How House of Cards Changed Content Consumption

The first rule of content marketing: get the audience to digest it all and react. That’s exactly what Netflix’s House of Cards accomplished, but in a way that changed content consumption as a whole. In fact, half a million people devoured thirteen hours’ worth of entertainment during Valentine’s Day weekend. That statistic speaks volumes about how various audiences want content delivered (including yours).

While it’s not uncommon for someone to enjoy a little Saturday and Sunday downtime, it’s certainly unusual for almost any audience to dedicate such a sizable number of hours to one story.  At the same time, this model proves that binge content consumption is more than just a flash in the pan. Instead, this paradigm shifts the landscape of how audiences engage with products.

And it’s especially important for marketers to note what this trend means. Instantly available and original content can build a dedicated following that devours your material quickly, and stays hungry for more. 500,000 people could have spent that weekend doing any number of things: going to the park, building snowmen, or getting ahead on the next week’s workload.

Instead, a huge chunk of the House of Cards audience spent 780 minutes watching Kevin Spacey, as Frank Underwood, destroy his various opponents. Whether or not Netflix created the new content consumption trend is up in the air. Binging might have been the audience’s preference to begin with, but the online streaming service made the content instantly and completely available for the first time.

As a result, the audience ate it up. 

Because Netflix listened to their customer’s preferences, the company adapted to the behavior. In other words, subscribers wanted it all right then and there, and that’s exactly what they received. In this way, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings altered the way he “nurtures” customers. For marketers, it’s tricky to mirror this technique, but there’s a way to adapt the model.

Netflix implemented three techniques to create an unparalleled level of audience engagement, and here they are.

Content Consumption: Instant and Complete Access

(Big mistake revealed in the next three paragraphs!)

For Internet-based businesses, email is the dominant form of marketing communication. Announcements, sales, freebies — most of customer conversations happen in the inbox.

So if all-at-once content consumption is now the dominant model, how do you adapt when email marketing is your chief communication tool? First of all, don’t make one huge mistake.

Most of us know it’s unwise to send email blasts to our marketing lists. With too much communication comes low visibility, lack of engagement, and unsubscribes. But there’s a difference between email and content marketing.

Whether you put out a series of eBooks, or a multisession virtual course, people want all the content made immediately available. And that’s what you can give them.

In the case of House of Cards, producers merely announced the next chapters via social media, television commercials, and email. Once all that content was ready for viewing, that’s when the audience got lost in an entertainment bender.

Call it customer nurturing 2.0, but with the intelligent sequencing and full availability, Netflix didn’t bombard their customers with too much communication.

But this success recipe goes one step further. Instant access is only half of what people want. Your audience will also want complete access that gives them everything at once.

Complete access is code for content that takes the audience from one place to another. At the end of the line, the content must finish its mission, whatever that might be.

For example, let’s pretend you’ve created a course on how to flip real estate. Your complete content should take buyers from locating fixer-uppers all the way to making profits from the remodel. Of course, you would need to include everything in between.

With complete access content, the whole spectrum of pain points and desires needs to be covered. (More important info on the anatomy of complete access content in Part 3.)

Related: 3 Copywriting Lessons from Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black

React to Market Demands: Your Market Demands

Netflix knew beyond doubt that subscribers wanted the whole shebang all at once. In reacting to their demands, the company honored that wish by making everything available at once.

The complete access form of content distribution gives rise to one important question. How do you deliver the goods based on your own audience’s preferences?

Even though the new content consumption model is based on devouring one segment after another, the fact remains that every audience has different preferences.

If you work with busy entrepreneurs, hours upon hours of content might not be the method that works. However, even if your material is shorter, it doesn’t mean it’s not complete. As long as it gets the audience where they want to be, they’ll eat up your deliverables quickly.

The most effective method to determining the length of your content is to gather some data. It doesn’t have to be painstaking or time-consuming.

Merely take a look at a few clients’ Facebook feeds to see what they’re up to. See what they’re sharing on Twitter. Or you can even send a short survey that asks how many hours they spend working per week.

With that data collection compass in your hand, you’ll be able to adapt to the demands of your audience.

Related: Netflix’s Data Collection Triumph

Keep the Audience Excited: The Key to Complete Access Content Success

Complete access content is more than making everything available at once.

(Ahem, that’s incredibly important for you to know.) With fully available content, audience engagement is the make-or-break factor.

In the Netflix strategy, House of Cards used a full-circle storytelling technique. In other words, each chapter featured a conflict, escalation, and resolution, with concentration on one subject.

In other words, all questions got answered within one segment. No cliffhangers. That method may sound counterintuitive at first, but it’s actually quite brilliant. The writers allowed the audience to stop watching by leaving them completely satisfied.

The narrative flow went uninterrupted. Every episode had a point, and resolved every issue.

So why did the audience keep pushing the “play next episode” button?

Engagement. Engagement. Engagement.

At the end of the day, successful content consumption hinges on whether or not you tap into the psychology of your audience. If you take them from one place to another, all the while giving the audience what they need in each segment, you stand on solid ground.

My advice: center each module, session, or chapter on one specific pain point, skill, or desire. But make each section one piece of the entire package.

If the first rule of content marketing is to get the audience to consume, the second and more important rule is to deliver what they want. That’s what Netflix did, and that’s what your business can do, too.

For content marketing your audience will sink their teeth into, check out our copywriting services!

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