Sony: What happened?

Rest-in-Peace-the-Demise-of-a-Brand-300x300The news a couple of weeks ago that Sony is getting out of the PC business and might get out of consumer TV business is proof the even iconic brands who don’t change with the times are destined to fail in an age of empowered consumers.

I worked for Sony in the early 90’s as a product manager for Discman, My First Sony and the Portable Radio category.  Sony was so powerful then that we used to fly key accounts like Circuit City down to a private meeting facility in Orlando in Universal Studios to introduce them to new products and ask which ones they would be carrying.  Underneath it all was an arrogance that said “we are Sony, we can do whatever we want”.

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Those days are gone forever.

What happened to Sony are key lessons for every marketer.  They are..

1ne: Never rest on your reputation – Sony felt that their brand equity was higher than it actually was but consumers were not willing to pay a premium for a Sony logo when brands like Vizio offered comparable product quality.

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2wo: Look to the future – Steve Jobs, whom I met while at Sony, once offered to let Sony use OS X software in their PC’s but Sony turned him down.   Sony should have also developed a digital music player and software as soon as the first iPod came out but they were anchored in the past.

3hree: Silo’s within business units – Business unit managers didn’t talk to one another, even though there was a great opportunity to leverage different product categories.

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4our: Getting into the movie business – The last time Sony had a blockbuster movie was?  Pompeii is another Sony movie that has bombed.

5ive: Too big to support customers – Trying to get help for a Sony product in the past was a maze of phone trees and dead ends.  When my blue ray player needed a software update I had to go to the Sony site to download an update and find someone with a Windows PC to burn it on disc for me.  Not good.

Finally the corporate politics within Sony was a killer.  After 3 years I had enough and left because I was working for a Japanese national who routinely made racist comments about American products.  I told him when I left that the pendulum was going to swing the other way, but he didn’t believe me even though I displaced GE as the number one competitor in the radio category by working with product planning on new innovative products.

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Now if you excuse me, I’m going to watch my Vizio big screen TV…