With the advent of social media, the idea that we can keep a finger on the pulse of how our brand is perceived by customers has caught on fire. Through monitoring Twitter and Facebook feeds, as well as setting up things like Google Alerts, we can tell what is being said and whether customers are satisfied or not. Also, the idea that when customers are not satisfied, they will speak up in a public way that can gain mass exposure is sufficiently prevalent with high profile cases such as ‘United Breaks Guitars’.
However, what happens when customers do not consciously know things about your brand. Can it be that they have a certain association with your brand and products or services that remain unstated and therefore hard to tap into? Can this manifest itself in unanticipated ways? Should brands nevertheless try and tap into this subliminal brand sentiment to avoid future shocks? It would appear that the answer to all these questions is a certain ‘yes’, and a cautionary tale may be in the case of the recent exodus of 1 million subscribers from an otherwise stellar brand, namely Netflix.
It is likely that whereas most Netflix users were satisfied with the service and had a positive association with the Netflix brand, many of these users were not regular users of Netflix DVD rentals. This is evident from a myriad of conversations I’ve had with people as well as the agreement from others in the comments to this article I wrote on Business Insider. After all, what is not to like. Netflix offered a convenient service at a great price. They had almost perfected a DVD recommendation system for users, similar to what Amazon does for books and other products, but Netflix had done theirs with more granularity and precision it seems. Any brand monitoring of Netflix would have yielded an overall positive rating, maybe even a very high positive rating.
So what happened? How did Netflix lose one million subscribers within one quarter, or at least are now forecasting that to be the case? After all, even after implementing the price increase Netflix service is still less expensive than most other online and PayTV services. While there is surely a contingent of users who quit the service on account of the price, and some may just have been offended by how the price increase was implemented, there is another cause – consumer inertia.
Consumer inertia is when users use your product or service out of habit. They don’t stop to think about stopping the use of it or changing to another provider because of inertia. They may be very satisfied with your product or service and any traditional brand monitoring and sentiment tracking will show that you are doing a good job. But if an event occurs–such as the price increase in the case of Netflix–that breaks this inertia, unexpected results may occur.
Consumer inertia is a latent phenomenon – i.e., consumers are not aware of it. For most of my early career, I was doing new product development for emerging market categories. The mantra for new product concepts and development is ‘latent needs’ – i.e., needs that users have, but don’t know about and therefore cannot articulate them if asked. Consumer inertia may be the flip side of this, a need that your product or service has stopped satisfying, but your customers are not aware of it. So while your brand perception is doing just fine, customer relevance may have declined and things may be less rosy than they appear. It would be good to know that before your customers wake up to it so you can bring the relevance back to your customers, wouldn’t it? That is the other facet of a strong brand, being relevant to your customers in ways that they may not even know.