THE BIG IDEA


Peter Whent

January 10, 2023

In the beginning

Let’s Kibble and chill.

Be honest. That doesn’t sound like the start of an evening that ends in a shaking of the sheets.

I think it’s the Kibble bit that’s the passion killer. It’s the kind of company name you’d think up walking home from a bottomless brunch.

But that pre-launch working name wasn’t Netflix’s biggest problem in their early days. Their business model had an identity crisis Madonna would be proud of.

Sell DVDs by post?

Doesn’t Amazon do that?

Rent DVDs by post?

Doesn’t Blockbuster do that – kind of?

They couldn’t decide, so they offered both, which ensured that not a single soul on the planet knew what they stood for.

Then they had their BIG IDEA.

OK now we're getting somewhere

Netflix's BIG IDEA was Video on Demand.

Up to this point, all you could do with Netflix was rent a single DVD, watch it, return it and order another one. There was a horrible amount of friction in that process.

Video on demand meant they’d send you five DVDs of your choice and when you watched one and returned it, they’d refresh the collection automatically with the next title on your wish list.

Video on Demand in 2000 meant you always had a DVD to watch.

Now that they were clear about what they offered it made a lot of other decisions much easier.

To make Video on Demand work they moved to subscription based pricing, and the friction melted away. That alone was revolutionary in 2000.

That decision enabled them to scrap late fees, which in a single move, knee-capped Blockbuster who made $800 million a year from late fees. Dry your tears. The fuckers deserved it. Anyone whose business relies on penalising its users for using them belongs in the bin.

Video on Demand, subscription pricing and no late fees changed everything. Netflix took off like a moon rocket. Fast forward 20 years and their annual revenue hit $29 billion.

The key to everything  was their BIG IDEA. Video on demand. It was the vision that gave them direction. It also allowed them to innovate. As products have come and gone (there’s no longer a DVD in sight), they have stayed true to their BIG IDEA. What do they offer us today – Video on Demand.

Your BIG IDEA is a grand vision of what you want to deliver. It’s not a description of the product, it’s far more nuanced than that. To be really effective it has to be audacious.

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At the heart of all great brands is a BIG IDEA.

Google’s BIG IDEA is “To organise the world’s information.”

Salesforce’s BIG IDEA was “No software.”

Nike’s BIG IDEA is that “Experiences are greater than material possessions.”

It’s not “Just wear it” or “Just buy it.” It’s “Just do it.”

Your BIG IDEA is a grand vision of what you want to deliver. It’s not a description of the product. It's far bigger than just a product and far more nuanced. To be really effective it has to be audacious. It should excite you and make your audience sit up and take notice.

It’s how you differentiate your brand from the other brands trying to do what you do.

The problem in 2021 is that excitement and sitting up and taking notice can’t be measured down to the last decimal point on a KPI dashboard. And as your BIG IDEA is more likely to come from the lips of Don Draper than Bill Gates, it makes some people uneasy.

My message to you is simple. Human psychology hasn’t changed in hundreds of years. Sometimes the answer doesn’t live in a spreadsheet. Sometimes a bit of emotion is what electrifies an audience.

Don’t be afraid to spend time unearthing your BIG IDEA.


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