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Does Anyone Have Any Idea What They're Doing?
By: David Soyka
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So Netflix, the company that branded red envelopes in the mail and slayed Blockbuster (not to mention countless mom-and-pop video store owners), lately has not only been shooting itself in the foot, but seems aimed at self-inflicting something potentially more fatal. It’s stuff like this that makes you think The Onion obituary headline about Steve Jobs (and here I paraphrase) as the last American who knew what he was doing is not, alas, entirely satirical. (Sidenote: also in the “funny if it wasn’t true” department are politicians pretending to know something about how to create employment and restart the economy heralding Jobs as the apotheosis of the American entrepreneurship whose business model depends on outsourcing manufacturing to China.)
 
To review, after pissing off customers with a new pricing scheme, Netflix announced it was splitting into separate digital delivery and physical disc in the mail companies. Meaning customers who wanted both services would now have two websites with two different accounts. And that the company everyone knew as the red envelope in the mail company would become the digital delivery service and something called Qwikster would instead send out the red envelopes. After considerable hullaballoo, Netflix said “never mind” — except for the new pricing that got everyone mad in the first place.
 
This is why consultants make the big bucks.
 
You could argue that Netflix is listening to its customers and at least has the courage to admit when it’s screwed up. Think New Coke, only with quicker responsiveness. But let’s look at it from the perspective of what Jobs is rightly heralded for — providing an unparalleled customer experience, even if customers themselves don’t yet realize it, but will. Remember how people laughed at the iPad and its connotations of a feminine hygiene product?  Or, more recently, tthe iPhone 4S that pundits dismissed as not very exciting that is selling out.   
 
Keep in mind: this is a company that even while some customers complain about the lack of a BluRay disc drive puts out a laptop that doesn’t even have a disc drive. Because eventually every kind of software, even high-definition movies, will be distributed over the Internet. Even if they aren’t right now, and even if that isn’t going to change in the foreseeable future.
 
So, you can understand the Netflix line of thinking. Eventually, physical media will be obsolete. Even if it’s not today, we’re moving more and more content online. And even if a lot of people still like the red envelopes in the mail, and even if for customers where high-speed Internet is still not available, that’s the only option. So here’s why Steve Jobs was Steve Jobs and everyone else isn’t. Instead of just making the break, saying that this is the future of our business and even if you, the customer, doesn’t understand it yet, trust us, you will. Get angry all you want, but, you’ll come around. Because we’re doing it for your own good.   
 
This brings us to the crux of the problem for Netflix. It didn’t stick to its vision because it didn’t have a vision to stick with. Netflix wasn’t splitting in two for the good of their customers, to provide a better a customer experience. They did it as a reaction to a pricing strategy that lost customers.
 
It’s important here to note that despite the permutations of Netflix over the last couple of weeks, and all its talk about responsiveness to customers, the company remains steadfast that pricing does not change. 
 
I thought only cell phone companies could get away with this.
 
Now that Steve is gone, we’re left with banks that have the gall to propose charging customers to use their debit cards, even though debit cards were created in the first place to save banks money on check processing expenses. And they’ll get away with it because with all the money the banks save on debit card transactions, they can contribute to the campaign coffers of politicians whose idea of representing their constituents is to merely oppose whatever the party in power proposes. As opposed to, you know, actually have some ideas that might possibly work.
 
Forget occupying Wall Street. Could someone, preferably someone like Steve Jobs, occupy the heads of the people running our corporations, let alone our country?


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About the Author
David Soyka is freelance copywriter who has conceptualized and developed a range of strategic advertising, marketing, training, and technical communications for  advertising agencies and Fortune 1000 companies in print, web, and broadcast formats. A former newspaper reporter and English teacher, he is a published author of ficiton and non-fiction, and a DJ at WTJU-FM. Find him online here.


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