The Emmy is not the story. Kevin Spacey (unknowingly) doles out customer experience advice

Emmy_statueThis morning, media outlets ranging from the Wall Street Journal to the Hollywood Reporter to Mashable heralded Netflix’s “historic” victory at the Emmys, as the streaming service’s House Of Cards became the first web-only series to win a Primetime Emmy and thereby disrupt the traditional TV market in its backyard. The WSJ points out that “no broadcaster was nominated in the best-drama category for the second consecutive year, a sign of how much competition major networks face from basic cable channels, premium cable, and now Netflix.”

But, that’s only half the point. Just a month ago, House of Cards lead actor Kevin Spacey highlighted the changing industry in a much more profound and — and if you think in customer terms — relevant way during this summer’s MacTaggart lecture at the Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival.

He made an impassioned case in defense of talent and creative, arguing that it is critical to the long term health of the industry that talent is given equal footing with commerce, since each depends on the other. I’d strongly recommend watching it — it’s certainly interesting in relation to the motion picture ecosystem. But If you listen to it with an ear to the idea of customer experience rather than audience; if you substitute the subject of audience for customer, it’s an absolutely fascinating 47 minutes that you won’t want back.

Why? Spacey hits on:

  • Audience expectation. He points out that audiences want control, and that they evolve faster than companies. He says that smart companies will adapt, and marry new things together. And while “we can make no assumptions about what viewers want or how they want to experience things. We must observe, adapt, and try things to discover appetites we didn’t know were there.” Again, if you think of your customers rather than a TV viewing audience, we all have the same mandate. In Spacey’s words, “We need to be … innovative, and in some ways, we need to be better than the audience – we need to surprise, break boundaries, and take viewers to new places. We need to give them better and better quality.”
  • Product expectations and categorization. Spacey points out that the traditional TV, movie, and ‘show’ monikers are becoming increasingly meaningless; a point, hit on last night by Emmy host, Neil Harris Patrick, who pointed out to younger viewers, that TV is “the thing you watch on your phones.” While, in reference to binge viewing, Spacey points out that “When the story is good enough, people will watch something three times the length of an opera.” It feels familiar to when we’re asked how many times a company should contact their customer. When the content and offer is relevant, people will welcome your contact – they do things that are counter-intuitive in the old way of thinking.
  • Competition. Our media consumption habits have changed. We no longer live in the world of appointment viewing. The same is true for customers. If the notion of the customer funnel was ever true, it’s a lot less true today. If you don’t adapt to your customers, you’re leaving yourself wide open to competition and disruption. In media terms, Spacey encourages his audience to “recognize that new competition can’t be recognized right away – even when you’re forewarned.” He later adds that “yesterday’s labels are useless”. It’s just as true for marketing and customer engagement today.
  • Measurement. In a nod to Netflix’s willingness to take a risk with House of Cards, Spacey mentions data several times. He contrasted Netflix’s attitude “having run the data” to the traditional approach by the networks, relying on the upfront system to assess a show. In almost Moneyball terms, he claims that “Netflix did it right, and focused on the things that have replaced the dumb, raw numbers of the Nielsen world. They embraced targeted marketing and brand as a virtue higher than ratings. And, the audience has spoken.”
  • Leadership. Spacey was pretty scathing of traditional networks and their unwillingness to take risks. Having made his case for the marriage of content and commerce, he claimed that “The only thing we don’t know is why it is so difficult to find executives with the fortitude, the wisdom, and the balls to do it,” and “The challenge is, can we create an environment where executives who live in data and numbers are emboldened and empowered to support our mission.” In reference to those that have done it right (the BBC, Granada, United Artists, HBO, and Netflix, amongst others), he said that “crucially, those in positions of leadership at all these institutions also knew that these policies of supporting, nurturing, and protecting their creative communities was good for business. They found a way to make art and commerce come together and had the guts to fight for quality and for talent.”

As I said above, if you inset the notion of customer and customer experience in the above statements, there’s a ton of sage advice regarding the change required to compete in today’s customer-oriented economy. What’s holding you back?



Emulsify your business

A company’s data resembles a salad bar. Just as we make or order a salad with the ingredients we want, then toss it, and add dressing, we sort of do the same with data — we pull together disparate, silo’d data into a database or data mart, perform some form of analytics or segmentation, and then apply the insights accordingly.
Oil and vinegarBut I think a more interesting place to focus is on the dressing. Most salad dressings are emulsions — a mix of two or more liquids (such as oil and vinegar) — that don’t normally mix. In order to serve customers better, we need to emulsify intelligence — bring together disparate information to generate new contextual insight. And, we need to do it in fractions of an instant. An emulsion approach would combine data about everything from devices, to people’s interests, mindset, historical behavior, current need, location, to the company’s inventory and pricing, and to other factors such as time of day or weather, to determine what action to take in relation to a customer.
 These data would be emulsified in an instant to drive decisions. And just like an ingredient such as vinegar could be used to make salad dressing or mayonnaise, the output – or decision – will depend on all of the ingredients that are blended.
And, this approach applies throughout the business. It’s not just about data. It’s an interesting way to think about many of the elements within a business that are traditionally immiscible (fancy big word I found when researching emulsions) – customer and corporate needs; marketing and IT; physical and digital; static and mobile.
Unlike making a salad dressing though, there’s no way to put the ingredients in a jar and shake vigorously to emulsify them. It will require a deliberate focus and a significant change in culture and process within most organizations. It will require systems to be architected differently. It will force us to measure differently. But, done right, it will make us more nimble, more relevant, and more effective as businesses.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, but I intend to think about it a lot more in the next few weeks – expect more posts on the topic.

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