Netflix Lessons on Big Data

Everybody loves Netflix. There’s nothing more gratifying to your inner-FOGO (fear of going out) than curling up in your couch and watching your favourite flicks. But the fascinating fact we all tend to forget is just how much science backs those five little yellow stars that decide your next date night movie or long-weekend binge session.

Netflix has so much to teach us about big data. After losing ourselves in a rabbit hole of analytics articles, we’ve compiled five essential lessons we can learn from our favourite streaming site:

1) Unique Fan Identities are Essential

We’ve all had that infuriating experience of logging onto Netflix only to discover that your roommate, little sister or boyfriend had obviously used your account, completely throwing off your recommendations. No - I don’t want to watch Spring Breakers, My Little Pony or Die Hard 7: Extra Big Explosions. Get me back to Suits and Mad Men - stat!

Ensuring that every fan (re: user) has a unique identity is an essential part of personalizing content. There’s a reason Netflix divides your account into sub-accounts for each watcher - so they know exactly who’s watching what and can serve up the most relevant content.

2) Every Interaction Must Be Tracked

You know when you’re binge watching House of Cards and Netflix suddenly asks you “are you still there?”. This isn’t Michelle Obama’s sneaky attempt at reducing obesity by shaming you for watching eight episodes straight. This is Netflix making sure you’re still watching and didn’t move onto the “chill” portion of your evening.

Netflix tracks what you watch, when you watch it and how long you watch it. They’re even tracking every time you press pause. This isn’t just to be creepy - it’s all so they can cater their programming (current and future) to better suit your needs.

Whether your fans are entering a contest, visiting your website or attending your event - the more interactions with fans you can track, the better. Every digital transaction leaves a bit of data. If you can pick these up and piece them into a perfect picture of your fans, you’ll be able to craft seamlessly personalized experiences.

3) Personalized Products Benefit Everyone

As much as we all groan about how Facebook’s listening to everything we say; we also love when they serve up the perfect post for our current conversation. The same theory goes for Netflix.

Netflix carries literally thousands of titles. If you think it’s hard to decide on your date night flick now - you can just imagine how hard it would be if you had to sift through thousands of obscure dark anime films before you finally found the Liam Neeson action flick you didn’t know you were after.

The more Netflix knows about you, the more relevant titles they can serve to you when you first log in. And the more relevant your home screen is, the more Netflix you’re going to watch. It’s a win-win for you as a consumer and Netflix as a company desperately trying to make its money back now that it’s secured its massive market share.

Whether you’re selling movies or widgets - the more personalized you can make the very first thing your fan sees on their News Feed from you, the more likely they’ll be to buy it.

4) Craft Your Own Content (Don’t Just Repost)

Obviously Netflix doesn’t have the financial and human capacity to make every one of their thousands of films in-house. They have to rely on external producers to fuel the “illusion of choice” that keeps you paying your $8.99 a month (“that’s like 0.00001 cents per movie! So cheap!” ... too bad you only actually watch about 50 per year)

However - if you look at the films that consistently slay everyone’s Sundays, they’re Netflix Originals. This is because they’re using the mountains of data they’ve collected about their fan base to craft perfectly personalized movies just for their audience.

Next time you’re developing a product or marketing campaign, don’t rely on whatever your intern or your CMO thinks is “the big hip thing”. Look to your data. Hand-pick your creative, concept and delivery based on the data you’ve collected from past campaigns and sales.

Yes - you’ll have to retweet the occasional article from Techvibes to keep your Buffer full - but the more original content you can create, the better off you’ll be.

5) Data-Backed Decisions are Worth the Risk

When Netflix agreed to invest 100 million dollars into House of Cards, they relied on more than Spacey’s handsome face to seal the deal.

In order to stand out in any saturated market, you must take risks. But that doesn’t mean you can be stupid and throw millions of marketing dollars towards your latest “hunch”. When your decisions are backed with data, you can make calculated risks that have a much higher success rate than even the “safest” intuitive decisions.

So next time you’re cracking a beer or a bottle of wine after work before your Narcos marathon, give a cheers to Netflix for teaching us all how to retarget customers without being a creep.

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