This week’s Wall Street Journal has run a great series on the decline of Japan’s consumer electronic brands like Sony, Toshiba, Sharp, etc. While the electronics industry is extremely competitive with frequently changing technology, no one would have predicted 10 -15 years ago that Sony would be surpassed by it’s Korean competitor, Samsung. For those who grew up in the 80’s, the Sony Walkman was our generations version of the iPod. No longer did we have to carry around a transistor radio or “boom box”. We could cruise around with our Walkman in our back pocket and listen to cassette tapes or the radio.
What Sony and many other consumer brands get wrong is to assume that their consumers will be happy with improved versions of their existing products. Naturally, continual improvement is an important part of any business but is not the key to long term success. It’s been said that Steve Jobs didn’t believe in consumer research because most consumers could only tell them what their needs are today. Part of this is true yet I would argue that the best brands are able to interpret what consumers are saying to not only understand what issues they face and but also understand how those needs are going to evolve.
Nike’s foray into electronics is a great example. In the mid-2000’s, Nike was the market leader in Sports MP3 players. With the introduction of the iPod, Nike soon realized that continuing to make improvements to its MP3 player was futile and instead, needed to determine how to develop a digital solution that connected Nike’s core product business with the market leader, Apple. Nike+ was born and has continued to evolve, most recently with the introduction of the Nike Fuel Band (www.nikefuelband.com)
My point is reinvention is critical for most consumer brands to maintain greatness over the long run. While, few experience the phoenix like resurgence of Apple, most act like Sony and undergo a long, slow, painful slide into mediocrity.
For those interested in learning more about the WSJ series, enclosed is the embeddbed link. http://live.wsj.com/video/can-japan-hobbled-electronics-giants-adapt/30CFE10E-0179-49D9-9413-8D9B84712EF2.html?mod=technology_video_newsreel#!30CFE10E-0179-49D9-9413-8D9B84712EF2