The Balance Between These Two Human Needs is Critical in Keeping and Growing a Vibrant Customer or Fan Base

How can a 35 year old company be more relevant today than ever before?

Mindy Grossman, the dynamic and innovative CEO of HSN, who was named one of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women by Forbes Magazine, shared her strategy with our UCLA MBA graduate class.  When Grossman took over the helm as the eighth CEO in ten years, she had a conundrum:

How do you reinvent yourself without losing your crucial current customer base?

Her strategy?

Be surprising, yet familiar at the same time.

And this got me thinking, because this approach appealed to two of the six basic human needs – the need for certainty and variety.  The appeal of certainty is entirely seductive.  Our reptilian brain seeks this basic comfort as a tool to survive.  And beyond this, predictability and certainty are critical in all areas of our lives as they provide crucial coping mechanisms.  We are creatures of pattern recognition and feel comfort when that pattern is present.  The paradox is that as humans, we need variety, otherwise we’re bored, lose attention, and don’t grow.

The balance between these two human needs is critical in keeping and growing a vibrant customer or fan base.

For Mindy, this strategy meant evolving from the certainty of a linear selling television network to the variety of a hybrid media, entertainment and retail business.  Her customers had been habituated to HSN’s television experience.  Yet, a larger and larger sector were evolving to be more technologically savvy with the use of their computers, smart phones, iPads, and even gaming devices.  While television hasn’t and wasn’t going away, her vision was to find the areas of engagement consistent with the brand and customer experience utilizing these other means of connection.  If her audiences were listening and responding in a variety of new areas, then she had to bring her offerings to these new mediums.

Grossman had HSN tap into a growing population of female gamers with a new online game played through  This provided the certainty of the quality of goods and the security of transactional vitality that had built her core business into this new media.  The result?  More than 63 million games have been played and her audience was buying and enjoying a variety of experiences that provided the platform to sell her products.  Similarly, she saw variety in entertainment offerings that appealed to her particular customer base and partnered with Universal, picking films like Snow White and the Huntsman, and popular TV dramas, like HBO’s True Blood, to create exclusive entertainment vehicles that could power her product sales for HSN.

This balancing act of certainty and variety helped to grow and keep vibrant HSN’s balance sheet.