Tuesday, December 01, 2009

When belief becomes an obsession

Today in a consumer behavior class, we studied the case of TiVo, the first entrant in smart television. The first player who brought in the concept of rewind, pause, record, fast forward live TV. The first player who wished to put control of what the consumer saw on TV into the customer's hands. The TATA SKYs of the west if you will? The first player who actually failed to capitalize on the first mover advantage, due to some strategic errors. The first player who failed to capture significant market share despite a brilliant idea.

One of the beauties of a class like consumer behavior is the fact that it ties in the psychology of a consumer into the science of marketing. Something as intangible as a consumer's thought process is deciphered and converted into something that can be used by firms to tactically reach the consumer. So we studied why TiVo went wrong. And the result lay in the fact that despite having a sterling idea, they looked at the idea as techies. They understood the idea and they expected the world to get it too! "D-uh!!", they said. They were overpriced, as was seen with newer players soon came out with products at half their rates, with a few lesser feature. But TiVo never took an effort to find out whether the features they were providing warranted such a premium over competition - or whether the consumer really cared for those features. It's more like giving me a pen that can sing and charging a bomb for it, without finding out whether I as a consumer want a singing pen! I perhaps just want a pen to write and care two hoots about the singing thing!

Again, why did they do that? Well, their belief that they had a phenomenal product turned into an obsession. They felt it was the best thing to happen to mankind after sliced bread, and so, were unwilling to look at a customer's viewpoint, and engage in activities that would draw the consumer. They simply made the consumer laugh - using humor in their ads and then very condescendingly said - go find out the rest on our website. All this for a product that cost a lot - a TV enhancer costing almost as much as a TV. All this when the customer has not yet understood the concept.

So, apart from a marketing lesson, I liked this story because it gave me another perspective. Belief and self-belief are good. They are brilliant when it comes to boosting one's confidence. But one should never let one's beliefs cloud good sense and judgement. I can't help but allude to Satyajit Ray's Jalsaghar, where the protagonist - a once-upon-a-time-rich man spends his every last penny to put on a show of pomp and prosperity, till he finally collapses literally and metaphorically to his inability to sustain that image. So, every once in a while, one must really step back from the cheers and adulation, and see whether the praises and positive comments coming in are true and meaningful. Every once in a while, one must look at one's set of beliefs and cull out the ones based on senseless reasons. Change is what is permanent, and the more nimble we are, the more longer can we sustain.

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