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Surprising marketing lessons from the hit show "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries"

Surprising marketing lessons from the hit show "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries" Bernie Su

2014 will be the year of video, and every brand is struggling to find a smart video marketing strategy. Before you pour a huge amount of money into your plan, consider the lessons from this case study on the hit web series "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries." In August of 2013, this online video series took home a Creative Arts Emmy for Original Interactive Program, proving that you don't need a massive budget to engage viewers, accumulate views, and grow a massive audience in the online video space. Here are the marketing lessons you need to know.

Creating the series and focusing on the hook

When the show's creators, Bernie Su and Hank Green, first set off to launch this series, marketing the show was not at the top of their minds. What was? The show's hook. "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries" (as Bernie describes) is basically "Pride and Prejudice" as a YouTube series. Their first focus was on making sure they weren't just creating a one-off video. They wanted consistency across multiple episodes and to focus on their mainly female demographic. The show's direct marketing in the beginning was limited to a small social push, word-of-mouth, and a little bit of press. Creating excellent content was their first goal -- just as it should be for every online video creator.

In this exclusive interview, iMedia sat down with executive producer and show runner for "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries," Bernie Su, and explored the way he was able to take a small budget with some unknown actors and turn their production into one of the most popular YouTube series on the web.

Not being intimidated (or even worrying) about competition

It's easy for any video creator to get discouraged and to be intimated by the massive amount of other video content on the web. How can you stand out? How can you cut through the clutter? It's questions like these that cause creative people to overthink their approach, and they end up changing the story they're trying to tell to make it more unique and unrecognizable from its genesis. Bernie Su didn't worry about that. According to him, his web series is not only directly competing with other YouTube series, but also indirectly competing with podcasts, apps, movies, TV shows, and web pages. Marketing in today's digital content world is about trying to get the attention of the viewer, and getting eyeballs on your content. Therefore, if you create the content you want to create, without worrying about how it will be received in the oversaturated market, you actually have a higher chance of being noticed because you are not alienating the viewer with obnoxious, disingenuous content in the attempt to get noticed. When creating branded videos for the online world, focus on the quality and the story you really want to tell. The audience will follow.

Bernie Su speaks about how he views competition in today's environment and why valuating the multi-screen world is vital to reaching as many people as possible.

Creative promotion; the characters in the show socially promoted the show

"The Lizzie Bennet Diaries" had a creative situation from the beginning that actually led to a unique promotional strategy; the characters knew they were on a show. In "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries," Lizzie Bennet talks to the camera as a vlogger and is well aware that she is broadcasting. So when it came time to promote a new episode, "Lizzie Bennet" would go on "her" social channels and promote the fact she had a new video up. This creative approach made viewers and fans feel like Lizzie Bennet was a real person, and they were excited to check out her content because it was being promoted as a normal video vlog from an interesting and funny girl. In contrast to most shows, which have actors promote their content, "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries" creatively blurred the lines between actors and real people. This strategy led to massive, consistent views.

Bernie Su continues our conversation by explaining why they have never spent a dime on direct marketing initiatives and how their creative content and social approach more than made up for it.

The 5 revenue streams of "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries"

So how do you remain profitable on a small budget? Here are the ways "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries" is a financial success. Is your brand tapping all these options for your content?

Ads on the videos
Like most popular web videos, "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries" puts AdSense ads on its content and collects a cut of that money. It's a simple, yet effective way to drive a consistent revenue stream.

Merchandise (T-shirts, teacups, posters, etc.)
Fans love to show off their taste. Merchandising Lizzie Bennet T-shirts, hats, posters, and even teacups has become a big way the show drives sales.

Affiliate marketing
Viewers of the show became very attached to the characters, so much so that they wanted to have the products they saw in the episodes. With the show's affiliate marketing strategy, if a character wears a pretty dress on the show, "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries" will actually link to that dress and collect a cut of the sale. They do this for a variety of products on the show.

DVD sales
Who knew that people would actually pay money for a show they get online for free? At first, the producers of the show thought DVDs would never sell, but 6,000 DVD sales later it has become a huge and surprising driver of revenue.

In June of 2014, a novelization of "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries" is heading to stores. It will be a continuation of the narrative that is already in place and plans to capitalize on the show's huge success by continuing the timeline in a literary form.

Brands should have a voice in the narrative

Finally, brand marketers need to understand that their place in the online video world is not limited to shelling money out for commercials and other ads. Brands have an opportunity to create original, entertaining, and meaningful content on the web to turn their customers into viewers and some viewers into customers. There is an untapped potential that brands have with online video. Brands can become storytellers and insert their products as part of the story, not as the main focus. Instead of creating an ad to sell your product directly, create entertaining video content and insert your brand as part of the narrative. You'll not only gain a consistent audience, you'll also be establishing the voice and tone of your marketing.

Bernie Su ends our conversation with some wise advice for brand marketers and storytellers as they enter the video world of 2014.

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"Closeup of surprised man with glasses" via Shutterstock.

Bernie Su is a multitalented and versatile writer, director, and storyteller. He is the head writer and an executive producer of the transmedia "Pride and Prejudice" adaptation, "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries." This modern-day reimagining of the classic...

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