, a guy who sees thousands of ads a day and doesn’t even own a stereo, to seriously considered buying one of these high end speakers. (I would love to know what in my Facebook profile tugged their ads in my direction.)

Princeton is hardly the first company founded on crowdfunding that’s gotten my attention, either. Just a few months ago I did buy into a product called Cthulhu Wars by a man named Sandy Petersen.

Marketing Best Practices, Grateful Dead Style

OK, I admit it. For a short time in my youth, I could have been considered a “dead head.” Granted, I only attended about 10 “shows,” but I did have a Grateful Dead bumper sticker on my car and wore quite a bit of tie-dye.

OK, I admit it. For a short time in my youth, I could have been considered a “dead head.” Granted, I only attended about 10 “shows,” but I did have a Grateful Dead bumper sticker on my car and wore quite a bit of tie-dye.

That’s why the press release promoting the new book, “Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead,” by David Meerman Scott, a marketing strategist, keynote speaker, seminar leader and author; and Brian Halligan, co-founder and CEO of HubSpot, caught my attention this week.

The release read: “Long before the terms ‘inbound marketing’ and ‘social media’ were coined, the Grateful Dead were using these strategies to become one of the most successful bands of all time.”

So true. The Grateful Dead never did much marketing or advertising, but everyone knew them and their music.

It continued: “They made a series of difficult and often unpopular decisions in order to differentiate themselves from their competition by providing the highest quality service to their fans, not just a product.”

I’m sure they pissed off quite a few music publishers by allowing fans to tape their own shows, but they knew that the music was what the fans wanted — and they delivered.

“The Grateful Dead can be considered one giant case study in doing social media marketing right,” said Halligan in the release. “Not only did they pioneer the freemium business model by allowing concert attendees to tape the show, but also encouraged their fans to build a community, and kept them informed via their newsletters.”

“Each chapter presents and analyzes a marketing concept practiced by the Dead and a real-world example of that concept in action today,” according to the release. Specific topics include:

  • Rethink traditional industry assumptions. Rather than focus on record albums as a primary revenue source (with touring to support album sales), the Dead created a business model focused on touring.
  • Turn your customers into evangelists. Unlike nearly every other band, the Grateful Dead not only encouraged concertgoers to record their live shows, they actually established “taper sections” where fans’ equipment could be set up for the best sound quality. The broad exposure led to millions of new fans and sold tickets to the live shows.
  • Bypass accepted channels and go direct. The Grateful Dead created a mailing list in the early 1970s where they announced tours to fans first. Later, they established their own ticketing office, providing the most loyal fans with the best seats in the house.
  • Build a huge, loyal following. The Grateful Dead let their audience define the Grateful Dead experience. Concerts were a happening, a destination where all 20,000 or more audience members were actually part of the experience.

I never thought about the Grateful Dead as a social media case study before, but it makes sense. Can’t wait to read the book! Now if I can only find my old T-shirt …