Netflix: You Can’t Always Get What You Want

netflix-for-windows-8-app-review-0

If the ultimate measure of a brand is what you do, not what you say, then Netflix is underperforming seriously. The company brags that “Netflix members can watch as much as they want, anytime, anywhere, on nearly any Internet-connected screen” and that members have can “instantly watch unlimited movies and TV shows streaming over the Internet.”  But in reality, members have access to a very limited streaming inventory a problem exacerbated by the newly announced HBO/Universal Pictures agreement that will box out Netflix for the next decade. And recent high-profile service outages have made a mockery of the promise of “anytime, anywhere” viewing. Netflix would do well to start taking accountability for its brand and consider revising its brand promise to manage the expectations of its members.

As has been widely reported, Netflix suffered embarrassing service outages on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Netflix blamed Amazon Web Services for the Christmas Eve outage, and Amazon took accountability by apologizing and explaining the outage. Well, blaming Amazon Web Services helps members understand what happened, but the problem is that no one really wants to hear explanations, nor should they. We don’t need to know how the sausage is made; if we get a faulty product, we need accountability.

But for all the bad PR the services outages caused, a bigger, more ongoing threat to the Netflix brand consists of limited streaming inventory — a shortcoming Netflix attempted to redress with its December 2012 play for exclusive rights to Walt Disney Studios, only to suffer a setback in January 2013 when HBO and Universal agreed to a distribution arrangement that blocks Netflix from crucial content for years.

You don’t stream movies on demand on Netflix; you watch whatever Netflix can make available to you. In recent days, I wanted to watch four movies that Netflix lacked online: Breakdown, The Dead Zone (the 1983 version), Executive Decision, and Waiting for Guffman. In three out of four cases, the movies I wanted were available on DVD only, and the fourth, not at all. These are just recent examples. Too often, Netflix is not a place for me to stream a specific movie that I have in mind, especially with catalog titles — a major problem for the affluent and growing Baby Boomer population, which has money to spend and movie memories that date back a lot farther than The Hunger Games. Clearly, Netflix has a long way to go in order to fulfill its brand promise for people who want to stream movies. And remember, Netflix wants you to stream movies. This is the company that tried to foist streaming on its customers in the first place.

So what’s the solution? I think Netflix should take accountability where it matters: price. When a movie you want is not available, Netflix should offer you a rebate. When Netflix suffers an outage, Netflix should offer you a price break. Would putting its money where its mouth is motivate Netflix to become a high-performance brand? Moreover, Netflix could address the shortage of streaming inventory by revising its brand promise and setting expectations. For instance, movie service Fandor sets expectations by promising members “an online destination for watching amazing independent films from all over the world.”

welcome-to-fandor-where-great-movies-live

You won’t find Die Hard on Fandor, but you’ll have success with more esoteric movies such as the 1921 Buster Keaton comedy Hard Luck. By contrast, Netflix has engineered itself to disappoint by positioning itself as something of an all-purpose movie rental destination, which it certainly is not. Is Netflix the preferred brand for television enthusiasts? For recently run movies? I don’t know, but I’d like for Netflix to tell me. Unless Netflix does a better job protecting its brand, ironically Amazon will eat Netflix for lunch.

Co-creation is the future of marketing

I recently wrote a blog post for the iCrossing Content Lab regarding the Raytheon Sum of All Thrills ride — an intriguing experience in which you build your own virtual ride using computer design tools provided by Raytheon. I was excited to see Doug Williams of Forrester Research comment on my post through one of this own, “Co-creating Value at Disney World.” Doug goes beyond what I wrote to describe some other ways Disney World guests can create their own entertainment content. I hope you take a moment to read his post as well as this one by Joe Chernov on content co-creation.

Co-creation is the future of marketing. As my colleagues at iCrossing discussed in a white paper last year, both brands and consumers are acting like their own media now, with access to the same tools to publish their own ideas year-round. So it’s only natural that those two worlds would converge. Content co-creation occurs in a few important ways:

What’s your lagniappe?

My good friend Paul Chaney recently introduced me to the joys of lagniappe, a term popular in Louisiana where Paul lives. As Paul explained, a lagniappe (pronounced LAN-yap) is a “something extra” you give to another person in order to surprise and delight — for instance, you plan a dinner with your wife to celebrate her birthday, and then during dinner you surprise her with tickets to a play. I believe a lagniappe can also create a happy customer, too, as a recent experience of my own shows.

