Narcissism and trust issues: how streaming brands are failing their customers

Subscription brands are ‘behaving like narcissists’ and ‘failing to build trust’ with consumers

Over-the-top (OTT) TV subscription brands consistently show ‘narcissistic’ tendencies, which can erode subscriber trust and ultimately make them disloyal, according to a new in-depth report launched today by Singula Decisions, a specialist in subscriber intelligence. 

The study – ‘The Psychology of a Subscriber’ – found that a wide range of OTT streaming services, in both entertainment and sports, fail to connect with consumers on a deeper emotional and psychological level, by:

  • Not understanding the fundamental drivers motivating a subscriber’s behaviours and interactions
  • Invading their boundaries when asking for financial commitment too soon
  • Insufficiently tailoring the service to meet the moods and mindset of each customer
  • Creating ‘avoidant’ or ‘ambivalent’ attachments to subscribers that do not build loyal relationships
  • Ineffectively providing subscribers with the ability to share more about themselves and to listen to their feedback

Psychology of a Subscriber

The qualitative study, conducted and authored by Qualitative Researcher, Accredited Psychotherapist and Director of QualiProjects, Jennifer Whittaker, and Business Psychologist and Researcher, Katharina Wittgens, explores subscriber attitudes towards OTT TV brands in the UK and US, gaining a deep understanding of how consumers think, feel and behave throughout the customer journey. 

Qualitative Researcher, Jennifer Whittaker, said: “Many brands do not listen to subscribers, nor do they create a safe enough space for subscribers to come forward and give more. In fact, brands often have unconscious narcissistic tendencies and are blinded by the belief that customers are only there to serve, by giving ‘strokes’ to the ego – aka money to the account – and helping to build a good reputation. 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.” 

Part 1: Acquisition

This first report in a three-part series covers the acquisition phase of the customer journey. The research found that dissatisfaction and suspicion can begin from the moment a subscriber ‘joins’ a service, if asked to hand over financial information or commit to the brand too soon. While subscribers are at their most enthusiastic in the first months of engagement, brands rarely take advantage of their potential to become advocates. 

Commenting on the findings, Bhavesh Vaghela, CEO of Singula Decisions, said: “We recognise how tough it can be to build a strong brand and grow a TV subscription business as consumers continue to dip in and out of services every month. We have seen strong consumer brands being created in other sectors such as retail, ecommerce and banking; consumers are loyal to these brands and TV subscription businesses are behind this curve.  OTT brands must think differently about how they build a service and experience that best suits the needs of their customers – and do a better job to emotionally connect with their customers to build trust and loyalty.”

Death of the demographic?

Bucking the trend of demographic differences, the study found that at the acquisition stage there weren’t huge variations in needs and experiences between age groups. From Gen Z to Baby Boomers, subscribers of all ages said they felt a sense of being “pushed” by OTT TV brands to commit to the platform financially or share private information. Both UK and US consumers also emphasised the need for a variety of content; American respondents search for unique content that is frequently updated, while British viewers seek value for money based on choice and options for the whole family. After joining the platform, subscribers felt brands were nowhere to be seen, without guidance on how to use the service or how to connect accounts with friends. 

Best practice opportunities

The findings do indicate, however, that brands willing to listen and take time to truly understand their customers, can build trust and loyalty. The report sets out nearly 40 best practice recommendations that can help brands to offer a simultaneous sense of both freedom and connection that subscribers crave in order to feel comfortable to share more of themselves.

Building a relationship that goes beyond a transactional one will have a huge impact on consumers who are faced with more choice than ever. OTT brands that take a lead from other industries, such as retail, ecommerce, and banking, and seek to connect with their customers on a more emotional level, can emerge much stronger.

Download a copy

‘Psychology of a Subscriber: Part 1 – Acquisition’ is the first of three reports looking at the psychological and emotional drivers that consumers experience when subscribing to an OTT service. Part 2 – Growth, which will be released in late August, will explore the relational dynamics and childlike emotions at play when subscribers interact with brands during the billing, upgrade, and downgrade stages. Part 3 – Churn, will follow in October, discussing how a mismatch between brand and subscriber when leaving a service can lead to passive-aggressive behaviours. It will also explore the emotional impact of being made to feel like a number instead of a name throughout the relationship.

There will be an opportunity to hear the authors of the study discuss the research with Colin Dixon, Founder and Chief Analyst of nScreenMedia in a live webcast on August 10th at noon Pacific time (8pm BST, 9pm CET). This webcast, the first in a series of three, is part of the Let’s DEW Lunch webinar series from Digital Media Wire. People can find out more about the series and register here: https://www.dewexpo.com/


For more information and to download the full report, visit https://psychologyofasubscriber.com.

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