Jul 9, 2009

Toshiba laptop's stupid marketing mistakes

This blogpost is about Toshiba's marketing strategy. Toshiba made some bad decisions. Many people believe that marketing is about advertising or public relations or marketing communications. Yes, marketing includes all of those functions, but it also includes product management: deciding what products to build, their features, pricing, roadmap through its lifecycle. Product management makes the build versus buy decisions, selects which partners are needed, the terms of the partnerships, the product's position relative to other products... the many decisions that determine the satisfaction of the targeted customers. I hope this post shows the mistakes that were made in the marketing of my new Toshiba laptop.

I bought a Toshiba Satellite A355-S6924 a month ago because its hardware config looked good for that price. I thought I can live with Vista until I upgrade to XP7 later this year. A few weeks ago, I rated the laptop highly at Toshiba's web site and at Amazon. Now, after a month's intensive use, I have buyer's regret.

Toshiba's pricing strategy of near-zero pre-loaded software (Vista only) means a lot of the cost of ownership is 'shifted forward' meaning you have to buy almost everything. I knew this going in, but who could have imagined that a system utility like a Bluetooth stack would require the end user to purchase a separate license? As it turned out, it did NOT require an end user license; a poorly written message made it seem so.

This machine does not have embedded Bluetooth support, you have to use a dongle which I have from my previous laptop. Imagine my surprise when a dialog box popped up saying the Toshiba Bluetooth stack's 30-day trial use license has expired. No link, no advice, no further comments, nothing.

That message wasn't about any end user license, but was about an OEM license. Why is Toshiba telling me, an end user, about the need for an OEM license? That message would have been more useful had it said something like, "The Bluetooth dongle that you are using does not have a license to use Toshiba's proprietary Bluetooth stack. Please contact its manufacturer for help, or use a Bluetooth dongle that has a license for Toshiba's Bluetooth stack."

Why did this even happen? Windows XP SP2 has an embedded Bluetooth stack. It's not as capable as the Toshiba stack, but it's there. However, Vista does not use that stack. Why didn't Vista include a low-feature stack to help Windows XP customers migrate? Poor marketing.

It's a bad marketing decision to make Bluetooth support proprietary, and not offer some kind of limited continuing support. Now that interface with mobile media devices is becoming increasingly important, being suddenly dead in the water with Bluetooth, especially having enjoyed it for 30 days, creates bad customer sentiment.

Toshiba's other stupid marketing strategy mistakes:

1. Toshiba doesn't give any information about which Bluetooth dongles have Toshiba licenses thereby missing an opportunity to co-market with those OEMs. You can make money from co-marketing, you know? And your customers like having choices.

2. End users who are not IT-savvy won't know what the hell this licensing esoterica means. There is no help at all from Toshiba's 'expired' message to ANY help for end users to solve this problem. On Toshiba's user forum, the question "How to buy a license for the Bluetooth stack" is posted, but is 'locked' so no one can post comments. There is NO ANSWER given. I've searched the web and found NO ANSWER elsewhere. Bad customer communications, bad support management.

Fortunately, I know that BlueSoleil, a vendor of Bluetooth software, will support the dongle that I already own. After registration at their web site, I downloaded BlueSoleil 6, a stack that supports many, most, if not all of the profiles that the Toshiba stack does. Unfortunately, it's available for free for only a 15-day trial after which BlueSoleil will only transfer 2 MB files. This is a good marketing practice by BlueSoleil for two reasons:

First, the 'free trial expiration' message appears on day 1 so you're forewarned and might buy early instead of waiting for the end of the trial period. Second, the message includes a link to BlueSoleil's online store where you can immediately buy a license for $29.99 with no interruption in your use of Bluetooth. BlueSoleil solves the problem instead of posting a cryptic message that doesn't apply to end users, then not giving any way to enable the end user to continue to interface with Bluetooth devices.

I am shocked and disappointed that Toshiba, a well regarded consumer electronics brand, does such a poor job of end-user marketing and support.

Oh, while I'm in rant mode, let me warn you that Toshiba's tech support, while free, is NOT KNOWLEDGEABLE. I called to get help with accessing the pre-loaded free trial of Microsoft Office. My call was dropped, no call-back. I had to navigate again through the n-level deep voice messaging, call another number, more 'press 1 for...' 'press 2 for...' ... to reach another randomly selected support person, explain my question again... He suggested searching the hard drive for hidden sectors. The software was there. That was a good experience.

I asked about getting a recovery disk. He said it's not Toshiba's policy to give out recovery disks. After a crash, call again and they will ship a disk; you pay for shipping. That would incur an unacceptably long downtime for me, so after hasseling the guy, asking to talk to his supervisor, he said he'd send me a recovery disk. A month later, nothing arrived.

I complained to a geek friend who told me that I don't need to buy Toshiba's recovery CD because the machine has a utility for you to create your own recovery CD. Sigh.

I am afraid of what else I'll find out, as I continue to try to use this laptop.