My family and I were in southern Illinois last weekend to explore the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. After driving for more than four hours from the Chicago area, we arrived at the Doubletree Hotel in Collinsville (just northeast of St. Louis) on an unseasonably warm October afternoon. The hotel lobby looked clean and was attractively appointed, but I expect cleanliness from a Doubletree. When I checked in at the front desk, a smiling clerk named Ricardo asked me how many people were in my party.

“Three,” I replied. “Just me, my wife, and my daughter.”

Ricardo then presented me with three warm chocolate chip walnut cookies, each tucked into tiny paper bags.

Thank you for the lagniappe moment, Ricardo.

You don’t need to spend much money or effort to give someone a lagniappe, but surprise and delight are essential. When Cinderella signs your daughter’s autograph book during your family visit to the Magic Kingdom, Disney has certainly brightened your day — but I would not categorize the experience as a lagniappe because the possibility of an encounter with Cinderella is understood to be part of the price of admission. But if Cinderella also gave you and your daughter an invitation for a free dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table restaurant when she signed your daughter’s autograph book, well, then, Cinderella would be giving your family one heck of a lagniappe. And consider this extraordinary Disney moment as told by customer relations consultant Chris Anthony in Guy Kawasaki’s book Enchantment:

We were on our honeymoon at Walt Disney World in 2007, staying at a non-Disney hotel. The previous night, a member of the hotel staff attempted to break into our room. The management’s response was, “You should have deadbolted the door.” We were both shaken and scared all day; we barely saw the park we went to. Then we went to dinner at Jiko, at the [Disney] Animal Kingdom Lodge.

While we waited, we told Sarah, the restaurant manager on duty, about what had happened. She asked us to wait and disappeared through a staff-only door. When she came back, she had room keys and said, “Cancel your rooms at the other hotel. We’ll match its price for you here at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. That was unacceptable.”

Our honeymoon could have been ruined by the offending staff member. Instead, Sarah, on behalf of Walt Disney World, turned it into something amazing. We’ve never forgotten — and we’re never staying anywhere else.

Chris and his wife went to Jiko for a dinner and got an incredible lodging upgrade for dessert. I think Disney delivered a bona fide lagniappe to Chris Anthony.

The beauty of a lagniappe is that you can gain a loyal customer for life with one small, inexpensive gesture (note Chris’s comment “we’re never staying anywhere else”). We are so conditioned for indifferent service by airlines, banks, telephony providers, and high-tech firms that it doesn’t take much to surprise and delight — just a little humanity.

What’s a lagniappe you’ve experienced? What’s a lagniappe you’ve given to someone else?

Finally: 3-D that makes sense

It was only a matter of time before Disney Parks and Resorts responded to the success of Wizarding World of Harry Potter at rival Universal’s Islands of Adventure. And with the announcement of an Avatar world at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you should look for Disney to apply 3-D technologies where they make the most sense, which is creating an experience instead of trying to tell a story in a movie.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter is fun facsimile of the celebrated town of Hogsmeade from the beloved Harry Potter series of books and movies. But it feels like a small attraction wedged inside a bunch of other sections of Universal Orlando, just like Jurassic Park and Marvel Super Hero Island.

Based on news reports, Disney will collaborate with mogul and Avatar director James Cameron to surround park visitors in an immersive environment that recreates the world of Pandora from the movie, not just a ride or two.

Thomas Staggs, chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts, offers a revealing quote in a Huffington Post article about the collaboration between Cameron, his producing partner Jon Landau, and 20th Century Fox:

“One of the things that we found when we screened (AVATAR) was that the scenes that people liked best were not the obvious things, like the big battle scenes, and that sort of thing. It was the creatures. It was learning to fly. It was being in the forest at night. The impression that we got was people just like to go to Pandora . . .So here’s an opportunity to use (our) animatronic technology, and all of these amazing craftsmanship and design capabilities of Imagineering, and possibly rolling in mixed-media, 3-D projections, holography. Whatever makes sense to build, bring this world to life and actually get to wander in it and explore it, and see things you didn’t see either in the first film or in the subsequent two.”

James Cameron will remain closely involved in the development of the $500 million Avatar park. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2013, and evidently other Disney properties beyond Animal Kingdom may see their own Avatar attractions.

Given Cameron’s commitment to developing 3D technology – he launched a technology venture earlier this year, building on his use of 3D in movies – the Avatar experience will achieve in a theme park what movies have thus far failed to accomplish: apply 3D successfully. Cameron’s technologists and Disney’s imagineers can go wild dreaming up ways for tourists to interact with six-legged Direhorse, four-winged Mountain Banshee, and blue Prolemuris.

