Avoid a milkshaking from dissatisfied customers: adopt the Netflix way

The word ‘milkshake’ first appeared in 1885, as an eggnog-like drink made with whiskey. However, by the turn of the century, milkshakes were no longer alcoholic and were made with flavoured syrups, such as vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry.

The milkshake came into being as we know it – thick, creamy and chilled – in 1922, when Stephen Poplawski invented the blender, patenting a machine that reduced fruits and vegetables to a liquid. Later it inspired the invention of the bendy straw – by Joseph Friedman in 1937.

We all enjoy whizzing up a refreshing milkshake or smoothie. We’ve got indulgent chocolate, banana and strawberry flavoured shakes, plus healthy fruity shakes. However, my personal favourite is an Eton Mess freakshake. It’s my own signature recipe, a strawberry milkshake with a monster makeover – white chocolate and crushed meringues.

And then everything changed in 2019 when ‘throwing milkshakes’ emerged as a symbol of dissent. Milkshaking took off in Warrington in May, when a milkshake was thrown at Tommy Robinson, a notorious far-right activist. Videos went viral on social media under the hashtag #milkshake, drawing millions of views, and a phenomenon was born. Other far-right leaders enjoyed the same treatment, including Nigel Farage, subjected to a banana and salted caramel milkshaking. A good splattering.

Milkshaking concerns caused Scottish police to ask a local McDonalds near a subsequent Farage rally to cease selling milkshakes and ice cream. In true fast food rivalry, Burger King tweeted: Dear people of Scotland. We’re selling milkshakes all weekend. Have fun. Love BK #justsaying.

Prior to this, Milkshakes were tossed at US president Donald Trump’s recent visit to the UK, and in June a woman in Florida hurled a shake at Matt Gaetz, a congressman known for making xenophobic remarks, in what seems to be the first case of American milkshaking.

Whilst milkshaking as a form of protest is new, the art of sticking it to politicians with perishable food is old school. The first documented case of food as protest took place in 63AD, when a Roman governor was bombarded with turnips. Cream pies became a popular protest in the 1970s, drawing inspiration from classic C20th slapstick comedies, including the films of Charlie Chaplin.

But in the history of protest foods, one stands above the rest: eggs. They’re cheap, widely available, and make a mess – ask David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn. Audiences have thrown anything and everything at stage performers to vent their ire – poisonous snakes, chairs and peanuts, while tomatoes took off in the C19th and subsequently inspired Rotten Tomatoes, one of the web’s most popular film review sites.

In post-war Greece, the practice of throwing plastic pots of tzatziki became so popular that the government introduced legislation to curb it. Law enforcers shaved the heads and cut the hems of the trousers of yogurt-wielding protesters who were caught, who were then marched through the streets as a form of public shaming.

Whether it’s milkshakes, cream pies, eggs, tomatoes or tzatziki, shows of passion or frustration from customers never get quite so extreme in business relationships. But sometimes, small changes have a big impact on how customers perceive the quality of your relationship and make the difference between loyalty and high churn rates.

According to research, it costs five times more to find a new customer than to retain a current customer.  In this age of automation, caring for your customers has never been more important.  At any moment, an unhappy customer can share their opinion through social media- or a milkshake! That’s why it’s even more important than ever to create an excellent experience for your customers to help develop your relationship with them into a lasting one.

Walt Disney said it best, Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends. Creating a genuine relationship between your business and your customers can help scale positive word of mouth. Creating a customer-focused culture should be a priority. Most businesses are failing when it comes to the customer experience, which is your opportunity to swoop in and engage those disillusioned customers into switching.

If there is one business we can learn from regarding getting close to their customers and providing a knock-out experience it’s Netflix, the subscription-based entertainment streaming service that offers its users on-demand access to a vast library of films and TV shows, including original in-house productions that are not available elsewhere.

For a set monthly fee, Netflix customers can access the platform’s content on demand whenever and wherever, and build their own user profiles to receive bespoke-tailored viewing recommendations.  Netflix began as a DVD rental and sales service operating by mail order in 1997, but has evolved into the world’s most popular television streaming service, with over 137 million subscribers.

