Can a New Marketing Strategy Save Quibi?

✍️ This piece was originally published as part of my new Substack newsletter, the Marketing Mind Meld. Subscribe there for weekly marketing reads!

If you’ve been somewhat intertwined in the consumer internet world (or been a casual observer on Twitter) — you’ve probably heard of Quibi.

Formerly hailed by its founder Jeff Katzenberg as the newest disruption in consumer entertainment, Quibi is a streaming app that promised to revolutionize media consumption with new bite sized video series via mobile.

It started with an audacious vision and fanfare to match. Armed with superbowl ads, A-list celebrities and a virtually limitless paid social machine, Quibi was ready to take the world by storm.

Then, suddenly, it didn’t.

By most accounts — now three months since launch, Quibi has been wildly underwhelming.

If you google the term “Quibi” at any point, you might see a handful of stories just like this — retrospectives and dunks on the reality vs. the promise of Quibi.

In many ways, Quibi is the perfect posterchild for millennial schadenfreude.

A company that has raised $1.75 billion hemmed by two non-millennials with the promise that it knows exactly what millennials want is certainly a point of suspicion and ridicule across social.

Benjamin Wallace of Vulture writes:

People have wondered why Katzenberg and Whitman, in their late and early 60s, respectively, and not very active on social media, would believe they have uniquely penetrating insight into the unacknowledged desires of young people. When I ask Whitman what TV shows she watches, she responds, “I’m not sure I’d classify myself as an entertainment enthusiast.” But any particular shows she likes? “Grant,” she offered. “On the History Channel. It’s about President Grant.”

It’s quotes like that which inevitably make you shake your hand.

But my goal isn’t to make another case for why you should dunk on Quibi.

I want to explore a new thought exercise: Can Quibi actually be saved?

To some extent, I don’t think it can. But I do think it’s worth exploring.

First, we have to step back and look at the elements of the Quibi product. Quibi is mobile-first, designed to help you watch short clips of tv shows — in fact, they even launched it without an option to see it on TV to push people to stay on mobile.

The concept of short clips isn’t new — Youtube and TikTok are fertile ground for these and niche sites on the web (i.e. FunnyOrDie) have explored this medium for years — the pandemic hasn’t stopped short clips or ephemeral entertainment either. Instagram Live is more popular than ever before.

Yet, all of these platforms have their inherent advantages. FunnyOrDie has established its niche for original, comedy videos and people understood the brand well — you weren’t going to FunnyOrDie for a dissertation or a scientific discovery — you were going to relax and have the occasional laugh over its stewing absurdity. Similarly, Instagram Live has carved its niche well — it’s where you go to see a behind-the-scenes insight or rant into a celebrity or congressman. Both sides of the equation understand it.

Youtube, Instagram and TikTok have another lever to pull — user generated content. TikTok, especially, has taken out the middle man — nobody is telling you what to watch or why you should watch it. Nobody is giving you permission to create something — you put it on a platform and it immediately responds to the organic reach of the consumer market.

So there is the underlying question of what Quibi is. Why should you go there? What is the niche behind Quibi? If you stand for nothing, Quibi, what will you fall for?

Given the diversity and seemingly lack of pattern across the Quibi content portfolio, this might be an impossible question to answer — but there is still the option of taking out the middle man.

Recommendation #1: Strategize for Organic Social Reach

Allow people to share and screenshot Quibi videos. Drive curiosity across Twitter and Instagram. Share user generated content. With social media being the defacto place where conversations grow in a patently virtual world, seeing a brand constantly promote its own content over and over again gets exhausting — and somewhat suspicious.

A common argument I’ve seen for Quibi’s failure is that nobody knows what shows people are watching on Quibi. The lack of user generated content prompts makes the FOMO almost invisible — no one is expecting you to share Quibi content and that loses the allure or motivation to watch a show altogether.

At this point, Quibi telling you to watch a new show without any social proof is the emotional equivalent of your dad asking you to rake a yard or your uncle telling you to try his favorite milk brand. It’s fine, but it won’t win you any popularity contests or have any effective dopamine incentives.