With $500 million being sunk into the project, I have a feeling park visitors will experience something that does not require wearing dorky sunglasses, either.

For more reaction from Disney followers, check out this blog post from Inside the Magic and this Yesterland discussion of the news in context of the history of Animal Kingdom.

Buzz Lightyear might know your name

The next time you visit Disney World, don’t be surprised if Buzz Lightyear greets everyone in your family by their first names before you’ve been introduced to him.

According to an apparently well-sourced rumor, Disney is morphing its Key to the World card (which acts as an all-purpose credit card, ID tag, and room key on Disney properties) into a smart wristband that will give you a more personal and interactive Disney resort experience.

Depending on how Disney develops its NextGen park technology, here is what you might be able to do during a future visit to a Disney resort:

  • Enter the Magic Kingdom by waving your wristband as you breeze past a turnstile. Or buy a snack at Epcot with a scan of your wrist. No fumbling around for your card as you simultaneously help your children find theirs while you hold up a line of impatient park goers.
  • After you enjoy a thrilling ride on Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom, purchase a video capturing the moment and send it home to your friends.
  • Have Snow White greet your daughter by her first name (“Hello, Emma, how nice to meet you”!) because your daughter’s wristband is encoded with personal information visible to the Disney Princess.

Disney has made no introduction of the wristbands although it’s quite possible Disney could road test aspects of the technology soon. Meantime the rumor has Disney bloggers buzzing, as evidenced here and here.

Continue reading

Why Disney Epcot World Showcase is the gold standard

The Disney Epcot World Showcase is one of my favorite favorite destinations because Disney makes learning an engaging experience. The first time I visited the World Showcase, I was skeptical: how fun could it be to visit facsimiles of 11 countries wedged amid 300 acres in Orlando?

But I was quickly won over the by Disney’s famous attention to detail, unfailingly friendly service, and high standards of quality. My family lacks the means to travel around the world and experience other cultures first-hand. But inside Epcot, we can stroll through an Italian plaza, gaze at a minaret in the Morocco pavilion, or eat at a Parisian bistro. And through interactive experiences like the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure (a creative scavenger hut), families can use mobile devices to explore the park together and learn about different cultures. If you can willingly suspend disbelief as you do with a well-produced movie, you can almost feel like you’re getting a taste of another culture.

My friend and Disney-phile John Hensler of Sunken Anchor Media shared with me an obscure little article from the Norway American Chamber of Commerce that sheds some light on what it’s like for a country to sponsor a pavilion in the World Showcase. Norway is one of the 11 countries represented. The article, which takes the government of Norway to task for not working hard enough to update its pavilion, also describes some of the keys to Epcot’s success:

* Authenticity. Disney visits Oslo to recruit Norwegian nationals to work in the Norway pavilion, which is consistent with my experiences at Epcot. Part of the fun of visiting the World Showcase is taking the time to talk with the people who work in the 11 country pavilions. Ask them where they come from and to describe their stories. They really do represent the countries they represent and will gladly share their lives with you if you ask.

* Impossibly high standards. The article intimates that Disney isn’t the easiest organization with which to work. Companies wanting to bid for projects to enhance Epcot must endure a lengthy approval process from Walt Disney Imagineering. And Disney strives to make available top-quality food and merchandise from the 11 countries represented. Those high standards are evident. With very few exceptions, the attractions are entertaining, the food is excellent, and the merchandise top drawer. (In particular, based on my visits, the apparel at the Mitsukoshi Department Store in Japan pavilion is outstanding, and Le Cellier Steakhouse in the Canada pavilion would be worth seeking regardless of location).

* A strong partnership. Disney relies on its 11 partner countries to carry their share of the burden for keeping Epcot fresh and fun. The country of Canada recently refurbished the Canada pavilion to feature a movie that gives visitors a panoramic, 360-degree tour of Canada hosted by comedian (and Canadian) Martin Short. Disney relies on input from Norwegian national businesses to ensure that merchandise in the Norway pavilion does not become too predictable and boring. During the vaunted Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, Disney works with 25 countries to treat visitors to tapas-sized samplings of cousine ranging from New Zealand lamb sliders to Belgian waffles.

There is no substitute for experiencing international cultures by traveling. But Epcot can provide a first step. As the article says, “Many Americans and visitors from North and South America have their first ‘hands-on’ encounter with Norway while visiting Epcot.'” And if you cannot travel around the world, at least you can get the next best thing and find out why Disney is the gold standard for customer experience.

