Netflix exec gives INMA members 4 frameworks for product success

By Paula Felps


Nashville, Tennessee, USA


Attendees at the INMA Product and Data for Media Summit had the rare opportunity to spend more than two hours with the former vice-president of product at Netflix.

Product strategy is “all about combining discipline and chaos,” said Gibson Biddle, former vice president of product for Netflix in a product strategy during a workshop Thursday as part of the Product and Data for Media Summit. “It helps you as a product leader to communicate an inspired vision of the future, which is the hardest thing to do, but really that's what product strategy is all about.”

Among many key learnings during his workshop, Biddle introduced four frameworks that can help media companies make sure that they are bringing strategy to life to inform better decision-making.

Gibson Biddle, former vice president of product for Netflix, spent more than two hours with attendees during today's workshop.
Gibson Biddle, former vice president of product for Netflix, spent more than two hours with attendees during today's workshop.

Framework 1: DHM

The DHM framework is about “delighting customers with a hard-to-copy advantage in a margin-enhancing product.” In short, it’s about keeping customers happy with a unique proposition that also makes money.

To begin doing that, companies first need to form a hypothesis on what they need to do to accomplish that and then determine how to create a better customer experience. “The business experience strategy helps me to get focused on the top five or 10 things,” he explained. “I can do anything. I just cant do everything.”

At the end of the day, strategy is essential because it helps communicate the plan that is created. And that may take time: “It took us years of experimentation [at Netflix] to figure it out … the key things that drive customer delight [and] customer value,” he said.

Framework 2: GEM

GEM is all about growth, engagement, and monetisation, Biddle said. He used the current environment in which Netflix is seeing tremendous competition from Disney+, raising the question of whether Netflix should adjust its prioritisation of growth, followed by monetisation, then followed by engagement. He encouraged lively interaction from the audience as to whether Netflix actually changed its prioritisation based on the competition.

Ultimately, Netflix stood its ground: “Netflix said, you know what? We got it right. Were going to continue to play our game. And so they put growth first,” he said. Because of the data it gathered, Netflix was able to continue right-sizing original content to give more of whats wanted. And there’s a great lesson in there for news media companies: “This is a good example of a company that … just stayed focused on playing its game because they have so much hard-to-copy advantage,” he said. When a company is confident in its product strategy, it will drive better decision-making, particularly in the face of competition.

“Turn the metric that you use to measure growth, engagement, and monetisation, and then figure out how to force-rank those things” to help drive decision-making.

Framework 3: SMT

Once those strategies are in place, the SMT (strategy, metrics, tactics) model will align strategy with metrics and tactics. Biddle recalled joining Netflix in 2005 and experimenting with 10 high-level strategies which then were pared down to five high-level strategies. Those strategies included an experience for users that was personalised, instant, and simple, were margin-enhancing, and worked well within the device ecosystem.

The SMT (strategy, metrics, tactics) model aligns strategy with metrics and tactics.
The SMT (strategy, metrics, tactics) model aligns strategy with metrics and tactics.

Each strategy that’s developed must also have a proxy metric. For example, retention was the metric for high-level engagement.

“It's really hard to measure retention. It takes time to change it. So, you develop proxy metrics to evaluate the strategies in short term,” he explained. Then, if they could see improvements in that proxy metric, it allowed them to make decisions for the longer term.

That leads to the tactics, which is the process of executing projects against a strategy to prove or disprove that strategy’s effectiveness.

“Metrics are wicked hard. It surprises people when I nicely tell folks that sometimes we would debate metrics for three, six, or nine months,” he said. “[We’d ask questions like] Can you find the data? Can you move them data? Does it correlate to retention cannot actually create and improve a causal relationship? Those are hard things to answer.”

Getting the proxy metric wrong can be devastating, which is why SMT is so important: It builds metrics and creates a hypothesis-driven organisation.   

Framework 4: Roadmap

The roadmap is used to pull together the first three frameworks; it’s a rolling, four-quarter framework that peeks into the future but doesn’t write it in stone. It expresses the product strategy and shows how things fit together; it also hints at the organisational structure and provides a sense of timing. And it’s essential for long-term planning.

The roadmap pulls together the first three frameworks.
The roadmap pulls together the first three frameworks.

“I view it largely as a storytelling device,” Biddle said. “If your job is to inspire organisations, you will find yourself as a storyteller and it shows how things fit together. As organisations get bigger, people are like ‘how the heck does all this stuff fit together?’”

A roadmap brings it all together and helps give everyone a clear idea of how to move forward: “At the end of the day, as organisations grow, these ideas help teams to stay aligned.”

The power of frameworks

“Each of these has a purpose,” Biddle said. “DHM helps me to form these strategies and hypotheses. The GEM model helps provide cross-functional alignment across marketing, sales, operations, content, whatever the names of those functions are. The SMT helps align strategies, metrics, and tactics; then a roadmap communicates how things fit together over time.”

Together, these four frameworks can help organisations move forward with better decision-making. He encouraged attendees to take those next steps:

  • Define product strategy, metrics and tactics for the company and for individual departments.
  • Build a four-quarter roadmap.
  • Execute quarterly product strategy meetings.

“The reason I think strategy is so important is it helps provide that inspired vision of the future,” Biddle said. “Long-term focus makes anything possible. Just think about how it is that a punk DVD-by-mail company is now the leading movie and TV content producer in the world.”

Biddle’s workshop also included a quarterly product strategy simulation using three modern-day Netflix cases to illustrate how strategy informs decision-making. 

INMA’s Product and Data Summit continues on Tuesdays and Thursdays through October 19.

About Paula Felps

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