A Hybrid Call to Action

15 May

Netflix successfully blends word-of-mouth, mail and online in one offer

In 1938, when Orson Welles adapted H.G. Wells’ novel, “The War of the Worlds,” for radio, it sounded like a real-time news broadcast. Millions of listeners went door-to-door notifying their neighbors of the “invasion,” causing a panic.

The influence that peers had on one another during Welles’ broadcast is an early predecessor to the word-of-mouth campaigns marketers use today.

Netflix, the world’s largest online movie rental service, has built word-of-mouth into its direct marketing campaigns using a tell-a-friend direct mail offer. The offer must travel from the Netflix member’s mailbox, into a friend’s hands and then finally push that friend online in order to close the loop. It is a combined multichannel and word-of-mouth effort at play.

In March, Netflix mailed the tell-a-friend offer to current customers in a 4-3⁄4˝ x 7˝ three-paneled self-mailer. “The tell-a-friend campaign … that’s an extension of the members evangelizing the service themselves; we’re facilitating that evangelism,” says Steve Swasey, VP of corporate communications at the company’s Los Gatos, Calif., headquarters (Archive code #127-692231-0805E).

To get members to open the piece, copy on the back of the outer panel announces, “You Get Free Movies When Your Friends Try Netflix.” Inside the postcard are four spot-glued “Free Month Trial” cards, each with a URL and unique priority code for redeeming the offer. For each trial card activated by a friend, a member receives one extra DVD in her stream of rentals.

Ease of use makes the offer work, as the cards are passed along from the direct mail recipient to a network of friends and family. “The wallet card … it’s designed so people can put it in their pocket, or put it in their purse and when it comes up in conversation, say, ‘Oh well here it is,’” Swasey illustrates. After distributing the card, the burden lies with the Netflix member, who may follow up with an encouraging call or e-mail to his card-holding friends to persuade them to activate the free trial offer, so the member can receive free movies.

Swasey believes that Netflix is today’s new “anchor mail”—an anticipated mailing which gets prospects out to check their mailboxes daily. “We’re a [mail] piece that people look forward to running out to their mailbox and getting,” Swasey remarks.

To align its direct mail marketing with the excitement members feel upon receiving their rentals, the tell-a-friend self-mailer is designed to resemble the red-and-white rental envelope. “It’s all consistency … we want to be the place you go for movie enjoyment made easy—just a great place connecting you with movies you love. So everything has to look the same, and when you see the red mailer, that’s an iconic piece of mail,” Swasey shares.

Unique priority codes on each trial card make this mailing completely trackable. Combining direct mail results with other internal research, Netflix reinforces the success of this marketing program. “We always poll Netflix members randomly about their satisfaction. We ask them what’s the likelihood that they will recommend Netflix to a friend, and more than 95 percent of our members tell us they recommend Netflix to friends,” Swasey reveals.

Netflix also employs traditional A/B tests to continually improve its efforts. “The beauty of Netflix is we can do a test cell of tens or hundreds of thousands of members overnight, because we’re an internet company, and we have all of that data. We have 8.2 million members, so we have hundreds of tests … It is a metrics-driven company, and it’s all done on the back of really sophisticated A/B testing,” Swasey describes.

While the results remain confidential, Swasey says the campaign is successful and will continue to mail. “We’re not doing anything at Netflix that isn’t returning a good ROI, retention of membership or growth of membership for us,” he concludes.

(Originally published in Inside Direct Mail, August 2008)

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