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Sony Gets Emotional For Profitability

A CEO lauding the love of his brand, discussing the responsibilities of how products “reach … and enrich everyone’s lives,” and speaking to how the company’s products should connect with consumers “at an emotional level” is a message I have never heard at the many CES press conferences in my career.

Yet that was the unique message of Kaz Hirai, president/CEO of Sony, at his company’s CES Press Day event in Las Vegas last month.

During the 10-hour or more gauntlet of 45-minute presentations on Press Day, companies usually present their latest SKUs with a recitation of the technologies behind them, individual features and snappy model numbers — few of which roll off the tongue.

The first 18.5 minutes of the Sony press event — the last one of the day — had none of that. Sony opened with a video about how consumers use, and love, its products.

Hirai then went on the stage and did the unthinkable, discussing at length the size, importance and impact of CES, commenting, “I can’t think of any other event that generates this kind of interest.”

After that feel-good assessment of CES, Hirai noted that in Vegas, “sure there are products to pitch and innovations to showcase, but more fundamentally there is the need, the responsibility, to demonstrate how what we do matters. How technology can make lives richer, fuller [and] more meaningful and how every new innovation should, at its best, connect with you on an emotional level.”

Sony once had that cache of being a brand that was loved “on an emotional level,” like what Apple has experienced during this century.

Hirai and his team, not just with words but with new products, are trying to get the “love” back, or as this lifelong Sony exec put it: “We have spent decades developing a brand that is beloved and stands for something in your hearts and minds. I am sure that for many of you ‘S-O-N-Y’ has been synonymous with quality, innovation and reliability.”

That may be true for baby boomers and video game lovers, but Hirai and his team know they have to get the attention of millennials. They must do it by developing new products and technologies that become “must haves” vs. commodities. Based on its recent financial, the strategy may be working.

Hirai addressed that by saying the philosophy behind any products that Sony introduces now — especially those products that enable consumers to create, present and play their own content — is to “make it easier for what you want to do, which is to connect more fully with family and friends. This is a choice by Sony to stand out in the crowd and not simply fit in. This is a choice to make objects of sensation. And this is a choice to create moments of ‘Wow.’ ”

He noted that Sony’s “challenge is inspired by ‘What if?’, ‘Why?’ and ‘Why not?’ They are the very heart of our product advancements in digital imaging, mobile phones, sound, television and PlayStation.”

PlayStation ranks with Sony’s hits of the past — Trinitron TVs, CD and Walkman — and, of course, Hirai would welcome another hit or two like those in the near future.

But today’s Sony is not the CE market share juggernaut it was 20 or 30 years ago — due to competition and, now, by choice.

Today Sony is going for profits and not market share. “It is also our choice not to solely pursue market share or scale in the mass market but to continue to create products that matter. That make a difference,” said Hirai.

And if Sony — via design and innovation — differentiates itself enough to create “love” around the brand once again, maybe consumers will buy its products, which will have higher profit margins. Hirai said that since April, the philosophy has begun to work. 

His presentation outlined how Sony was brushing up its brand for the 21st century, helping today’s consumers create and enjoy content with its designs and cutting-edge technologies, and recalling the entrepreneurial spirit that made it a dominant brand in the latter half of the 20th century — while keeping profits healthy.

This is an admirable goal and not an impossible dream by any means. Somewhere Sony’s founder Akio Morita must be smiling.

The entire press conference can be viewed here:

Steve Smith is TWICE’s editor at large and was its longtime editor in chief.