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The Unintended Consequences of Marketing Automation

November 9th, 2017

This is a guest post; the views and opinions expressed are those of the author (bio listed below)

I bought a TIVO recently – their Bolt model. It is very good with lots of capabilities, but the few-page manual which came with it is very poor. It hardly tells you anything about how to operate the system. Since I’ve had TIVOs in the past I am able to run it, but I was irked about the manual. A few days after I got the machine TIVO sent me an email asking me to review it. I ignored the request, so a while later they sent me another request. This time I figured, “Hey! If you guys are so eager to get a review from me, I’ll give you a review.”

Here is my review:

Great product; LOUSY manual

The machine seems great, like every other TIVO I have owned — about 6 of them over the years. I CANNOT believe how poor the ‘manual’ is. It explains just about NOTHING. As example, in the QuickMode section it says to press the PLAY button. Guess What! You NEVER explain what/where the Play button is, and no key on the actual remote is labeled ‘Play’ OR … There is a red light on the front panel. What does it mean? The manual doesn’t say. For that matter, while there is a description of the back panel in the manual, there is nothing about the front panel. NOW … maybe the concept is that this manual is just to get users started, and (maybe) there is a full manual on line. HOW ABOUT TELLING US HOW TO GET A FULL MANUAL?? OH!! I found it. It’s on the back page in tiny print, where no one will see it. Truly AWFUL corporate communication. And from a company which makes a product with such a superior user experience. wow!

The next day I got an email from TiVO stating:


“We loved your TiVo BOLT® review!  Share your review on AMAZON.”


Now, I really do like the TIVO Bolt so I didn’t want to harm TIVO by putting my comments out on Amazon, and I didn’t. A day later I got a reminder from TIVO that I really should post my favorable review onto Amazon, so I figured, “Hey! If TIVO really wants me to post my “favorable” review onto Amazon this much, I’ll oblige them,” and I did.


What’s the meaning of all this? TIVO shot themselves in the foot. Obviously this is only a minor issue but it illustrates a much larger phenomenon – too much unchecked automation. Since I do like the TIVO Bolt, I gave my review a 4-star rating. I suspect that TIVO sends everyone who gives a 4 or 5-star rating the request to post it to Amazon, so they automatically asked me and then nagged me to do so, without anyone actually reading it. In this case, they got some free negative marketing.

Is there a lesson here? I think so. There should always be gatekeepers supervising your systems. Yes, this will cost you some money but consider the downside to your marketing operation if a malicious, or just very upset, customer wants to harm your company by bombing the airwaves with bad reviews of your product. My little story demonstrates how your own systems enable and actually encourage him to do so.

“A word to the wise”, as my teachers in grade school used to tell me, “is sufficient”

Fred Pack

Fred Pack's entrepreneurial career started in software design and development. After 30 years running UniPress Software, he sold the help desk and issue-tracking software company to Numara Software. Fred’s lifelong passion has been clarity and simplicity of message and design. Today he consults with companies and serves as a board member for several non-profit organizations.

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