Dear streaming service guys,
Look, I’ll be honest. I didn’t think I needed another over-the-top streaming service in my life. Like everyone else I know, I forgot my own mother’s phone number years ago, but I can still tap out my Netflix password in Morse Code with one hand tied behind my back. The Amazon Prime Video button on my remote is so worn down, I risk electrocution every time I want to watch ‘The Boys’. I can’t name all the state capitals or list every president of the USA, but I can tell you the best show airing right now on Peacock, Apple TV+, HBO Max, Paramount+, Shudder, CuriosityStream or discovery+ (it’s ‘Pig Royalty’, by the way – have you seen ‘Pig Royalty’?).
Obviously, I don’t have Tencent or Youku – my school offered Latin but not Chinese (thanks, forward-thinking curriculum guys) – but you get the idea: if I had to choose between streaming media and full control of my faculties, I’d start looking into whether La-Z-Boy make a recliner with a built-in commode.
Maybe that’s why, last year, I had an enough-is-enough epiphany when I realized I’d run out of space for any more streaming apps on my phone’s home screen. Time to cut back, I figured. Time to cut the cord that’s cutting the cord.
So you can imagine my reticence when my friends started telling me about Disney+. ‘It’s got all the Marvel movies,” they said. “And my Blu-ray collection doesn’t?” I’d snark back, nose so high in the air I could smell the sun. “‘Star Wars’?” Got it. “‘The Simpsons’?” Don’t want it. “Taylor Swift unplugged?” From life-support? Hard pass.
But then, what do you know? Disney got me – and millions of other new subscribers – with ‘The Mandalorian’. And ‘Hamilton’. And ‘WandaVision’. And – oh my god – there’s a ‘Monsters Inc.’ show now?! But none of that happened because of their Facebook ads or their YouTube pre-rolls or the pep rallies they held at Disney Stores. It happened because my friends kept talking about how they were enjoying something amazing, but I kept missing out.
And that’s the power of referral. After 10 years working at Buyapowa – the leading global refer-a-friend platform – I’m nearly as obsessed about referral as I am about TV and movies. And I noticed that, despite the way my friends got me to subscribe to Disney+, the House of Mouse didn’t have a referral program in place to track, amplify and scale that organic word of mouth. And nor do most streaming services – which is such a wasted opportunity it’s begging, ‘Dexter’-like, for another tilt at glory.
So I started dreaming, dancing ‘Fantasia’-style with the broomsticks in my head (or baserunning with the batters in my head, if you’re more of an ESPN+ kinda guy), and I came up with this: the coolest refer-a-friend program ideas for the world’s coolest streaming services. And I thought I’d share them with you, today: the thousands of hard-working customer acquisition execs who have your hearts set on that corner office with the primo view of the park.
Referral works best when you capture the passion of existing customers at the exact moment of their peak engagement. For most brands, that’s usually right after they transact, but it’s different with you streaming service people. You’ve got the kind of data those other brands dream of. In fact, you’ve got more than that. You’ve got a direct line straight into people’s souls because you know that, when Greg in Cincinnati sees the wrong guy take possession of Cap’s shield at the end of the ‘Falcon And The Winter Soldier’ pilot, then immediately binges onto episode 2, Greg is hooked and wants to share his new obsession with as many friends as possible. You know that, because Carla watched every single episode of ‘The Great’ the day they dropped, she’s gonna get all her BFFs on board before S2 hits Hulu on November 19 (#Huzzah).
So the things you can do with a refer-a-friend program are absolutely crazy. You can get subscribers to refer their loved ones not just to your service as one, big, amorphous whole but to the specific content they’ve viewed, downloaded or added to their watchlist: (“Who’s up for chatting ‘Queen Of The Universe’ all day long and all night strong on December 2? Make sure you’re subbed up to Paramount+, y’all!”). You can trigger those referrals at the end of a jaw-dropping moment, or a week before a long-awaited premiere. You can get subscribers to share their favourite series, movies, stars, directors, showrunners – whatever – and you can acquire new customers each and every time they do it.
Want to push the boat out a bit? You can even produce custom videos for referrers to share: “Hi, this is Jason Sudeikis. Did you know that I was born with absolutely no sense of smell? No? Well did you know your friend loves my show, ‘Ted Lasso’ on Apple TV+? Well, there you go: we’re learning some stuff today.”
So, so, so powerful.
In fact, there’s no end to what you can do with referral if you wanted to. You could offer exclusive private viewing parties for referrers and all the friends they get on board. You could offer sneak-peak advance screenings for any subscriber who introduces over 100 friends. Instead of the usual money-off savings that everyone else offers, you could reward referrals with merch from people’s favourite shows and movies, or experiential rewards for your most passionate and successful advocates, spinning a money-making opportunity into a PR dream (“Dream comes true for America’s biggest ‘Girls5Eva’ fan as she’s serenaded by the all-star cast”).
That’s barely scratching the surface of what’s possible with referral but, if it’s starting to scratch your itch, then we should definitely talk. Have your people call my people and, before you know it, we’ll get your subscribers calling their friends. Or, as Tim Gunn from Amazon’s “Making The Cut” might put it, we’ll “Make it work”.