Netflix CMO Kelly Bennett on revolutionizing the entertainment industry

Feb 17, 2014
Kelly Bennett

Daniel Shapiro (right), Dean of the Beedie School of Business interviewed Kelly Bennett, Chief Marketing Officer of Netflix, in front of a live audience at the latest Beedie BBA Tune-up and Reunion.

Since launching its on-demand media streaming service in the US in 2007, Netflix has revolutionized the global entertainment industry. Recently named by Fast Company as one of the top five most innovative companies in the world, its annual revenues last year exceeded $4 billion. So how has it achieved its phenomenal success?

Kelly Bennett, BBA alumnus, and Chief Marketing Officer at Netflix, detailed the company’s remarkable success story – and his own – in a special interview with Daniel Shapiro, Dean of the Beedie School of Business, in front of a live audience of students and alumni at the latest BBA Tune-up and Reunion.

The event, held on 11 February at the Segal Graduate School, built upon the success of previous tune-ups and provided alumni with an opportunity to reconnect with their fellow graduates and Beedie faculty. It also offered a unique opportunity to hear about one of the most innovative organizations in the world from one of its top employees.

Asked what his role as CMO entails, Bennett explained that he supervises a team of marketing staff based in California. “I create advertising that forms an emotional connection with people globally – my boss (Reed Hastings, CEO and co-founder of Netflix) has referred to my job title as ‘Chief Emotion Officer’,” he said. “Advertising in countries in Europe versus Latin America varies. One size doesn’t fit all.”

Finding the Canadian job market frustratingly difficult to break into after graduation, Bennett moved to London, where he found employment in an advertising agency. It proved to be the stepping-stone into the entertainment industry, as his work with DVDs – at the time a new technology – and a passion for digital media resulted in an opportunity to work for entertainment studio Warner Bros. He subsequently rose through the ranks to Vice President of Interactive Worldwide Marketing, before landing his current role at Netflix in 2012.

Netflix’s head office is based in the Silicon Valley, and Bennett admits that the unique work culture of the area has helped shape the company’s own corporate culture. The Netflix culturedescribed by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg as one of the most important documents to ever come out of Silicon Valley – promotes employee freedom and responsibility, and omits policies such as expenses and annual leave, instead asking employees to behave in a manner they deem reasonable.

“Netflix values freedom and responsibility, empowering people to do great work, spread their wings and do what is in the best interests of the company,” he said. “When given freedom, employees can make great things happen.”

Described by some as a disruptive technology – an innovation that creates a new market, disrupting an established one in the process – Shapiro inquired whether Bennett agreed with this definition, or whether he viewed Netflix as providing an established service in a different context.

“Consumers want to be able to watch an entire series of House of Cards in one night,” he responded. “Linear TV is not an ideal experience for consumers – our strategy in the industry is to provide a replacement for this model with one where they control the experience.”

Throughout the interview, Bennett fielded questions from the audience, touching upon subjects such as whether Netflix might lose their market share to competitors imitating their model; what he learned from his biggest failure; the process of creating a major marketing campaign; and Netflix’s plans for expansion into other territories.

Shapiro wrapped up the interview with a popular question for Canadian Netflix subscribers – whether Bennett subscribed to the commonly held belief that the company’s Canadian content is not as rich as in the US.

“I hear that a lot, but it is my belief that the library in Canada is in some respects better – it is more current, although it is smaller,” Bennett said. “We run the company at a small profit and reinvest the money we make into new technology and new content. As our business grows, the library will continue to get better.”

To view photos of the event, visit the Beedie School of Business Flickr page.

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