Online video subscription services consistently show ‘narcissistic’ tendencies, which can erode subscriber trust and ultimately make them disloyal. That is the conclusion of a report on the Psychology of a Subscriber from Singula Decisions, which specialises in subscriber intelligence. It says that brands like Netflix, Amazon and Disney are missing opportunities to connect with the psychological and emotional needs of consumers. Given that they have hundreds of millions of subscribers between them, could they do better by understanding the psychology of their customers?

The report, commissioned from qualitative researcher and psychotherapist Jennifer Whittaker and business psychologist Katharina Wittgens, explores the attitudes of subscribers towards online video brands in the United Kingdom and the United States.

It found that many services fail to connect with consumers on a deeper emotional and psychological level by not understanding the fundamental drivers motivating the behaviours and interactions of subscribers. It suggests that services invade their boundaries when asking for financial commitment too soon, insufficiently meet the moods and mindset of each customer, create ambivalent attachments that do not build loyal relationships, and fail to allow subscribers to share more about themselves or provide feedback.

“Many brands do not listen to subscribers, nor do they create a safe enough space for subscribers to come forward and give more,” said Jennifer Whittaker, who co-authored the report. “Unfortunately, brands cannot know subscribers until subscribers give more. But subscribers will only give more if they trust, and they’ll only trust if they don’t feel forgotten.”

The approach compares the relationship of a subscriber with a brand to that with a romantic partner and the need to relate. It is apparently part of a search for meaning, to escape loneliness and feel connected, to experience new aspects of their identity, to share experiences and be inspired by difference, and to grow beyond their current limitations.

A free trial is compared to a first date. Asking for credit card details up front makes people feel invaded, suspicious, unsafe or even angry.

Becoming a customer is compared to committing to a partner, leading to engagement.

Despite the oft-stated desire of companies to build a loyal customer base of subscribers who will stay for the long haul, the authors suggest that brands often rather narcissistically put themselves first and do not take time to understand consumers as complex individuals with multiple layers of emotion, experience, and desire.

Irrespective of the pop psychology, the report offers a number of recommendations for best practice, which subscription services would do well to follow.

For instance, it suggests that service providers should not assume that that everyone is the same and wants popular programming. They should not make assumptions or attempt to classify people who have no desire to be classified.

Whether or not some of the biggest brands in the business feel the need or will take heed of such advice, it makes interesting reading for those responsible for subscription services.

Singlula Decisions

Singular Decisions provides a subscriber intelligence platform that employs artificial intelligence and machine learning. It is refreshing to see that this is combined with insights from psychology.

The company recently rebranded from Paywizard, having started as MGt. It has been in the subscription business for over twenty years.

Psychology of a Subscriber will published in three reports, respectively dealing with acquisition, growth and churn. They will be available from the Singular Decisions web site.