The LOST Conversation - What marketers can learn from LOST

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The Lost Conversation (Prepared for The Next Web)
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In late April, I presented the LOST Conversation at The Next Web as part of their Pecha Kucha series. The 6:40 talk was not about the mythology of LOST but a case study on what marketers can learn from LOST.

LOST premiered in Fall 2004 (Ironically, about the same time I moved from San Francisco to Prague...). Imagine...this is before Facebook, Twitter or, really even MySpace were known. At the time, social media was getting a request to join Friendster at the time. As Web 2.0 emerged and evolved so did the sophistication of the way LOST communicated with its fans.

One can view the evolution of marketing in the 00’s through the lens of the the TV show:

4. Tradition...Tradition...Tradition
LOST started with a very traditional campaign for the launch of a TV series about a mysterious plane crash. They used print, TV bumpers, press, TV critics, etc. A majority of the reviews were excellent, many focussed on the large budget and J.J. Abrams involvement. Due to a great product and effective marketing campaign, LOST opened to great ratings.

LOST continues to use traditional marketing and you can really see the use of PR over the last two weeks in the amount of guest appearances, articles and shows. Marketers appear to be on the social media bandwagon...however, it’s only a part of your marketing mix. Many clients now come to me for social media expertise. They think you can create a facebook page and then everything will go viral, however, you can’t forget all of the traditional tools. It’s just a marketer’s approach that has to evolve.

8. Grow Organic & Interact
During Season 2, the producers of LOST, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, noticed how fans got “geeked” out when they pontificated about a scene with a Shark that has the Dharma logo on it. “Darlton” had clearly been developing a mythology but now they determined that fans needed become an organic part of the show.

The ability of the fans to interact with the show defines LOST. Red Herrings, ambiguity, loose ends are not necessarily created to advance the story but instead to spur discussion within the LOST community.

Given this fact, the producers have always been willing to engage in the most up-to-date interactive & social media tools be it widgets, a producer-led podcast, blogs, vidcast and most notably one of the first ARGs (alternative reality game). The LOST Experience ARG allowed devoted fans to dive deeper into the mythology of LOST via websites, in-store promos & events.

15. Enable Your Fans
Now, given the pre-determined, organic nature of the show to be interactive with fans, LOST enabled fans to spread the word farther and more effectively than they could do on their own.

One of the first things you see is the emergence of the LOST bible via their own wiki at LOSTpedia. Anything and everything LOST can be found here.

In the traditional media, you see the emergence of Entertainment Weekly’s  Doc Jensen. DocJensen starts to do a deep dive into mythology and theories. He points out the significance of names, books, etc. And as a traditional entertainment magazine, he also gains access to producers and actors. Most of the theories are offered online not necessarily in the magazine.

You also start to see the rise of a great number of fan sites and podcast including: The LOST Podcast with Jay & Jack, DocArzt, DarkUFO  and many more. The sites cover a variety of areas including but not limited to episode details, photos, videos, mythology & spoilers. Anything and everything for the hard core and casual LOST fan alike.

Naturally, LOST is a big star at “geek” events like Comic-Con where fans can interact with each other in a real world locale. However, the LOST producers push it a bit farther by displaying both Fan-Generated videos as well as content  specifically for hard core fans at the show. They go a bit beyond the typical panel discussion.

Again, fans create this level of co-created content because of the marketing decision to make fans an organic part of the show. They’re not simply fans, they’re participants in the LOST brand.

16. Enable Your Employees
One of the more interesting LOST blogs is Jorge Garcia’s Dispatches from the Island and Geronimo Jack's Beard. Jorge plays Hugo Reyes one of the Losties. Jorge dishes on LOST, his experiences in Hawaii and just general stuff. It’s interesting to get a backstage pass into an actor’s daily life and insight on the show.

The other day I was a speaker at an HR conference on the use of social media. And 95% of the companies said they don’t allow their employees to access or use social media at work. Basically, I said all of the companies were too obsessed with IT manager worries and time management concerns. The more excited “employees” are about their job, the more excited they’re about the products they sell, the more they talk about them, the more excited consumers will be about the product being sold. LOST is an example of this. Another great case study would be Zappos.

23. Rewards...Rewards...Rewards
Another reason for the marketing success of LOST is the reward structure provided to fans. For every fan interaction that they’ve created, LOST offers interested fans a bonus of some type.

The first set of perks for hard core fans is the chance to learn more about the secrets of LOST. For example, the LOST Experience ARG gave the hard core fan greater access to dig deep into the mythology of the program.

In addition, user generated content from podcasts like Jay & Jack started to get access to producers, actors & other LOST fans. Typically, only traditional media would get these interviews. However, LOST realizes that interactivity with the fans defines the show, thus the reward to fans benefits the brand.

These two items are largely intangible benefits. Before the start of this last season the producers were able to offer unique tangible awards via the Damon, Carlton and a Polar Bear website. In another ARG, fans would have the opportunity to gain limited edition prints created by top designers and artists, who were also fans of the show.

Over time, LOST has been able to reward items of greater value to fans based on the organic interaction they’ve developed. This creates a viral loop generating network effects for the brand.

42. Build an Economy
You can often see success in a product or brand with it’s ability to develop an economy. Some classics are the Apple economy, the ebay economy, and the Grateful Dead economy. LOST has also been able to build an economy that will allow it to survive and thrive even after the LOST episode.

Naturally, there is iTunes and DVD sales. Then you have the LOST book club based on books that appeared on the show and are the basis for the mythology. The limited edition posters can be found at the LOST Underground Art Show offers fans another opportunity to find a unique prize. You also see that more successful fan sites are turning their fan experiences into profit making opportunities

I find this concept of “Economy” creation important since this is something that is often not seen to be a marketing goal. For example, the mobile industry (despite all my efforts) never understood the need to build an economy for developers and consumers and the major reason why mobile has failed in content.

108. It’s LOST...How does it apply to my brand?
When I’ve presented this case study to conferences like The Next Web or friends the same question pops up. Isn’t LOST totally unique given it’s a TV show with a team of writers who can create a story? To a certain extent LOST is unique...just like any successful brand like Zappos, Apple, Zipcars, etc. is unique, however, there are clear lessons that can be learned that can be represented by 4 8 15 16 23 42 above.

The groundswell of fan activity took time but there was a commitment to have fans be an organic part of the show via engagement, interactivity and rewards.

Many are saying that LOST represents the end of an era in network TV development. It is interesting to note at this same time where LOST is considered to the last of its kind, it has simultaneously ushered in a new framework and model for marketers to emulate with their own brands.

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