Author Archives: Evelyn Starr

Netflix Ain’t Chillin’

Netflix logoWhat do Netflix and “The Godfather” have in common?

Both showcase visionary brands that have succeeded with unorthodox methods.

In Netflix’s case, to paraphrase Mario Puzo, keep your friends close and your competitors on the payroll.

Wait – what?

Most business leaders aim to pre-empt competitors or to steal business from them, not to pay them.

But not Reed Hastings at Netflix.

Insight Gives Birth to a Brand

In 1992, Bruce Springsteen crooned:

“…Man came by to hook up my cable TV
We settled in for the night my baby and me
We switched ’round and ’round ’til half-past dawn
There was fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on”

-Bruce Springsteen, “57 Channels (and Nothin’ On)”

Five years later Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph founded Netflix on the insight expressed recently by their Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos:

“…consumers have been at the mercy of others when it comes to television. The shows and movies they want to watch are subject to business models they do not understand and do not care about. All they know is frustration.”

Maybe Bruce inspired them? Maybe their own frustration lit a bulb over their heads?

Whatever their inspiration, Hastings has been leading Netflix to provide on-demand entertainment ever since.

Initially the delivery of on-demand entertainment was physical, mailing requested DVDs to subscribers, eliminating their need to leave the house. By the time Blockbuster executives woke up from their glossy-eyed fascination with the video-rental-store model, it was already on its way out.

Netflix Shifts To Streaming

Though Netflix led with DVD mailings, Hastings claims to have known from early on that delivery would eventually be over the internet.  Having beaten Blockbuster to establish its brand as the on-demand entertainment solution, Netflix launched its streaming service in 2007.

Netflix focused on streaming movies at first. But the year-long delay in access to movies after their theatrical run and the limited distribution rights shifted their focus to television. HBO and AMC were developing original content dramas like The Sopranos and Mad Men that drew big audiences but did not lend themselves easily to syndication.

From their DVD rental experience, Netflix executives knew that subscribers often rented an entire season of “The Sopranos” at once, so they put the first four seasons online. Binge-watching took off.

Television networks were eager to license their shows to Netflix for the additional revenue.  Since no one had asked for “streaming on-demand video” rights before, there was no established market value for them. Netflix obtained the rights for little money.

For a while the networks were happy with this “found money.” Netflix was happy to have the content to attract subscribers. And the shows themselves benefitted.

Vince Gilligan, creator of “Breaking Bad,” said that once Netflix put the first three seasons of the show online “It really kicked our viewership into high gear.”

That effect grew Netflix’s influence.  It also woke the networks up to how Netflix was quickly becoming a competitor.

But like Blockbuster, this realization came too late. By now the networks depended on Netflix revenue to plug deficits left by shrinking audiences.  They also realized how valuable the streaming rights were and began demanding much higher fees.

So here Netflix was paying their competitors while also at their mercy for content.

Visionaries that they were, Hastings and Sarandos could see that the networks’ realization would lead them to stream their own content and that the days of inexpensive streaming rights were over.

At 15 years old, Netflix had hit its brand adolescence.

Brand Adolescence Prompts Business Model Adjustment

In 2012 Sarandos argued that the brand’s future depended on supplying at least some of its own content. He dove into the new world of producing original content and began buying shows like “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black.”

With their growing portfolio of exclusive shows, Netflix finally has something that subscribers couldn’t get anywhere else.  I’d say their brand adolescence looks bright.

Netflix’s journey has thrived from their clarity of purpose, their ability to envision the future and their knack for flying under competitors’ radar until they gained critical mass.

Not unlike the Corleones’ business in “The Godfather.”

When was the last time you revisited your brand’s purpose, studied up on current trends and spent time envisioning what your industry will look like in the future?

Maybe Netflix’s story seems extreme to you, but brands in every industry need to evolve to remain relevant.

So the real question is:  will your brand be your industry’s Netflix or its Blockbuster/sinking-network-of-your-choice?

I’m not suggesting that you’ll necessarily need to pay your competitors.

But without a view of where your brand is going…you risk being made an offer you can’t refuse.

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Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It

Open Manila Envelope with Approved Brand Mission peaking out

Image courtesy of anankkml at

I hate clutter. You might not know that from the condition of my home, but I do.

