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The End Of E3 As We Know It?

Rebuilding The Sony Brand

Sony logo Sony has a little bit of an image problem.  Put aside the whole PlayStation 3 debacle for the moment and consider how much the company has overextended itself in the past decade into all kinds of ancillary industries, such as candy stores and cosmetics.  Remember the days of the ubiquitous Walkman?  The gadget that changed how we listened to music, circa 1980?  Whatever happened to that kind of Sony product?  The San Francisco Chronicle has some ideas about where Sony went wrong and how the company can bounce back.

In fact, Sony had grown arrogant about designing products that anticipated, rather than followed, consumer tastes, Chubachi said. Some colleagues were appalled when he started a basic customer-satisfaction push within the ranks.

The original Walkman, which sent on sale in 1979, was long heralded as an innovative product that was ahead of its time. Many, even within Sony, had predicted the Walkman would never catch on, warning that consumers wouldn't want to be seen wearing earphones.

They couldn't have been more wrong. But over the years, Sony grew complacent about its ability to come up with cutting-edge products and lost sight of the consumer.

We've been talking a lot about Sony's arrogance ever since the first mind-boggling details about the PS3 appeared at E3 last year, but plenty of people outside of the video game world have been burned by Sony's "do as we say and like it" attitude.

The article mentions the proprietary ATRAC3 music file format as the preferred format of choice in Sony's first wave of digital music players instead of the common and familiar MP3 format as another sign of the company's large ego.  Sony has developed a philosophy that no longer anticipates what customers want, but instead attempts to force onto customers what Sony management has deemed most profitable.  It would seem that in the eyes of Sony we all want overpriced DVD players, game consoles, and televisions that die young and leave a digital corpse; that we want to be locked in to proprietary file formats that scoff at photos, movies, and music acquired outside of the Sony umbrella; and that we're happy to have our gadgets phone home and report our entertainment-related behavior to a corporate database.

Sony has a problem.  It's not so much a technology problem or a development problem, but a marketplace problem.  Customers are starting to wake up to the fact that Sony products aren't quite the robust reliable workhorses they once were.  How many PlayStation replacements have you bought over the years?  Does your Sony DVD player have the same nasty audio skip from which mine suffers?  Are you still trying to clean Sony's rootkit out of your computer?  There's a lot of potential within Sony and I firmly believe that the company can go back to producing products that do not make my life more difficult or costly.

The best opportunity for rebuilding the Sony brand and regaining customer confidence is the upcoming PlayStation 3.  Sony is already suffering with not only problems with the console's development, but also with doubts and barbs from game developers, the gaming press, and gamers themselves.  There's been a lot of concern about the PS3's high purchase price, high game development costs, the notion that customers are "paying for potential", and the fuzzy future of Blu-Ray technology in the marketplace.  Sony needs to get in gear now and placate these concerns.  Justify those high costs, stand by the hardware, and build a quality product that won't go away when the econimic wind shifts.  Give the customers something of value for their money besides "potential".  Give them a solid product with a bright future for a fair price.