The consumer electronics world is a “sea of sameness”, and that’s not a good thing if you are an electronics company.
“Sea of sameness” is the term that was used numerous times during a private briefing with the number of Sony’s executives. The issue is this: You walk into a box store such as Best Buy, and you go to the back of the store. There on the wall you find high-definition television, after high-definition television, after high-definition television. They all look pretty much the same, and they all pretty much have the same price points. Some are a little bit more expensive, and some are a little bit less expensive, but overall it looks (at least at first glance), as if you have the same TV over and over again but in different sizes.
But all TVs aren’t the same. In fact all consumer electronics aren’t the same. Some are better and offer more immersive experiences. Some offer amazing features we could only dream of a few years ago. In such an environment companies have to find ways to distinguish themselves one from the next. So that is the issue that Phil Molyneux, Sony President and COO had in front of him when he took over the US division of Sony six months ago.
How would Sony get its name in front of people and its products in the people’s homes in a way that brought the company back to the top of the consumer electronics market?
Molyneux’s first step was to spend the first two months of his new position traveling across America to see what people wanted and then creating the needed in-house store display their products. He was struck by this “sea of sameness” everywhere he went. The retail wall of televisions told him what he needed to know about where the starting point for re-organizing would be. From that emerged nine different touch points that Sony is using to address this issue. Among the points are things such as a training for sales associates so that they better understand the products they offer, a call center that is available to consumers to the questions can be answered quickly and efficiently, and then there was the touch-point that really struck home to us. Sony refers to it as the “Golden Space”. The Golden Space is a separate stand-alone area in a retail store that lets customers get a sense of what Sony’s products will look and feel like in their home.
Dan wanted to see what this Golden Space looked like and so he went to Best Buy to check out Sony’s display. And there it was. A standalone island of Sony’s products just as you entered into the home entertainment area at my local Best Buy. To get to the “Sea of Sameness” on the back wall you needed to pass right by it. Brilliant. Brilliant and effective, because he not only stopped to take a picture of it, but he also spent time checking out (and drooling over) some of the items in it.
The other thing that stood out to us during the media event was the way in which Sony is looking to “redefine home entertainment”. It sure sounds like a “buzz phrase”, but as the execs were describing some of the things that they have been bringing to market it became pretty clear that that’s exactly what they’re doing. A key observation that stands out is the fact that in the last year or two they have seen more change in home entertainment than they did in the preceding decade. The biggest change, televisions are no longer simply for consuming set entertainment and information. In addition to time shifting, televisions are now connected to the larger Internet. Sony’s connected TV was the first to put a full browser into a television. It was a huge deal, far bigger than many people realize, and it’s a huge step toward what they are moving toward. We will see more and more of this as people are able to receive their entertainment from a variety of sources.
One final note. One of the other interesting things that we learned was that the TV cycle was, until the last two or three years, much slower. Now it’s moving more in the direction of computers which have a three or four-month cycle. (At least for anyone but Apple). And as things move faster, the challenge with regard to not drowning in the “Sea of Sameness” grows. It is no longer enough to tread water.Yes, there is a sea of the sameness out there, but with some strategic planning, a good deal of creativity and some calculated risks — companies are able to address it. What was clear to us is that Sony is aiming to be one of those companies.