Remember when Netflix was mired in a massive backlash against their price hike and decision to rid their business of DVDs? Everyone (including us) thought that they were heading the way of MySpace and rendering themselves obsolete, thanks to a tone-deaf attitude to consumer demands and feedback.
Now, just 3 years later, Netflix is recording strong stock prices, winning industry awards and becoming the centerpiece of pop culture discussions with popular, buzz-worthy shows like “Orange is the New Black” and “House of Cards.” The streaming pioneers also had the smarts to bring back cult fave “Arrested Development” and are now moving into original films, signing deals with Adam Sandler (don’t hold that against them – the man is a cash cow) and becoming the distributors of the sequel to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” news of which set off a firestorm in Hollywood.
It’s an impressive turnaround from a PR standpoint. The brand that was badly burned emerges triumphantly in three years. It’s a story that doesn’t happen often, especially since Netflix wasn’t yet too big to fail when the backlash was happening.
What Netflix did right:
Sticking to their guns – Some might argue that their stubborn inability to back down from negative feedback was their initial undoing but by not throwing out the baby with the bathwater and keeping CEO Reed Hastings’ vision, it appears Netflix made the right move.
Made their product so damn desirable, you had to sign back up – Great content is a helluva drug, and Netflix brilliantly pursued smart content, initially pursuing the small but vocal and influential fans of cult faves like “Arrested Development.” They then went guns blazing, signing expensive deals with talented people like David Fincher, Ryan Murphy and Jenji Kohan. Their latest deals combine the mainstream (Adam Sandler) with their artistic sensibilities (“Crouching Tiger” sequel and a new show from Tina Fey).
Diversified their product line – Instead of just becoming a content distributor, Netflix became a platform for original content, gambling on proven talent for not-so-proven content. The risk paid off in the form of increased user base and Emmy and Golden Globe award wins for their shows. Now, proven Hollywood talent look to Netflix the same way that they look to Sony, Lionsgate, Disney and Warner Bros.
Netflix’s strategy to focus on content that consumers simply couldn’t refuse isn’t reinventing the wheel but it was certainly risky, especially after stinging criticism. That risk seems to have paid off to the tune of $400 stock prices.
Ultimately, what Netflix’s brand turnaround tells you is: focus on the product and the positive PR will be inevitable.