By 2005 Netflix had floated the idea of a brand-new concept to futureproof their business in the face of declining interest in mail order DVD rentals. Under the working title of ‘Netflix Box’, the concept was that users could download a film overnight to watch the next day. However, 2005 also saw the successful launch of YouTube streaming, which quickly reached a position of market dominance despite the then-low video quality of its offerings.

Netflix’s plans for Netflix Box were ultimately shelved, and they began to develop the original on-demand TV and movie streaming service that we know today. The addition of original content to the platform in 2011 helped to secure Netflix’s reputation as the go-to video streaming service worldwide.

Netflix puts the customer at the centre of their business model. Their market dominance is enabled and supported by audience insights and a high level of individual user personalisation that helps to ensure that people who subscribe to the platform keep coming back for more, and tell their friends.

The brand serves as one of the best examples of customer personalisation and content strategy you can find, so what can they teach us to help startups identify better prospects, reach more of them, and increase sales.

1. Let your work make your reputation Netflix relies heavily on content marketing rather than brand marketing. Letting your work speak for itself is one of the most powerful ways to build consumer loyalty and brand. This enables Netflix to make effective use of social media in spreading the word about a new show, or getting people talking about a relaunched classic.

2. Be original Netflix Originals make up a significant portion of the most-watched content, and the viewing preferences help to not only increase viewing figures for this, but inform the development of future productions too. If you can offer something novel or original that provides you with a USP, you will immediately gain a competitive edge.

3. Remove customer pain points Removing customer pain points is important to user experience, increasing customer loyalty and boosting sales. Netflix achieves this successfully in a number of ways: an initial no-commitment free trial month incentivises a risk-free initial sign-up; the sign-up process is simple, and not overly intrusive.

This initial month’s engagement often provides all of the information Netflix needs to secure an ongoing subscription sign-up by using the insights developed to personalise and incentivise the content offered.

4. Innovate Netflix is synonymous with innovation, and this continues to drive growth and the expansion of the platform to an ever-wider audience of viewers. The company has unleashed a download-and-go feature that allows users to watch shows offline, and this effort was followed up by a push to improve Netflix’s mobile experience, which is important as the company expands into foreign territories where people prefer to watch video on their phones.

5. Use smart data, not just personal data Knowing your audience, and collating the type of data about them that you need to translate it into useful content and experience, is vital. But besides the usual ‘hard’ data, Netflix takes into account the browser patterns and usage preferences of its users to provide the most personalised and relevant content and relationship.

6. Enable self-service Based on ur basic profile information, Netflix fine-tunes their understanding of your viewing preferences by inviting you to bookmark shows and express an interest in different genres. This results in personalised recommendations that you have self-curated, and thus tailored to appeal to you.

7. Focus on your USPs and make them work for you One of my favourite features of Netflix is that most series of shows are released in their entirety – you can watch a whole season straight through on the day it is released. This ‘binge watching’ is one of Netflix’s most defining USPs, and a large part of their appeal.

8. Build the brand The Netflix brand’s tone of voice is engaging, humorous and quick witted, and this helps to translate it across multiple platforms that viewers might use to find out more, or to make a decision on subscribing. The brand values are a function of all the attributes of their product outlined above – is your brand as closely linked to your customer offering and experience.

The Netflix model is ubiquitous and speaks for itself. They understand the power of their unique offerings and the value proposition to customers, but it’s putting the customer not the content at the centre of their business model, which creates and sustains brand loyalty.

Summary

By building up a comprehensive picture of your target customers and fine-tuning the content that you offer to them to create a highly personalised, dynamic user experience, you are able to predict their needs and negate pain points.

All startups can learn from the Netflix approach to innovation and delivering this to their customers. Applying these insights across other industries might seem ambitious, but such insights are highly scalable and relevant to virtually every sector.

Originating and delivering on unanticipated customer needs is true customer innovation. Rather than focus on customer satisfaction and providing a better product than the competition, aspire to long-term customer delight and pioneer new frontiers, with less competition.

There’s little chance of humiliating milkshakes being thrown from dissatisfied or protesting customers here. Netflix have transformed customer focus to customer obsession, so that they see the product through their eyes. So, leverage the Netflix way to knock out your competition and build your customer base. Then sit back and enjoy an Eton Mess freakshake.

Extracts from an article by Polly Kay on the competitive strategy of Netflix were used in this blog.

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