Sunday, November 10, 2013

Thinking of a Major Product Change? Check in with Your Customers First

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’m a huge fan of the Lifetime Movie Network (LMN).

My Mom was a regular viewer, and when I was younger sometimes I’d catch a movie with her, but mostly I’d just make fun of her obsession. However, now that I am my Mom, well… LMN has become a family room television screen staple.

Until very recently, that is.

Why the change? Funny, that’s what many LMN fans would like to know.

In the past few weeks, LMN has altered its lineup—without warning and without explanation—and viewers are ticked off.

Instead of movies about love-starved and deluded nannies who will do anything to get their man, the occasional goofball romantic comedy, or thrillers about perfectly groomed, well-heeled women and their cheating husbands/boyfriends/significant others, LMN has begun showing “documentaries” about “real life” ghost encounters, homicidal kids, and people who murder their BFFs. In response, many long-time viewers are crying “WTF?”

Although programming about celebrity ghost encounters and teenaged serial killers fits within the network’s mandate to “provide original content across all of its platforms,” clearly the ladies ain’t having it.

And they’ve taken to social media, especially the network’s Facebook page, to complain about what they see as the bait and switch. One frustrated viewer, Kristin Beaver, has even started a petition, “Lifetime Movie Network: Bring Back Movies.”

But what in the world would cause a successful network to just up and modify its lineup with no notice?

It’s like rebranding without going through the trouble of rebranding, and it’s a bad idea.

Product changes, especially those that diminish quality while insulating company profits, are nothing new. I haven’t bought a certain brand of ice cream in I don’t-know-how-long, because despite the ads it isn’t the creamy delight of old. My favorite penny candy, Squirrel Nut Zippers, is waaaaaay low on the nuts these days and sets me back a helluva lot more than some pennies. And Reynolds Wrap? Heavy duty my foot.

But what LMN is doing is different. It’s like I purchased a bag of chocolate chip cookies and after reaching in pulled out an Oreo. One or even two Oreos in my chocolate chip bag might not be that big of a deal (“Look here, a mixup at the factory, ha-ha.”) but more than that, and I’m not going to be happy. After all, if I wanted Oreos I’d have purchased the bag with “Oreos” written across the front.

In other words, you can’t just yank movies off a movie network and replace it with Investigation Discovery wannabes and think your customers won’t notice.

Or, in still other words, a brand can’t change overnight without upsetting somebody.

Look, when your customers have taken to reminding you who you are, that’s a problem. One viewer wrote on Facebook:

“What's with all this junk 1 hour shows LMN is running? No movies??? It is a movie network after all. I can watch this stuff on another channel. BRING BACK THE MOVIES PLEASEEEE.”
Times changes, what worked yesterday doesn’t work today, and sometimes leaders just want to try something new.

But change can fail miserably if a company can’t get its customers on board quick, fast, and in a hurry. (Just ask J.C. Penney—I mean JCP.) And of course, a company ought to be certain its customers actually want the change.

According to its website, LMN is the second highest-rated women’s channel; its sister network, Lifetime Television, is the first highest-rated. LMN is available in 70 million homes throughout the United States and can count among its fans women between the ages of 18 and 54. Apparently, customers liked the product that LMN was peddling.

And yet, LMN keeps pushing the new agenda. On its Facebook page, the network won’t respond to customers demands of “Show me the movies!” but it will ask these same customers “Still in a spooky mood? Watch new episodes of Celebrity Ghost Stories followed by The Haunting Of, tonight.”

Hmmm …

Well, I for one am most decidedly NOT “still in a spooky mood” and will NOT be watching any goofy shows profiling kind-of famous people and the ghosts that haunt them.

Instead, I’ll be checking out the Hallmark Channel, which doesn’t do love-starved and deluded but does, at least, do movies.

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