It is, in a way, ironic that we call ourselves the consumer electronics industry because we really don't listen enough to what consumers have to say about what we want to sell them. If we did, I don't believe we would refer to our products and technology as commodities. Consumers certainly don't think of them that way.
Coyote Insight, my research and consulting firm, does a lot of environmental observation research (EOR), which, as the name implies, involves observing the consumer talking about and using the product in the "environment" or location it was intended to be used in. We recently completed some preliminary work for an upcoming home convergence EOR project (see www.coyoteinsight.com), and as so often is the case, consumers told us something we did not expect.
"Jack," a 33-year-old male, was explaining why he has not upgraded his home audio equipment in the last five years. He certainly qualifies as a target customer having purchased more than $15,000 of components and speakers during a 10-year period — but nothing in the last five years. We asked him why, and here's what he said:
Jack: "I'm not sure. It seems as important to me as it ever was, but I don't think the people who sell it feel that way. If they did, they wouldn't try to get me to buy just because it's cheap."
Coyote Insight: "But isn't low price at least an added incentive to upgrade?"
Jack: "Added, yes, but they act as if it's the primary reason, and it's not. The music is, and I don't hear anyone talking about that. We're not talking about buying detergent where any brand will do, and if they continue to act as though we are, I'm not buying at any price."
While his words may appear flat on the page, the emotion behind them was not. What he said took me back to my time as senior VP/marketing for Pioneer. At one point we put our advertising account up for review in a competition that was ultimately won by the incumbent, Chiat/Day. After three presentations from other agencies — all more or less suggesting campaigns that would tell the world how superior Pioneer's technology was — C/D made their pitch.
They too included some references to whatever new and wonderful approach we had at the time. But what I remember now, like it was yesterday, was the tag line and TV commercial they produced. The spot was a series of quick cuts and dissolves of Pioneer's home audio products, overlaid with a stirring, well-produced music track and no dialogue. At the very end, the camera zoomed in on a turntable tone arm nearing the end of an LP while the commercial's tag line appeared at the bottom of the screen: "Pioneer. Because the music matters."
The chills I got watching that commercial was due to the fact that the underlying message was absolutely perfect. We were not telling people to buy Pioneer because we made excellent products, but rather, because of the music that those products would deliver. And nothing I had heard before that day or since has offered a more compelling reason to buy audio equipment. I suspect "Jack" would have agreed with that as well.
Please don't think of what you make or sell as a commodity. Your business is entertainment in the purest form; your products simply the manner in which it is delivered to consumers. And the value of that is much greater than the already too low prices. If we remember that, and can regain our own love of what those products do rather than what they are, the "Jacks" of this country will once again come back to buy more.