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What Marketers Can Learn from Netflix’s Bandersnatch

By Randy Frisch

Two warnings on this post. First, if you haven’t seen Bandersnatch and you’re a marketer, do it (I’ll do my best to avoid any real spoilers in this post). Second, as a marketer, I tend to search for the marketing lesson in just about everything.

For those who haven’t watched Bandersnatch or think it’s some sort of new Band-Aid or chocolate bar, let me fill you in quickly. Earlier this year, Netflix released a new installment in its Black Mirror franchise, and this one is interactive. Connecting that word interactive with my reference to marketing, you might already see where this is going. The term interactive is likely one of many buzzwords among your marketing team as we look for ways to make content experiences more engaging. We may struggle to figure this out day-to-day, but Netflix nails it with Bandersnatch. It is truly a different viewing experience; as the audience, you get to determine what will happen next. The film embodies the childhood format of controlling the path in a Choose Your Own Adventure book (remember those?!).

I won’t ruin the story, although to be honest, the plot is less impressive than the interactive element. But I’ll give you an example of a choice the film presents us early on to warm us up to this new way of experiencing content. The main character, Stefan Butler, is given a choice by his dad for breakfast: Sugar Puffs or Frosties. In this moment, the screen freezes and an overlay pops up that displays our options. If we choose Sugar Puffs, so does Stefan, and vice versa. I promise you, this choice doesn’t really impact the movie, but in the moment after I selected Frosties, I started to wonder what would have happened if I had chosen differently.

As the film continues, the choices become more interesting and, to warn you, a bit too gruesome at times for my liking. Although the genre wasn’t something I’d typically watch, I was hooked. Why? Because I felt like I was in control. I was discovering content in a manner that felt tailored to my interests and preferences. It was rewarding. As the movie continued, more choices started to feel more important and I started to feel powerful. I’ll come back to some interesting elements in the movie, but first…

What Does This Have to Do with Marketing?

Why was it that, as kids, Choose Your Own Adventure books never made it far beyond the book? Well, back then our Betamax or VHS player (you can Google “Betamax” if you were born after 1987) was impressive if it could record. So as marketers, other than telling compelling stories, we couldn’t rely on video or other forms of content to adapt. But with many recent technological advancements of our phones, smart TVs, and the web, so much more has become possible.

As these advancements make their way into our consumer lives, it’s only natural for buyers to start to expect similar experiences in every aspect of what they do. Netflix first destroyed Blockbuster, and next to fall is likely—if not already—cable television. Spotify challenged Apple’s previous reign over the brick-and-mortar music store by delivering recommended playlists based on what we listened to last. Many of us stand back and say: “That’s a consumer product; marketing can’t be that dynamic!” Why not? In fact, I would argue that consumers are starting to expect choice and personalization more than ever, whether it’s a retail purchase or a B2B content path.

Ensuring Every Path Has a Story

Back to Bandersnatch. As mentioned, the cereal choice is just the first of many you’ll make. Most choices have a unique twist that keeps the story going, but at one point, I must have chosen a path the director thought was boring. After I made my selection, I hit a brick wall. Well, not an actual wall, but the movie just ended—it felt premature and I was disappointed. The movie gave me another choice though: Do you want to end now, or do you want to go back and try a different path?

This brought me back to marketing and how we deliver content. It reminded me of all the times we link someone to a great asset. We have them hooked, and then, well, they hit a brick wall. We don’t allow them to continue down a path of engagement and discovery. Yes, we hope like in the movie they will jump back a few steps to our home page, resource page, or the email we just sent, looking for another link, but how often do they actually get there without that squirrel moment of distraction that sends them down a different path?

Most of the choices in Bandersnatch lead you down one of two intriguing directions where another scene—or more content, if you will—awaits. I’m not sure if the team just didn’t like the way some of the paths ended, or if they wanted us to appreciate the importance of a meaningful next step.

As a marketer, it reinforced to me how essential it is that no asset we deliver leads to a dead end. I wrote a post on this back in 2016. But now in 2019, this is more important than ever. When we deliver an online ad and someone clicks through to a content asset, we shouldn’t high-five. Okay, we can pat ourselves on the back, but the real success is when we line someone up to continue to purchase from us. That is when it’s time to high-five, pour some champagne, or do whatever it is your marketing team does to celebrate success.

The example above is just one of many of how we link to content today. Our marketing emails link to content, our social posts take us to content, and even our sales reps are embedding content in their follow-ups. As you watch Bandersnatch, consider whether you are enticing your audience with a couple of choices that get them to click “next.”

As I said, the plot wasn’t for me so I’m not going to lie to you and say I watched 10 different versions of the movie. But I was curious, so I searched and found the following flow chart of Bandersnatch’s different paths (warning: spoiler alert here if you dig in).

I laughed at the similarity between this movie plot and our marketing automation canvases. Both look complicated to the untrained eye, but it’s really simple “if this, then that” logic. Most of us marketers have trained ourselves to anticipate what to do next when it comes to sending emails, but how many of us do the same with our blogs, videos, and white papers? We often simply link to a page filled with content sorted by format, or worse, chronological dates. We are living in a world where our audience expects us to keep them at the edge of their seats, like Bandersnatch did. Are you living up to those expectations? Click through your content and see if you’re hooked to go past the first or second post. IDG reports that buyers need an average of seven assets before they’re ready to buy. Why wait to send seven emails when we can create a more engaging path and accelerate our buyer’s journey? Let’s take a cue from Bandersnatch and start creating even more personalized content experiences.

Looking to do content marketing with more of a spark? You’ll want to lay out a strong strategy and have the right KPIs mapped out to measure your success. Find out how to “Do More with Content Marketing.”

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