While TiVo has an evangelistic customer base that rivals Krispy Kreme’s, TiVo hasn’t made the leap to become a mass-market phenomenon because the company’s culture is rooted in sales, not evangelism. TiVo’s marketing strategy focuses on promotional sales tactics vs. embracing current loyal customers who drive sales on the company’s behalf.
(What’s a TiVo? It’s a personal digital recorder that allows you to record television programs in the most unbelievably easy way imaginable. Imagine that it’s a product designed for your grandmother.)
Our virtual mailbag filled up with responses to the article. Most of our readers agreed, but one person who didn’t was TiVo Senior VP and General Manager Brodie Keast. He emailed us immediately. Some excerpts from our email conversation with him. You can be the judge on his tone 🙂
NOTE: LONG POST
From: Brodie Keast
Sent: Thursday, August 21, 2003 1:53 PM
Don’t know who wrote your column regarding TiVo, but I don’t believe you spoke with anyone here before writing it.
Our business is built on customer evangelism. While we can improve and intend to do more, this column is far off the mark.
Does the author have TiVo? If so, have they seen our friends and family program as delivered on the service?
Visited our website?
Have they seen the testimonial TV spots we have run nationally in the past and those currently running now in partnership with DIRECTV? Are they familiar with our Q4 programs for this year?
Have they spoken to the moderator of the TiVo Community forum? Did they know that TiVo has hosted this forum on our computer systems in the past and now provides financial support? Did they know that TiVo employees, including executives, read the forum regularly and that this drives changes in our products, policies, processes and people? Did they know that five TiVo employees from marketing, operations, customer support and other areas are active participants and post daily?
This column seems like a poorly researched cheap shot, which is as self serving as the claims the author makes against our company. Not a great way to secure new clients and evangelize yourself.
SVP and General Manager, TiVo Service
We sent Brodie an email response explaining that we wrote the article, first and foremost, because we are big, big fans of TiVo, the product. We have owned ours for two years because someone evangelized it to us. We have personally told hundreds about our TiVo. We’ve probably helped sell at least a dozen units.
We explained that we wrote our newsletter article because everywhere we speak (over 60 events so far this year as part of our book tour), people ask our opinion of TiVo. Here’s what we tell people (and what we told Brodie):
1. Some of TiVo’s marketing is OK, but the celebrity efforts are a wash. Celebrity efforts are almost *always* a wash. Trust in celebrities is negligible. People trust their friends and family for opinions.
2. Compare the TiVo employees on the self-organized TiVo Community forum to the solitary work of Starwood Corp.’s “Lurker” William Sanders, who has engendered the fanatical devotion of the Flyer Talk Forum, and Sanders blows the TiVo employees who post to forum out of the water.
3. In proportion to what could be done with the 40,000 people in the TiVo community, TiVo’s efforts are sub-par. For example, TiVo should become the biggest sponsor of the 2004 Las Vegas TiVo meet-up that is being self-organized by the forum members. TiVo executives should be the featured speakers. TiVo may consider the community members “fringe” but as you probably know, Geoffrey Moore explained all of this coherently in “Crossing the Chasm.”
4. TiVo is a cause, not a product. Every single thing the company does should be about the cause: rallying people to change their lives. How many times have you heard people say that TiVo has changed their life? President Colleen Barrett and CEO Jim Parker say that Southwest isn’t an airline, it’s a cause. That’s TiVo, too. Considering your work at Apple, you understand this well.
5. There are few companies in the world with such evangelistic customers; in this regard, TiVo’s peers are Krispy Kreme, Southwest Airlines and Build-a-Bear Workshop (these are the case study companies in our book). But in those companies, everyone from the CEO to the secretaries embrace customers — and criticism — publicly, online and in person. They take the good with the not-so-good. We don’t see the same with TiVo.
Our cause is to show the world what can happen when companies embrace their community of passionate customers and fan the flames of evangelism. We tell the stories of those that do it well, those that don’t, and those who could if they really tried. Because we’re loyal TiVo customers, we expect *more* from the company. The opportunity to amplify the TiVolution movement via the TiVo community is at your fingertips.
We then received a lengthy email back from Keast about suggestions. Some excerpts:
1. Regarding our marketing, we have made mistakes and have tried learned from these experiences. At the same time, we have created a strong consumer brand in what we would consider record time. We have helped build a new category and lead this category in virtually any way you want to measure it. This is despite competing with much larger forces, including Microsoft. Our growth is in very large part due to the word of mouth and consumer evangelism we try to encourage and facilitate. Regarding the celeb mentions, we have found this to be effective. None of these people are paid. Consumers identify with celebrities that they relate to and trust, especially if the endorsement is based on real experience and is heart-felt.
