I don't own a Tivo, mainly because I don't watch tv.*** Everyone I know who has one though, says it is pretty much the best thing ever invented. These people love their Tivos way more than Saturn owners love their cars (remember all those commercials?). Yet Tivo is struggling, and hasn't sold near the number of units I expected. This article points out a reason for Tivo's problems that I haven't seen elsewhere – they ignore their best customers.
For most companies, a self-organized community of 40,000 passionate fans is unfathomable—a Holy Grail and marketing nirvana that many wish for but few attain. How does TiVo embrace this community of highly affiliated volunteer salespeople?
TiVo monitors the group with a few staff members. But they're not active, cheerleading participants helping whip the group into a sustained frenzy with over-the-top support and community-building activities. They're more like hall monitors. In many ways, TiVo considers this deep bench of volunteer salespeople as "the lunatic fringe" to be monitored, not engaged.
As we obviously pick on publicly held TiVo in this analysis, it's because we're exhibiting a common customer evangelist trait: unsolicited advice. It's not because TiVo is a bad company—but because, like the Matt Damon character in Good Will Hunting, it cannot seem to reach anything near its unlimited potential.
I think corporate strategies need to be flexible. Tivo obviously has not considered tapping into their customer evangelists, probably because they didn't realize how strongly users would feel about their product. A good corporate strategy needs to be proactive enough to do things without always waiting to see how the market responds, but reactive and fluid enough to adjust to market surprises (be they pleasant or unpleasant). Tivo needs to adapt to reach their potential as a company.
It reminds me of when Sony's AIBO came out, and people began hacking it and programming it to do other things. Sony tried to sue them under the DMCA, when they should have embraced this hacker culture that loved AIBOs (even if they had to do it unofficially). Go read the whole article, there is lots of good stuff in there. More by authors Mconnel and Huba can be found here.
***I have mild ADD, and I find it difficult to sit through tv shows unless they are highly engaging. I haven't watched anything regularly since Seinfeld went off the air. I do watch a little football this time of year, and I watch tons of college basketball, but I think network tv for the most part sucks.