Quibi needs to explore a model where they are elevating, instead of pushing through paid and archaic promotion. Pushing is certainly good for top-of-funnel awareness — but elevating their fans or watchers is where they will get their conversions.

More low-hanging fruit for Quibi — use your Tik-Tok account! It’s strange for a brand to have close to 6k followers without content — but just imagine all the possibilities: jump on trends, prompt people to do duets, make funky 15 second previews of shows. This is the platform where people will stumble upon it organically — where your inherent brand value means little with just a mildly entertaining video.

My friend Arun Jay responded to a recent tweet of mine with the thought that Quibi likely had no organic acquisition channels at all. While a bit sad, this is an area where it’s not too late for Quibi to turn it around — make people want to share.

Recommendation #2: Personalize Email Marketing

It occasionally boggles my mind that Quibi has somehow burned through $1 billion of marketing cash and I still haven’t gotten a simple personalized marketing email from them.

Even a simple “We noticed you liked x, what about this?” seems doable with a multi-million dollar marketing budget? Maybe?

It’s easy to understand why — for an operation that expected to have users in the millions, it’s probably a lot of overhead to collect details about each and every single user.

But this is the problem: I used to get this email from Quibi every single week.

I don’t care about Kirby Jenner. I don’t care about Reno 911! I don’t care about Joe Jonas reading the news. I’m sure your next question is: What do you care about?

Congratulations! You may just solved Quibi’s million dollar marketing question.

But wait, Quibi must’ve had some level of an email onboarding right?

No personalization, no inputs, recommendations based on no actual knowledge.

To date, I only watched one show on Quibi — a documentary about Lebron James.

To date, I haven’t received a single acknowledgement about whether I want more sports content or why I stopped watching that show.

It’s an opportunity for Quibi — if you can’t find millions of data points about a user, start small. Are they watching any shows? What’s the first show they watch? What could you extrapolate from that?

But the current strategy — a fountain of promotional emails for lagging users on new content — won’t have the same magic as I imagine Quibi thinks it will.

Recommendation #3: Strike Chord with Legacy Content

In the second issue of the newsletter, I talked about somatic markers, markers serve to connect an experience or emotion with a specific, required reaction.

There are many examples of platforms using this to their advantage — despite its flurry of original content, The Office is still the most popular show on Netflix. Always Sunny, X-Files, and 30 Rock are still on the list of most popular shows to stream on Hulu. Look no further than this past weekend — downloads skyrocketed for Disney+ with the addition of Hamilton.

Even outside of streaming platforms, companies like Bleacher Report have found popularity with Game of Zones, a short series with a parody of the NBA with Game of Thrones.

All of these platforms understand the important of legacy content as an acquisition channel — people might download Disney+ for Hamilton or Netflix for the Office, but they’ll stay for the original content. You’ll get data that you can then use to drive them down the platform.

Legacy content weaponizes the idea of somatic markers perfectly — we might mistrust new or original content, perhaps find it a bit tacky. But we can find comfort or solace in shows we love.

So what does this mean for Quibi? Naturally, they can’t license full shows or movies — but there is still opportunity to use the same concept of somatic markers to drive acquisition in a similar format.

A Parks and Rec reunion on Quibi? A hidden plot line in Insecure? An Office spin off about Creed? All ripe opportunities for fans of those shows. In fact, Reno911 remains one of its more popular offerings — With Quibi’s piggy bank, there’s a chance this is definitely something they could pull off.

Will Quibi pivot? or is the flight still directed too close to the sun? Only time will tell.

I’m currently a growth marketer at Livongo based out of the Bay Area and enjoy sharing insights around growth, careers, and personal anecdotes. I also like meaningless controversies (check out ranking of the best fast food fries) and spending my days finding the best Super burrito in San Francisco. All opinions are myown. Get in touch here or via @kushaanshah on Twitter.