Junko, you hit on one major area -- TV sets -- where Sony really dropped the ball. In the Trinitron days, and even earlier, the Sony brand was perceived by millions of U.S. consumers, rightly or wrongly, as the best TV picture money could buy. Sure, you paid more for a Sony -- paid extra for the brand name, some might say -- but that didn't matter if you just had to have the best.
Back in the early years of the transition to HDTV, at the start of this new millenium, I marveled at how much money Samsung was investing in its HDTV business, despite the market being slow to develop and ROI being years away. It was clear they were gunning for the #1 spot in brand perception, if not in sales to match.
Samsung's bet paid off. In the old days of analog TV, what U.S. consumer ever even heard of Samsung, at least in the context of TV sets? Today, when someone is shopping for a new HDTV set, their friends tell them "buy the Samsung. It might cost you more, but it has the best picture."
At least in the TV business, Samsung out-Japanesed the Japanese.
Another area that hit Sony hard was the transition from CD music to MP3s and the demise of the whole Walkman business, but that's a story for another time and place.
I still think Sony makes THE best camcorders and some of the best digital still cameras. Yes, those are declining markets, but when you're #1 or #2 at something, maybe you should look at how you can add new excitement to those businesses.
Bert22306, yes, why would anybody pledge such a loyalty just to one brand? I agree with that. And once it becomes fashionable, the market momentum takes over, and everyone -- both inside and outside the company -- starts believing in his own hype.
But I do see Sony's troubles are many folds.
In my opinion, Sony certainly had a lot of good ideas and the company never lacked the spirit of innovations.
1) Being tied to its own music business made it only harder, not easier, for Sony to strike a sweeping agreement with the record industry like Steve Jobs did for iPod.
2) Sony always understood the importance of the networked world of entertainment. And yet, pulling off a huge networked world of its own online gaming, music and video was a lot more than a single company could chew on. It looked great in the business plan, but I am not certain that keeping both content and hardware business together under one roof turned out to be successful strategy for Sony's business, after all. (Mind you, Samsung has none of those "content" components in their business.)
3) Having no winning flat-panel business is definitely costing Sony now. But considering the unfathomable investment needed to compete with Samsung, I am not even sure that Sony would have been even successful if the company stuck to "manufacturing."
4) Sony had its own e-book much sooner than anybody else...way before the market caught onto it. And yet, this was one instance, Sony did not benefit from the first mover advantage -- largely because of the lack of infrastructure (to buy e-books!).
Actually, my reaction to Sony's downward trend is, why was it so hyped up in the past? Not to offend anyone, but there is a type of consumer out there who is overly vulnerable to this thing called "brand loyalty." Eventually, even if it takes as long as the next generation of kids, people latch onto new loyalties.
The same people who swear(ed) allegiance to Sony are those who also swear by Toyota, Honda, and (do I dare?) Apple. There is and has been a world of choices out there, in some aspects way better than these icons, and yet the faithful never give the others a second thought. Brand loyalty is as fickle as fashion.
But I agree. Sony was slow to go to LCD TVs, even though it seemed kind of obvious that LCDs would reign, as soon as the price came down. And perhaps they should have been more proactive about introducing smarts into their iconic hand held toys like Walkmans?