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Maintaining a Strong Brand Means Keeping a Consistent Brand Voice


Dear Netflix,

We’ve been in a relationship for the past two years. You know what I like, I invite you into my bedroom at least five nights a week and you’ve seen me in my pajamas—without make up. But now I don’t even know who you are anymore.

You’ve changed.

Confused and a Few Bucks Poorer,

I am in love with Netflix. It’s brought fascinating characters into my home, friends to my living room and family together—we have a close bond. So it was quite an upset to hear they were raising prices and adding no extra value. None. A second blow came with the announcement that it was splitting into two separate businesses: Netflix and Qwikster.

To smooth things over with subscribers, Co-Founder and CEO Reed Hastings sent an apology email. The message was a great opportunity to speak from the heart, offering empathy nested in explanation to soothe customers and keep them from canceling their account. Unfortunately, this email didn’t make use of a valuable opportunity, and it sounded nothing like the Netflix I love. Hasting’s message was just short of apathetic. And I felt hurt.

The good news? From this letter we can pull three powerful teachings on consumer communication.

Lesson 1: Don’t Be So Blunt

 “…I should have personally given you a full explanation of why we are splitting the services and thereby increasing prices. It wouldn’t have changed the price increase, but it would have been the right thing to do.”

The Netflix that people cherish is one that knows what viewers want, understands their tastes and can predict what they will like. This copy gives the impression that Hastings is unwilling to take into consideration the wants of his consumers, as he acknowledges nothing would have changed his actions.

Lesson 2: Use Consumer-Facing Language

So we realized that streaming and DVD by mail are really becoming two different businesses, with very different cost structures, that need to be marketed differently, and we need to let each grow and operate independently.”

When properly applied, a brand voice facilitates people’s ability to relate to a company as if it were a friend or family—or at least as human. Because Netflix stepped outside its brand voice and obliquely discussed marketing tactics with consumers, it abandoned the image that’s been so keenly developed. Worse: it created animosity. In this case, Netflix no longer sounds like the friend users have come to trust. It became little more than a business.

Lesson 3: Don’t Feign Anything

For me the Netflix red envelope has always been a source of joy. The new envelope is still that lovely red, but now it will have a Qwikster logo. I know that logo will grow on me over time, but still, it is hard. I imagine it will be similar for many of you.”

In this paragraph, Hastings relied on nostalgia to tug at readers’ heartstrings. This could have been a successful move—if it wasn’t the only place he reminisced. Nostalgia should be felt from the beginning to the end of a piece, resulting in a more solidified bond between brand and consumer. If emotion is just sprinkled in for effect, the effort comes off as fake. Even offensive.

When examining the brand a company calculated, developed and executed, consider the method actor. At every customer touch point, at each opportunity for communication, you must never break character. Brand overhauls excluded, once you step out of your unique parameters, you risk creating cognitive dissonance between who your customers thought you were and who this new voice is. Is Netflix the brand that mailed familial memories to my door? Or is Netflix a business savvy, marketing-centric connoisseur focused on the bottom dollar? It can be both, but the message must be communicated on brand.

I don’t know who Netflix is anymore. And I’ll bet a lot of other consumers don’t either.