Using Data To Make Your Next Blockbuster


The Netflix Conundrum

What’s the greatest film of all time? Schindler’s List? Full Metal Jacket? Citizen Kane? Does it depend on what genre we’re talking about?

It’s not hard to make a ‘Greatest of All Time’ list, but that doesn’t mean you’d choose to spend every Friday night watching a sobering portrayal of Second World War over a light-hearted romance comedy.

Why is that?

Oscar films are pet projects that win awards and please critics. They’re not scalable or nearly as profitable as summer blockbuster hits. When friends, families, and people dating watch a movie, their goals and expectations are preset. They likely want to laugh, maybe cry (happy tears), to be wowed by graphics, to be momentarily worried about the well being of the characters in the story, and to be happy when things work out in the end.

It’s a measurable formula that makes for an enjoyable movie-watching experience.

The Netflix Formula

According to Netflix, Adam Sandler’s movies, “consistently rank among the most viewed by its members in the US and across its global territories from Brazil to the UK.” With a pool of 81 million subscribers, the audience has validated their data with their credit cards and their time.

It’s this data that lead Netflix to whip out their checkbooks and offer Sandler a four film contract in 2014. Not because he’s the greatest filmmaker or because he’ll likely be nominated for any major awards anytime soon. It’s simply because, on average, more people will choose to consume a light-hearted Sandler flick than a heavy, artful, and thought-provoking piece of cinematic genius.

This is not a debate over quality versus quantity, it’s about giving people content they want to consume on a regular basis.

Making Your Formula

You can apply this logic to any initiative. Whether you’re selling kitchenware or pet products, the data used to create a strategy has to be rooted in your audience’s experience, their expectations, and the grounds on which they interact with your brand.

Here are 4 steps to create your own summer blockbuster formula:

1. Identify Your Target Audience

To make a summer blockbuster, you need to know your audience, your message, what type of content you’re using, and how the audience can engage – and then be able to articulate the goal in one sentence. If you can’t do this, go back to the drawing board and figure it out before spending money. There’s obviously space for iteration based on results, but without a goal to benchmark results against, you’re firing arrows into the night.

Do you want to entertain, educate, or convert customers? Start by knowing what you want to accomplish, and what content your audience wants to consume. From there, you can reverse engineer the process and resources to accomplish it.

That’s why knife companies will slice cans in half and chop watermelons in half, rather than asking a scientist to explain how the blade was forged.

2. Interrogate your data. Don’t look for the ‘best’, look for the opportunity.

When creating a strategy, to look at keywords and automatically target those with the most volume is to miss opportunities, or to ignore them outright. The biggest opportunities are rarely, if ever, situated along the most obvious pathway to success. Business and marketing have a game-like quality that you need to think laterally to unlock. There are no cheat codes, but there are plenty of exploits. Some may find them by mistake, but the good ones require you to look at the game from a different angle.

Listen to what your customers are saying and watch how they interact. To be able to collect, extrapolate, and integrate any useable data into a strategy, you’ve got to look at what type of content your people want to consume.

“we pick the shows by intuitive, data- driven hunches. The good example is our production House of Cards. David Fincher is directing. Beau Willimon is the showrunner. Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright are starring in it. It’s based on a piece of intellectual property that we know very well… If the show is executed well, we know how many people will watch it.”

– Ted Sarandos, Chief Content  Officer, Netflix (full interview here)

3. Be Honest With Yourself

There’s a balance between being innovative, and continuing to replicate what works. All companies want to stake claims to being innovative, but at what cost?

ROI on improving existing initiatives will exponentially outperform new initiatives because they are built on past successes and failures, and an existing knowledge base. Most importantly, they can be reproduced quickly.

It all starts with looking in the mirror and measuring your pride. It can be more or less difficult to do this depending on the culture of your company, but you will be more successful in the long run if you are honest with yourself on a consistent basis.

4. Be Willing To Fail Fast

You don’t have to settle for shooting a single shot with a bow and arrow – setting a target and hoping it hits the mark. You can adjust in real-time. More data doesn’t always help, and doesn’t always explain why you missed the mark, but it will always tell the truth. Performance metrics allow you to identify when a course change is necessary. The wait-and-see approach will leave you seeing failure more than success. By planning to fail quickly, and having the guts to reset, you will find more success and opportunities than those rare times when you trusted your gut.