Binge Watching Girl
Marketing Marketing Technology

What the Science of Binge Watching Can Teach Content Marketers

7 Minute Read

I did something this past weekend I’ve never done before: I binge watched an entire season of a show on Netflix in one sitting. Yes, it was Stranger Things; yes, I know it’s only eight episodes; and yes, I know I’m a year late to the party. But better late than never, and once I started, I couldn’t stop.

After my eight-hour binge (during which, I’m embarrassed to admit, I only walked away from my TV twice: to get the food from the delivery man, and then to make food a few hours later), I reflected on my (shameful) day, and why I was able to stay engaged with the show for so long.

Netflix’s user experience makes it so easy to fall into the deep spiral of the binge watching universe. With all the other distractions and content around us, how can we get our audience to spiral down into our content universe and binge?

Lessons in UX from Netflix

As consumers, we expect a seamless user experience on every platform we use, and we make decisions to stay or leave a site in just a few seconds. A strategic design that allows users to continue to consume content instead of leaving your site after one visit is key to earning trust and establishing a loyal consumer base.

Netflix, with nearly 100 million loyal subscribers, is the example that we should look to in order to learn from their design. Through the flow of the site, their consistency, and their in-depth knowledge of the user, they allow us to binge consume content at an incredible rate.

A woman watches videos on her laptop

Image attribution: Steinar Engeland

Go with the Flow

In content marketing, our goal is to hook our audiences through content and keep them engaged with us. Netflix has accomplished this by making the flow of the next content intake easy. They do this in two ways: by the viewer manually pressing the “Next Episode” button, or by automatically starting the next episode.

Manually pressing the “Next Episode” button allows the viewer to opt in to the next episode, meaning they are choosing to stay engaged with the show. This would be similar to clicking on an article on your favorite site to read more follow-up information. But most people—myself included—are less likely to click next to consume more content. Netflix solved this problem by incorporating the second option of automatically starting the episode.

Netflix gives the audience 15 seconds to decide if they’re ready for the next episode. If you don’t take any action during this time, it makes the choice for you. Nancy Harhut, chief creative officer of Nancy Harhut & Associates, explained this concept in her session, “7 Behavior Hacks that Increase Engagement and Response,” at the recent Marketo Roadshow in Boston. She calls this hack “choice architecture,” meaning that the way things are presented influences the way we respond. The structure of Netflix’s user experience gives us all the more reason to turn a single episode into a binge watching session.

Whenever Netflix asks “Are you still watching?” does anyone actually say no? Make sure your audience always answers yes by giving them the ability to continue to consume content in an effortless way. Marketers can do this by making sure the next piece of content relates to the previous one and gives the audience a seamless way to view it. Whether this is having the next content start automatically for a video, or have the following piece of written content below it, follow Netflix’s strategy and give them no choice but to keep engaging with your content.

“Anywhere You Want It, That’s the Way You Need It”

You may have a hard time remembering what Netflix was like prior to their 2013 redesign. Before the update, each platform looked different, making it difficult for audiences to navigate each interface. Shows you were watching on the computer might not appear in the same place on your phone. The inconsistency of the design turned off and frustrated audience members.

The updated interface that we’ve grown familiar with makes it easy for us to navigate through all platforms, whether that be on a TV, our phones, or our computers. The new update changed all platforms at the same time, allowing users to get comfortable with all the changes at once. The shows we were watching on each platform are now easily available on different devices and will pick up exactly where you left off: in the middle of an episode, or ready to watch the next one in the series.

Netflix’s ability to create a seamless, consistent platform on all devices makes it easy for audiences to consume content. Marketers should follow in their footsteps by making all their content accessible, responsive, and consistent on all channels, by creating responsive emails and websites, and the ability to stream videos at ease. No matter what medium your audience uses to view your content, make sure it’s consistent. Users are five times more likely to leave a site that isn’t responsive; make sure yours isn’t one of them.


Personalized Content

They say that some people know you better than you know yourself. For many of us, that “someone” is Netflix. Netflix broke new ground with their “Recommended For You” section of the site, or in marketing terms, their content personalization.

Based on previously watched shows and movies, they are able to give their audiences recommended shows and movies based on each user’s likes. More often than not, they are correct in choosing shows that stand out. Because I had watched Stranger Things, they are now recommending to me The OA (watched), Breaking Bad (watched), and Ozark (on my list). With such an immense library of content to choose from, it’s unbelievable that their recommendations are so accurate.

Their way of organizing their recommended content is a strategy all marketers should take note of. They organize recommendations into personalized rows, each row powered by different algorithms using what they know about you as a viewer and other factors they have determined, according to Business Insider:

  • “Continue Watching” predicts how likely you are to return to shows and looks at factors such as time passed since the last viewing, points of abandonment, and watching patterns since the last viewing.
  • “Popular on Netflix” and “Trending Now” consider both your interests and what is popular.
  • “Top Picks” are based entirely on your interests.
  • Genre rows are based on your interests in a certain category.
  • “Because You Watched/Liked” are based on familiarity to something you’ve interacted with in the past and what you like in general.

One of my favorite parts of Netflix is their individual personas on the homepage. There are four of us who use one Netflix account (thanks, Dad!), and I would get so frustrated if we were watching the same show but on different episodes. I would lose my spot and not remember where I had left off. Their individual user personas make the content even more personalized without screwing up other people’s recommended content. I can continue to watch House of Cards at my own pace, and my obsession with rewatching Friends won’t appear on anyone else’s screen.

Netflix’s goal is to get you to consume as much content as possible through their specialized, intricate, and personalized content. For me, and I’m sure for many others, they achieve their goal pretty often.

Binge-Worthy Content for Marketers

Netflix’s user experience and their ability to create a seamless platform that allows users of all interests to consume content at great capacity is something we all as marketers should learn from. As content creators, we may struggle with ways to reach our audiences, keep them engaged, and keep them coming back. Taking notes from Netflix, we can use the same strategies to create binge-worthy content to build loyal audiences. The next time you evaluate your site, ask yourself:

  • Does my site allow users to flow easily through to read and view more content?
  • If I were visiting my site, would I click more than one link?
  • Is my site responsive and consistent on all channels?

In other words, ask “Is this what Netflix would do?”

I’ll bet you my delivery order that when the second season of Stranger Things comes out tomorrow, I’m sure I’ll fall into the binge universe again and finish the season in one sitting.

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Featured image attribution: Jiří Wagner

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Dara Cohen is a Demand Generation Specialist at Skyword. She graduated from UMass Amherst in 2015 where she studied Sociology and English. Dara enjoys exploring the streets (and eats) of Boston, spending time with family and friends, and is looking forward to the day when she can go back to Barcelona, her favorite city.

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