The third season of Downton Abbey wrapped up on US PBS channels February 17th, and the show was again a smash hit, with the finale pulling in a public television show record 8.2 million viewers. According to Hollywood Reporter, this was a 50 percent improvement from last February’s 5.4 million finale and a jump of 300,000 from January’s season opener. These are all numbers that would cause most marketers to drool in envy but rather than wallow in jealousy, how about if we instead focus on four key marketing lessons from Downton Abbey?
1) Timing matters – While the season finale of Downton Abbey set records with US audiences in February, it didn’t perform as well in the UK homeland. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the same episode drew only 7.3 million views on UK’s ITV during the ultra competitive Holiday viewing period in December 2012.
Marketing Lesson: Think carefully about the timing of your content and/or marketing campaigns. What kind of external competition do you have for mindshare and attention? There is a reason why PR pros counsel clients to avoid Mondays and Fridays with press releases.
2) Compelling storytelling matters – There are a number of factors that play into Downton’s enormous success, but none matter more than the stories created in each episode and across the seasons. The superb writing draws in viewers for not just one – but literally tens of characters (who, according to writer Julian Fellowes, each receive equal treatment on the show).
Marketing Lesson: We all know by now that content is king in the world of digital marketing. The companies who can create – and share – the best stories are those who will attract consumer attention (and customers). What kind of story do you have to tell? How are you telling it?
3) Even aristocrats must change/evolve – In the season finale, the family goes to visit Duneagle Castle in Scotland. Cousin “Shrimpie” reveals that the estate fortune would soon be gone – because he hadn’t changed and transitioned the property into a money-making operation like Robert had done with Downton. Show viewers very much know and understand how much resistance Robert put up to these changes (which were recommended and pushed through by son-in-law and heir Matthew).
Marketing Lesson: Never get too set in your ways – no matter how successful they may have been in the past. We live in a rapidly-changing society and only those who are flexible and willing to evolve with these changes will continue to flourish in the future.
4) Details matter – Downton Abbey is known for not only its strong story-telling, but also its incredible attention to detail. The show included specific details about historical events (from the 1918 flu pandemic to World War I to women’s suffrage issues, among others) character costumes, vehicles and of course, the famous castle that serves as the main set and stage for the show. When you watch the show, you absolutely feel like you’re in the middle of the time period – whether you’re “upstairs” or “downstairs” (or in the middle of a battle in France).
Marketing Lesson: People want details! It could be new facts or figures that help tell a story or increasingly, images or videos. When you’re working to differentiate yourself from competitors and build your brand, it’s not enough to say “we’re better” or “we’re different” – you need to build a case and prove it to your audience.
Downton Abbey has been an unprecedented phenomena in its three season lifecycle and plans are in the works for a fourth (and likely final) season. We’ll again be watching closely next January to see what new marketing lessons can be learned from our favorite friends across the pond.