What Netflix Can Teach Us

7 tips for moving from a challenger brand to a market leader.
Illustration by Tony Healey
Julia Carcamo is president and chief brand strategist at J Carcamo & Associates, specializing in brand and marketing strategy. She is also the co-founder of espNOLA, a Hispanic marketing and engagement agency.


Let’s all get comfortable in the “wayback” machine and go back to a time when we didn’t “Netflix and chill,” to when we used to jump in the car and drive to get our hands on the hottest movie to hit the Blockbuster shelf. Remember that place?

While Blockbuster scoffed at the idea that people would sit around and wait to get their movies in the mail, Netflix continued to focus on their vision of being the best resource for home movie entertainment. Today, Netflix has put most of those video rental locations out of business and expanded to become one of the most prolific producers of original programming.

Look closely at the company and you’ll discover that, although the underdog for years, Netflix set out to, and continues to operate with the confidence of a market leader. It’s a lesson all businesses can learn from.

Regardless of your position in the market today, you can adopt a challenger brand strategy by focusing on your business and operating with a challenger mindset. Author and marketer Adam Morgan mapped out how challenger brands can compete with the first-place brands in his 2011 book Eating the Big Fish and then later with his follow up The Pirate Inside.


Never market for the competition. Although we’ve all seen brands compare themselves to others, great brands play up their strengths rather than giving their competition free advertising. Naming your competition in your communications can elevate your competition into the consideration of those who may not have heard of them. Change your view from a state of the marketplace to a state of mind by shifting from WHO you are challenging to WHAT you are challenging. Think about Walmart challenging prices or Dove challenging the view women have of themselves. In each case, they became the answer to the WHAT rather than comparing themselves to a competitor.



Be bold in your ambition. Consider the change you are trying to bring about in the marketplace. For Netflix, it wasn’t merely about getting subscribers to rent from them, it was about changing the way people would rent movies. That was a bold ambition indeed.



Be intelligently naive. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak thought to bring computers to the masses. Jeff Bezos was a hedge fund manager when he thought perhaps there could be an opportunity in online book retailing. It’s stunning to see how much they didn’t know about the categories they were entering. Intelligent naivety has profoundly changed a number of industries.



Steal with pride. I love looking at other industries to see what they are doing right and how I can use the same idea. IKEA’s Guggenheim-inspired store layout is another excellent example of applying an idea from outside the industry. Whenever I have workshops, I always ask for participants to bring ideas from companies they admire so they can discover how they could apply the concept to improve their marketing and operations.



Find your religion. What is deep in the heart of your brand? What does your business stand for? What provides clarity, direction and focus on everything that is done? What is it that will draw others to join you? These answers can guide your vision, mission and strategy.



Get noticed. Challenger brands will project their beliefs consistently in everything they do. You notice them even if you’re not looking for them. Consider what your brand could be famous for and implement that in your next plan.



Make sacrifices. We’ve all heard the famous Steve Jobs quote about being as proud of the things Apple said no to as he was of the things the company said yes to. Consider what messages and programs will give you the best return and which will not. Finding your religion will also tell you what you should say no to.

You don’t have to do all of these to act like a first-place brand, just start with one and you’ll be on your way to acting like the market leader until you are.

Learn more at jcarcamoassociates.com and espnola.com.