Taking customers for granted will ensure success won't last

Brands are fragile things these days - especially those that have appeared on the scene relatively recently.

Brands are fragile things these days - especially those that have appeared on the scene relatively recently.

Consider the recent travails of Netflix, Yahoo, and AOL as they attempt to evolve their businesses from the giddy enthusiasm that fueled them initially into mature brands that enjoy enduring relationships with stakeholders and customers.

The further examples of MySpace, Bebo, and Second Life show the lifecycle of a modern brand can be very short if strategy and communication of strategy aren't treated very carefully.

These brands often explode onto the scene and grow at a rate that suggests they are immortal. This might be where some of the communications problems lie. They become suffused with a level of arrogance in the way they deal with their customers, which is a suicidal business strategy.

Look at Netflix. For some years it was the darling of the film-loving community as it swept elder statesmen such as Blockbuster out of the market with an innovative new model. But it started losing its way last year with the first in a series of communications gaffes that it appears intent on compounding. The latest such episode is an admission by CEO Reed Hastings in an email to customers that he "messed up" and that many members felt "we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming, and the price changes." He said he needed to be "extra-communicative" and that, in hindsight, "slid into arrogance based upon past success."

That is admirable honesty and you'd think it would go down well, especially in social media land. But communication is also about listening and Netflix's decision to split the business and require users to set up separate billing accounts where tools such as film lists and user histories can no longer be integrated are all moves users pointed out would diminish their experience.

Netflix is in danger of squandering the hard-won equity it had with its loyal fans. It is even giving a lifeline to Blockbuster and new players in the market who see an opportunity in streaming. It's a lesson that listening is just as important as talking in any communications strategy - and it's another reminder you can never take your customers for granted. 

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