2. Regarding the TiVo community. Did you know that TiVo employees and executives have attended, and sponsored in some way, virtually every community event, in more than one state, including summer barbecues and other meetings? The Las Vegas event will likely include TiVo participation as well. So that’s not new. However, we believe that these events should be owned by our customers, not TiVo, in order to be credible as grass roots initiatives. Our view is that if you go too far on this, the community appears “owned” or “controlled” by the company, losing it’s credibility with members. It’s a balancing act. Saturn went too far and ended up with contrived events that I believe have since been abandoned. I would offer that Apple has gone too far and that this has contributed in some way to their “cult” image and niche positioning. While you may think our efforts here are sub-par, and I’m sure we can do more, I’d say we compare well against our peer groups given we are a young company with limited resources. It may simply be that we disagree on a finer point. “Sub-par” seems unfair.
While the TiVo Community Forum has about 40K members, we believe that about 5K are active. We now have more than 800K subscribers and more than 1.8M people watching TV with TiVo (2.2 people per HH). The TiVo Community on-line is important to us, but it can’t be the only place we communicate with customers. We have a cost effective way to communicate with all of our customers, not just some, through the service itself and an email newsletter. For example, we have offered unique video content and newsletter tips on how to host a great TV event such as a Super Bowl or Academy awards party. We have offered friends and family discounts directly to our entire customer base via a video Showcase. This has resulted in increased satisfaction and sales. Our tips/tricks column in the newsletter drives an open rate on this piece that is incredible. We feature “star customers” who tell their story in lifestyle terms in the newsletter on on our website. The newsletter generates a regular flow of email contact which we then have the opportunity to respond to. Each touch point leaves a personal connection.
So to say we don’t facilitate consumer activism is unfair.
3. I would agree that TiVo is about changing peoples lives for the better and putting the consumer in charge. This is at the essence of our brand message and you can expect us to continue to step up efforts to communicate this. Not sure what your beef is on that.
4. We welcome constructive critique when it is offered in in a fair and constructive fashion, and without hidden agendas; real or perceived. As I mentioned before, we have made very significant changes to our products, service, policies, systems and people based largely on external feedback. I could give you many examples. We use the TiVo Community, our customer support center, newsletter feedback, regular customer polls and field research, accept feedback from retailers and listen to unsolicited feedback from many, many different sources. Often, I handle customer escalations with personal phone calls to better understand root issues. We try to answer every contact made to our company. To say we don’t accept feedback is unfair.
… With all due respect, and while I’m a huge fan of evangelism and creating causes, I think you know it’s a bit more complicated than that. I would suggest making your point in the context of how evangelism fits into a larger marketing plan.”
Which brings us full circle to why TiVo hasn’t tipped: Evangelism does not fit into the marketing plan, evangelism *is* the marketing plan. Evangelism is not a marketing tactic. It’s a theology. A belief system. All strategies and tactics flow from a well-defined cause. Thousands of TiVotees have testified, “TiVo has changed my life.” That’s marketing nirvana. To us, there is no “larger marketing plan.”
Will TiVo change its ways and embrace its customer evangelists? We can only hope. In the last two weeks, the TiVo website has been changed to feature customer testimonials instead of big product shots.
But it’s two steps forward and one step back. Customer testimonials are good; featuring them on the front page of the website is even better. But these testmonials are troubling because:
– They are overly slick; the people seem as if they could be models
– They feature the trust-busting first name and last initial only
– Specific details, like the customer’s city and state, are missing
– They lack emotion and quirkness that makes them seem real
We know that the pictured customers are real because we recently met someone who knows “Alyson R.” But if you didn’t know better, skepticism seems the more likely route.
If you’re planning on customer testimonials for your marketing, how to do them right?
– Capture the quirkiness of real customers. They don’t have to be modelesque. The Apple “Switch” campaign was successful because it featured letters from real customers with “switching” stories. The TV spots were quirky and believable.
– Include plenty of detail from customer stories and how customers actually use the product/service in real settings. Bike Friday, a Eugene, an Oregon company that makes folding travel bicycles, features customers on the front page of its web site riding across the world. During each visit to the site, the front page randomly chooses one of 67 different customer stories. Many stories feature the customer’s email address, just in case anyone wants more info. Wow! Now that’s trust on all ends of the spectrum.
Keep trying, TiVo. We’re all rooting for your success.