In our last column, we described how TiVo largely ignores its extensive community of fervent customer evangelists.

In the United States, TiVo enjoys a passionate customer universe that rivals Krispy Kreme's, yet TiVo still hasn't made the leap to the mass-market phenomenon of customer evangelism.


We contend that it's due in part to the company's focus on sales, not evangelism. Sales is about what's good for a company; evangelism is what's good for customers. TiVo's big-picture marketing primarily focuses on promotional sales tactics versus embracing enthusiastically outspoken customers who influence sales on the company's behalf.

(If TiVo is foreign to you, it's best described as a personal video recorder for television shows. It can skip over ads. You can record individual or season-long shows easily using an intuitive on-screen menu system. Based on what you record, TiVo will recommend other shows or movies to record. Even better: the box lets you pause live TV to make a sandwich, use the restroom, answer the phone, etc.)

As a company, TiVo faces several tall hurdles. Prices for the recorder start at $199 and top $549. A monthly subscription fee of $12.95 makes already-expensive monthly cable bills more daunting. If TiVo were to remove or lower these barriers, adoption rates would likely improve, but we wouldn't bet on it.

For a product with such fervent customer evangelism, a unified and concentrated focus on word of mouth would surely increase sales. Krispy Kreme understands this well; it spends no money on mass media advertising, and its April 2000 initial public offering on Nasdaq remains the best-performing IPO three years later, with a 545% return, according to Dealogic.

If only TiVo were to focus on embracing its customer community the Krispy Kreme way….

If our mailbag from the previous column is any indication, some TiVo customers fear that if the company doesn't “get it” soon, TiVo's future could be bleak.

Brodie Keast, TiVo's senior vice president and general manager, disputes this. (His email responses are too long to include here, so we've posted them to our blog.)

Keast contends that TiVo does embrace its most loyal, evangelistic customers, yet industry analysts can't understand why TiVo's subscriber growth rate remains sluggish in the face of fervent word of mouth. Keast says he's “a huge fan of evangelism and creating causes, [and] 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 to TiVo, part two: Evangelism does not fit into the marketing plan, as Keast argues.

Evangelism is the marketing plan. Customer evangelism is not a marketing tactic. It's a theology. A belief system. It's the driver of all strategies and tactics that naturally emanate from a well-defined cause.

Thousands of TiVotees have testified: “TiVo has changed my life.” That's marketing nirvana. There is no “larger marketing plan.”

TiVo has had a four-year head start in creating the personal video recorder as a product category, but competition is converging quickly on its territory.

What should TiVo do? How can it leverage the power of a passionate, influential customer community to improve its position? More broadly, what if your company is like TiVo, with an acclaimed product or service enthusiastically embraced by customers, B2C or B2B, but you struggle to win widespread adoption?

As three-year TiVo customers (and fans), we have a few ideas:

1. Create a Cause

TiVo's tagline is the nondescript “TV on your terms”—meaningless when you consider that people who love the product often refer to it as “life-changing” and “God's machine.”

“TV on your terms” inspires as much emotion as a statistics class. TiVo should create a bold, emotional cause like “Join the TiVolution!” Better yet, TiVo could simplify its value proposition: “Skip annoying TV ads.”

Long-time TiVo customers welcome newbies into the online TiVo community ( with messages such as this: “You have joined a community of 700,000 other people just like you who are no longer a slave to the TV! TiVo has changed our lives, liberated us from network TV schedules and channel surfing so we have more quality time to spend with children and for ourselves.”

Companies with well-defined, emotional causes create unified strategies and tactics that compel kindred spirits, those target customers, to make the leap from mere purchase to affiliation. It's akin to a political movement: you're not voting for a person, you're trying to change the world. That's what early adopters will tell everyone.

2. Create Community

TiVo enjoys a remarkable online community of 45,000 customer evangelists who have organized themselves into a volunteer sales force. That means 600,000 TiVo customers are not part of the community. TiVo should steer every customer and prospect to the community via prominent Web site links or, ideally, through the special messages section on TiVo-enabled TVs.

TiVo's email newsletter of customer stories and hints and tips goes only to paying customers. That's a missed opportunity for prospects to understand the love before they buy. The email newsletter for prospects is a retinue of special offers and purchase pleas.

In contrast, the “Friends of Krispy Kreme” email newsletter ( is for everyone. It profiles customers, who announce their love for the company, and announces new store openings; its dose of southern homespun charm makes that newsletter a viral marketing machine.

3. Customer Plus-Delta

TiVo should systematize online community feedback and make it a highly visible system. eBay's executives convene customer advisory boards of Power Sellers several times per year. Meg Whitman, eBay's CEO, often leads those sessions. She is a feedback machine who solicits customer input and uses it to make company decisions. As she says, like a mantra, “eBay is a company of customers.” Another example is the solitary work of Starwood Corp.'s “lurker” William Sanders, who has posted thousands of replies to the Flyer Talk Forum for frequent fliers, and has engendered fanatical devotion for Starwood and himself.

4. Napsterize Your Knowledge

TiVo's FAQs and troubleshooting tips on its Web site are as stale as year-old bread. Instead, TiVo could prod its product development experts to build weblogs discussing features and their usage, along with tricks and tips and sneak peeks. TiVo's 45,000 evangelists in the TiVo Community would share this knowledge via waves of word of mouth. A special FAQ of how customers' lives have changed because of TiVo would be far more effective than any celebrity endorsement, which TiVo often solicits.

5. Create Bite-Size Chunks

TiVo customer evangelists often convert newbies to the TiVolution by demonstrating the machine themselves. TiVo could focus this test-drive experience outside the retail environment by encouraging and rewarding customers for hosting TiVo Parties. eBay does this, and helps its evangelists with party themes, activities, food menus, even invitations. (TiVo tried this a few years ago but discontinued the program. TiVo should try again—but have customers develop the program.)

6. Build the Buzz

TiVo often relies on celebrity testimonials, but a celebrity endorsement, even if it's volunteered, is suspect. Celebrities get paid for endorsements. Prospects do not see Mike Meyers using his TiVo at home like they see him in a candid People magazine photograph wearing hip new shoes.

Instead, TiVo should sponsor community events, inviting customers and non-customers to try new models. The most active and vocal TiVo customer evangelists could be ushered into an invitation-only club and showered with TiVo-branded merchandise to wear and give away. Customers could be encouraged to write and record TiVo love songs the company could feature a la “American Idol,” with the best ones delivered via the TiVo special messages section. This is authentic marketing, homespun and free of the slick advertising patina that often taints TiVo marketing.

Those are six strategies that TiVo (or your company) can use to embrace its most evangelistic customers.

So will TiVo make the leap of faith and believe that its most vocal customer evangelists will help it grow and thrive?

TiVotees hope so.

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Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba are the authors of Creating Customer Evangelists: How Loyal Customers Become a Volunteer Sales Force.