When Listening to Your Audience Leads to Magic (Not Illusions)

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Colin Reynolds.

Robert-Houdin - Ethereal Suspension illusionA couple of weeks ago while strolling down 5th Avenue here in New York, I walked by something that immediately caught my eye and filled me with great joy. Something that even just a year ago I wouldn’t have believed: a promotional poster for a new season of Arrested Development.

There was Michael Bluth in all his glory. Reincarnate. Television’s Lazarus.

As one of the millions of fans that have continued to support the show despite its untimely demise after just three magnificent seasons, I’m thrilled by the news that this month will bring new life to the Bluth family. Just not life as we knew it.

The streaming media provider Netflix is responsible for resurrecting Arrested Development and in doing so, Netflix successfully resurrected its own brand. But it’s not just Netflix that saved the Bluths. Nor did the Bluths save Netflix. Not exactly anyway.

When unceremoniously cancelled by FOX in 2006, Arrested Development attained nearly instant cult-status and fostered a following of wide-eyed, digital-savvy supporters that salivated over any update.  This audience craved closure with a TV family it had grown to adore but whose cries for a fourth season fell on deaf network ears.
Now let’s jump forward a couple of years and into Netflix headquarters circa 2011. The company announced it would split into two groups and charge separately for streaming content and DVD rentals. They’d renege on that plan after just a few months due in large part to the subsequent customer revolt and dramatic stock plunge – and soon it had a subscription base that resembled the television ratings for professional bowling. By October 2012, the company was reporting a drastic drop of 88% in third quarter profits as well as significant subscriber loss and the brand was in desperate need of resuscitating.

So it bucked convention, listened to an audience screaming to be heard, and shifted its focus. This year, the company has completely reinvigorated its stock by launching all new original programming including hit shows like Kevin Spacey’s House of Cards and Eli Roth’s thriller Hemlock Grove – and most importantly, the much anticipated return of Arrested Development.  

In a recent PR Week article on Netflix’s remarkable turnaround, Jim Joseph, president of North America at Cohn & Wolfe was quoted as saying, “Netflix did something fundamental: they listened to people…They’re really paying attention to what consumers are asking for, and they’re giving it to them.”

If listening to your audience is so fundamental and can produce such sweeping results, why is it so seldom applied? What Netflix did shouldn’t be considered revolutionary or outside-of-the-box, but rather standard practice. Simple supply and demand. Common sense.

And yet, listening – as a way to actively pay attention as well as understand and engage with an audience – is still a rarity.

By focusing on and developing exceptional original programming, as well as bringing back a fan favorite, Netflix proved that it’s made tremendous strides in understanding and reacting to its audience. They’ve examined the ongoing conversation, not from a measurement or statistical standpoint, but rather contextually to garner perspective and react in a strategic manner and give its audience what it wants. And while ROIs are effective to capture a feel for the broader landscape, a company stays truly relevant by understanding the conversation, who’s saying what and why, and then adjusting to meet the needs of those consumers. Anyone watching Netflix should see that this strategy is paying off big time; the Netflix stock has nearly tripled and the service currently has more than 33 million users and more US subscribers than HBO. 

Netflix has kicked off 2013 in a dramatic fashion – and not just because of what happened on House of Cards. The company demonstrated that listening to its audience can have a monumental impact on the bottom line. And in doing so, they’ve made multitude of long-suffering TV fans rejoice as an added bonus.    

The Bluth’s have risen! They have risen indeed!  


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