A Love Gone Bad: What Can DVRs Teach Us About Customer Intelligence?

Do you remember your first digital video recorder? Most of us probably started with Tivo, or perhaps a box provided by our cable company. The DVR forever altered how we watch television and introduced the concept of "time shifting" to the media world, much to the consternation of TV networks and advertisers.  

The DVR arrived in my home in 2003, and things haven't been the same since. I'm a busy guy - I have a young family, I travel a lot, all the normal stuff - so the freedom afforded by the DVR from the tyranny of network schedules immediately transformed my TV viewing experience. At first it was enough to record my favorite shows and then watch them at my convenience. But it became so much more: I could easily search for and discover new shows and films, I could record and store my favorite shows and films for a rainy day, and I no longer had to watch commercials! I learned to curate video content, much as I manage my music in iTunes; it's just another stream of media to consume.

(Side note: anyone out there have younger kids who have grown up with a DVR? It's fascinating to take note of their conditioning; my children have never known a world without DVRs and are completely used to watching whatever they want when they want it, and are utterly mystified by the concept of commercials during a program.)

Perhaps the biggest impact for me was the change in how I watch sports. I enjoy sports, particularly NCAA basketball and football (go Illini!), NFL (go Bears!), Formula 1, tennis, golf, and I'm occasionally drawn to obscure sports in the middle of the night such as the Scottish Caber Toss or Australian Rules Football. With the DVR I could watch NCAA basketball games in . . . just 40 minutes, not two hours! I was now immune to insufferably long NFL games, chock full of TV time-outs, halftime show pageantry, and constant holding penalties. 

Life was good.

And then came social media and smartphones.

And life was even better. Now I could share my experiences with friends, fellow fans, and colleagues more than ever before. The witty banter flowed like wine, anywhere, anytime.

But recently I'm finding that this trio are not playing nicely together. Something has been wrong for a while, and I just put my finger on it: Social and mobile are negating the joy of DVR time shifting.

In order to record a show or event and watch it later without seeing a spoiler in the meantime - I often record a game during the day and watch it in the evening after the kids go to bed - I literally have to sequester myself from digital media. No Facebook, no Twitter, no Internet, no email, no smartphone, no TVs playing in public places (they are everywhere these days) . . . these channels all enable each other, sharing devices, notifications, and content. There's no escape.

Avoiding all of that media for half a day or longer between when I record and watch a show or game is incredibly difficult, and sometimes it's impossible. Clearly, our real-time, location-neutral, instant gratification culture is swallowing everything in its path. The rise of on-demand content delivery by cable networks and other providers such as Netflix and Hulu, and even home-based distribution technologies such as the Slingbox, are further evidence that basic video recording and fixed Internet access are no longer sufficient to meet consumers' content consumption needs.

Don't worry about me, I'll adjust. We all will. Maybe it means watching highlights from my phone or tablet and watching the full game later, or following along in real time from wherever I am; perhaps it's a signal that I should get out of the house and attend more live events.

So, you ask, what does the evolving purpose of the DVR mean for customer intelligence? I've spent a lot of time over the past few months talking to audiences and Forrester clients about the explosion of complexity we're seeing from a proliferation of channels, particularly emerging channels like social and mobile, which aren't monolithic channels themselves but shorthand for collections of touchpoints. Marketers are ceding control to customers, dealing with more data from more sources, and operating at higher speeds than ever before. It's actually very exciting; this is a huge opportunity to engage in mutually beneficial conversations with customers and finally make good on the classic marketing promise of "right time, right offer, right place."

But I think the DVR vs. emerging media vignette illustrates a new layer of complexity that we haven't fully considered. Organizations still need to address the traditional challenges posed by strategy, measurement, technology, skills, and processes, but to truly take advantage of the new and evolving digital landscape, CI pros need to consider the following elements:

  • It's about channel concurrency, not multichannel. Consumer usage of touchpoints is not linear, it is overlapping. I watch television, check email, scan websites and RSS feeds, chat, and use Facebook and Twitter all simultaneously on any given evening at home. CI pros need to understand not only which touchpoints customer engage with, but the funnel and concurrency of touchpoint engagement.
  • The device matters. While sitting on the couch at night I may use my laptop, iPhone, iPad, Wii, TV, and DVR in various groupings. Devices - mobile in particular - are huge enablers of other touchpoints. CI pros need to understand where content is consumed and define the customer use cases for single and multiple device usage.
  • Preference management is critical. The interplay of touchpoints across devices creates a nearly infinite number of ways that customers can interact with your company and how they may want information delivered. To facilitate these interactions, CI pros must support simple, transparent, and accessible preference management mechanisms that are natively available in every touchpoint they serve. Push notifications in mobile applications are a classic example (and a common spoiler of sports scores!) of preferences that can be difficult to locate, understand, and control at a desired level of granularity.
  • Anticipate change. There is no way to see into the future, but the one thing we can count on is continued change. Any road map for developing the marketing function needs to earmark resources for investment in emerging and new channels, experimentation to establish new best practices, and hiring staff with skills (and great attitudes) who can help your organization thrive in a complicated world.