To reduce clutter, I regularly donate what we no longer use to the Big Brother Big Sister Foundation.

But prevention is the holy grail. I scrutinize purchase considerations and proffered hand-me-downs.  If I can’t envision their use we decline.

My clutter aversion makes me a wary outdoor market shopper though I love to look.  On a crisp mid-October Sunday I was perusing the last-of-the-season markets in Boston’s South End with friends, purchase-free until I met Kate Kellman. read more

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A Glovely Idea

Clorox Premium Choice Gloves incident highlights importance of user experienceDear Clorox:

I am an avid user of your Premium Choice Gloves which are “Neoprene Dipped for Extra Durability and Protection.”  Though I was not searching for neoprene-dipped gloves, I have become a loyal user of them as they are the most durable rubber gloves that Target sells to protect my hands as I scrub pots and pans.

Otherwise my hands would resemble those of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Usually I buy two pairs at a time, so when the first pair fails – via a tear in one of the gloves – I have a back-up pair ready.

Here’s the thing though.  It’s always the right glove that goes first.  read more

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Score More From Your Marketing

Fisher Stadium at Lafayette College - football game in progressOn Saturday September 24th I spent a beautiful evening with my family at Fisher Stadium in Easton, Pennsylvania, watching the Lafayette College Leopards play football against the Villanova Wildcats.

The weather was about all the Leopards had going for them. read more

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Eye of the Buyer

Eye of the buyerTwo weeks ago Fidelity took me on a frustrating financial odyssey. 

This summer Fidelity ditched long-time credit card partners American Express and Bank of America to consolidate its service with Elan Financial Services.  Anyone holding a Fidelity credit card received a new Fidelity Visa Signature card from Elan.

I was one of the 550,000+ who received a new card.  It was unclear to me whether I needed to re-designate where I wanted my rewards to go, so I tried to log into the new Fidelity Visa card website. read more

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How to Use Surveys Strategically

Survey on a clipboard - how to do surveys strategically and wellOur world has gotten feedback happy.  And it’s annoying.

In a 48-hour period at the beginning of May I received five surveys.

One paper survey via snail mail with 66 questions to rate my son’s pediatrician.  One online survey from a hotel I had stayed at the prior weekend and another from a hotel stay two weeks before.  A third online survey from the conference I had just attended, and a fourth one from OpenTable for the restaurant I had dined in the Friday before. read more

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5 Ways A Good Rivalry Benefits Your Brand

Michael Phelps competing June 28 in the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials on NBC Sports

Michael Phelps competing June 28 in the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials on NBC Sports

Do you know who Michael Phelps is?

Unless you have been living behind a boulder, you probably do. (I avoid clichés.)  The 31-year-old swimming phenom has 22 Olympic medals, 18 of them gold, and has set numerous world records.

Phelps’ main rival, Ryan Lochte, has 11 Olympic medals.  Without Phelps present Lochte could be considered the best male swimmer of all time.  But he happened to come of age at the same time as Phelps and therefore has an underdog position to him. read more

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How FitBit Stays Fit

array of FitBit productsI have been exercising regularly most of my life.  As a high energy person, I discovered in my teens that expending this energy often helped my sanity.  And that of the people around me.

In high school I took modern dance classes.  In college I took aerobics classes.

When I moved to Boston, I found a gym and cajoled myself to go there a few times a week.  read more

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A College Brand Standout

3 blank college pennants - one navy, one gray, one maroon.

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On April 20th, as I sat in an auditorium at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, I had my marketing heart stolen.

My son AJ and I were in the process of a 1000-mile tour to revisit three colleges to help him choose one.

On that beautiful Wednesday morning, AJ was sitting in on a class while I attended a one-hour parent session conducted by Neil Weissman, Dean of the College. read more

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Should Your Brand Be on Facebook?

Facebook like thumbs up hand and thumbs down handWhen I woke up on April 3, 2009, I did not know that I would be joining Facebook that day.

Around 8pm I had just connected on LinkedIn with friends from my high school years when one of them wrote, “You need to get on Facebook! We have been posting some old group photos that you are in.”

Talk about an incentive to join. read more

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