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Marketing lessons from Netflix’s Making a Murderer

February 1 2016

Liz Smith

Unless you live under a rock…in the middle of nowhere…you’ve probably heard about (if not binge-watched) the hit Netflix series Making a Murderer.

The 10-part documentary follows the story of Steven Avery, a man from Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, who was wrongly imprisoned 18 years for a sexual assault he didn’t commit. Soon after his release, he was accused of murdering another woman, Teresa Halbach. The Making a Murderer series documents the story of this twisted case.

But what’s just as riveting as Avery’s case is the massive success Making a Murderer saw seemingly overnight. You couldn’t walk through the office, go on social media, or read the news without hearing something about it. While Netflix does not release viewership numbers, Forbes called Making a Murderer Netflix’s “most significant show ever.”1

All marketers want a hit on their hands – their own version of Making a Murderer. So what can we learn from the smash show?

CONTENT IS KING

There’s an important thing to always remember as marketers: good content rules. Without it, nothing else matters. And there were two forces at play with Making a Murderer. First, the story was incredibly captivating. Even without a show, the case would leave you on the edge of your seat.

Second, the story was extremely well crafted. Filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos didn’t just “get lucky” with a great story. They dedicated their life to it, moving to Manitowoc County and spending 10 years documenting Avery’s case. Their commitment showed. There is so much footage, so many interviews, and so many conversations in Making a Murderer that there is no narrator throughout the entire series. It’s all told through the people closest to the case.

Remember to always keep your eye on the prize: amazing content. As marketers it’s easy to jump ahead to how you’ll promote it, but a stellar product is the root of all sales.

THE POWER OF PEER RECOMMENDATIONS

Making a Murderer won in a major way with earned media. People were so gripped by the show that they talked about it with anyone who would listen. According to Nielsen, more than 90 percent of consumers believe recommendations from friends and family over all forms of advertising. And nearly 65 percent of marketers identify word-of-mouth (WOM) as THE most effective form of marketing.2

Making a Murderer quickly proved WOM’s effectiveness – showing that if you produce a great product that inspires people to rave about it (Making a Murderer has a 97 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes3), you’re golden.
In the same vein as WOM, earned social media recommendations go a long way. Peer influence is a key factor for millennials, with nearly 70 percent saying they are influenced by their friends’ social media posts.4

Because Making a Murderer is so controversial, people had a lot to say about it on social. From letting others know they are watching the series to offering opinions on the people, events, and Avery’s innocence, there was tons of chatter. Just a few weeks after the show debuted, #MakingAMurderer was in the 70th percentile of the more than 52 million hashtags in use.5

Celebrities helped too, with heavy hitters like Gigi Hadid, Kim Kardashian West, and more commenting on the show. Combined, their posts reached millions of followers, and acted as celebrity endorsements that brands normally would have to pay big bucks for (which would be less authentic and less effective).

So how can you generate this same kind of buzz? Create something that spurs engagement and sharing. Give people a reason to share because there’s something in it for them and their followers. In the case of Making a Murderer, people could be in on the conversation and recommend something REALLY entertaining to their friends.

STRATEGIC TIMING

Netflix has become synonymous with binge-watching (a.k.a. watching many episodes of one show in one sitting), and has used the activity to its advantage.

Making a Murderer was no doubt strategically released on December 19, right before people headed home to hole up for the holiday break. Cold weather, time to relax, and the next episode just a click away made for the perfect binge-watching, buzz-building scenario.

The takeaway here is that the right timing is essential for a successful release, no matter what your product is. Knowing what’s happening in the world, in your industry, and in your product space will help you craft an effective release strategy. It’s interesting to think about: would Making a Murderer be such a smash if it were released after holiday break or during the summer?

QUALITY PRODUCT + STRATEGY = SUCCESS

Similar to the expression, “do what you love and money will follow,” the main marketing lesson from Making a Murderer is to focus on creating a great product and success will follow. Without an interesting story and well-crafted documentary, Making a Murderer wouldn’t be what it is today. Add a sound strategy, and you’re sure to succeed.

(Now if you haven’t watched the show yet, go now ☺)