For more reading check out the Disney blog.

How dead is the web?

With all the recent talk about the “death of the web,” you would think that consumers and marketers are abandoning the humble website like a jilted lover in favor of more attractive options like iPhone apps. And yet two recent examples indicate that leading brands take their websites quite seriously:

  • According to the Forbes CMO Network, Disney has revamped the Disney.com website to include the Create portal, a more interactive experience where children can create their own artwork and photo mash-ups using Disney characters and stories. Paul Yanover, executive vice president and managing director of Disney Online, tells Forbes that since last year, more than 2.5 million pieces of unique content have been created on Disney.com as part of a commitment to make the website more of a destination for consumers to create and collaborate with Disney.
  • Levi Strauss & Co. has worked with Duke/Razorfish (the French operations of my employer Razorfish) to launch Curve ID, an online fitting experience. Curve ID helps women configure Levi’s denimwear to their own body type. Duke/Razorfish designed Curve ID based on 60,000 women’s figures and launched the experience in 50 countries and 20 languages. Olivier Abel, managing director of Duke/Razorfish, tells me that with Curve ID is more than a website — but a “major product initiative changing the way women choose their jeans” and a shift in thinking from expecting women to find the right size to helping women configure the right fit. (For more information about Curve ID, these Brand Republic and Brand Channel articles are helpful.)

Too often the “web is dead” hype paints the story in black and white either/or terms. Either we’re visiting websites or using mobile devices. We’re making purchasing decisions online or in stores. In fact, consumers incorporate many touch points to learn about brands. They don’t choose one or the other. (Eight out of 10 consumers surveyed by Razorfish in 2009 still obtain news primarily from websites in addition to other platforms.)

Instead of making either/or choices, smart brands are figuring out how to connect these touch points, as Forrester Research has reported time and again. In the same article about Disney’s revamped Disney.com, Paul Yanover tells Forbes that Disney is figuring out how to extend its digital experience across mobile devices and social platforms like YouTube. Levi’s Curve ID offers visitors the option of configuring and purchasing denim online or in-store. And the Razorfish San Francisco office just launched the Polyvore Community Challenge, a contest in which consumers can win Levi’s Curve ID jeans by creating and nominating their own digital clothing ensembles on a community site. Consumers can post designs on their own social sites like Facebook.

As Rachel Lanham, Razorfish vice president and Levi’s client partner, tells me, “The Polyvore Community Challenge is similar to Disney Create because it’s all about getting the consumer involved and engaged in telling the brand story. Consumers make the brand theirs on their own platforms, sometimes on a brand website and in other cases on a social site.”

Another Razorfish client, Axe, recently worked with Razorfish  to make its Axe Effect website a hub linking all the social properties where consumers interact with Axe.

But making a brand experience flourish across multiple platforms is just part of the story. Companies like Axe, Coors Light, Disney, Levi’s, and Mercedes-Benz are turning their websites into playful experiences by continuing to apply rich media and 3D technology. Consumers can get those rich experiences from games and movies now. It’s only natural that the website evolves, too.

Maybe a better way to describe what’s happening is not death but rebirth: websites evolving from disconnected islands of information to experiences connected across many platforms.

Skip the ad? Skip the story

Whoever complained about intrusive advertising hasn’t read the May 2008 issue of Vanity Fair, where the advertising eclipses the content. If you need any convincing, I give you the opening sentences of a head-scratching cover profile of Madonna:

“The world is a series of rooms, which are arranged like concentric circles, or rooms within rooms, joined by courtyards and antechambers, and in the room at the center of all those rooms Madonna sits alone, in a white dress, dreaming of Africa. To reach her, you must wait for a sign. When it comes, if you are pure of heart, you begin to move toward Madonna, and move fast.”

And the writing gets worse. Here’s what VF says about Madonna’s adoption of a child from Malawi:

Continue reading

Skip the ad? Skip the story

Whoever complained about intrusive advertising hasn’t read the May 2008 issue of Vanity Fair, where the advertising eclipses the content. If you need any convincing, I give you the opening sentences of a head-scratching cover profile of Madonna:

“The world is a series of rooms, which are arranged like concentric circles, or rooms within rooms, joined by courtyards and antechambers, and in the room at the center of all those rooms Madonna sits alone, in a white dress, dreaming of Africa. To reach her, you must wait for a sign. When it comes, if you are pure of heart, you begin to move toward Madonna, and move fast.”

And the writing gets worse. Here’s what VF says about Madonna’s adoption of a child from Malawi:

Continue reading