It’s one thing to imagine a new product, another to put in the time, research and development to ensure said product’s longevity and success. Indie operator Armstrong last March rolled out EXP, a whole-home operating platform powered by TiVo to blend television, broadband and wireless Internet services.
The results speak for themselves. In just more than a year, 15 percent of Armstrong’s video customers have signed up and weekly net gain shows no sign of slowing. Churn is down, too. “Word of mouth is helping sales significantly,” says Jeff Ross, Armstrong president.
Initially conceived as a way to re-energize the operator’s video business and capitalize on its broadband penetration, the interface swelled to include whole home WiFi and second screen capabilities for in-home streaming to tablets and phones. It’s also a six-tuner DVR that enables customers to connect to as many HDTVs as they want. Among other benefits, customers can thematically search live programming and libraries across TV, on demand and online, store up to 153 HD hours or 1,300 SD hours of programming, schedule recordings from anywhere and easily stream or transfer shows on an iPad, tablet or smartphone, and live cast family photos, online videos and music from their portable device onto a selected TV.
“First, our user interface was getting very old-looking compared to DISH’s Hopper and DirecTV’s Genie,” Ross says. “Second, as our customers became more mobile, we knew we needed to enhance the whole home experience. To drive home this benefit we branded it EXP, making it more than just about TiVo.”
Armstrong—which offers TV, phone and Internet service over cable in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, West Virginia and Kentucky—is the 18th largest cable provider in the U.S., according to SNL Kagan.
Ross and his team learned some key lessons around the deployment. Among the most salient: Ensure time to work out the technical challenges. “It’s important to have a very reliable product when you finally launch,” he says. “We thought we gave ourselves enough time but it took longer than expected. We delayed the launch to get it right. It was worth the extra time.”
Also worth it was empowering company employees. “We made the call several months before the official launch to offer it free to all our employees who lived on our network. It helps to have 800 employee testers who then have intimate knowledge of how the product works and its advantages.”
The customer campaign launched with intrigue marketing around the tag line: This changes everything. “Over the following months we moved to explaining what ‘This’ means. It was all about creating interest and a brand,” Ross says.
Armstrong then sent targeted letters and conducted outbound telemarketing to existing multi-room DVR customers to encourage them to swap out their DVR for the more advanced EXP product. Seventyone percent of the multi-Room DVR customers opted for EXP. Armstrong also placed 15-second EXP advertising spots that ran before YouTube videos, and produced a series of long form EXP “how to” educational videos to assist customers with questions about EXP.
In addition, the team designed high-tech kiosks for each Armstrong system office where customers could immerse themselves in a live EXP experience—positioning EXP as an effective customer retention tool.
Most recently, the operator introduced a series of quick tip videos that highlight various EXP features that are emailed to EXP customers every other week. “Now we talk only about its features and functionality.”