This story talks about the alternate reality in which the corporate execs live, and which unfortunately affects all of us. Panasonic may well have needed to reinvent themselves, and in my experience, it's really hard to say whether this will work out for them or not.
I once worked for a company that had all of the exciting, leading edge programs. One day, the CEO came to talk to us and said, "Our first priority is the shareholder." Uh oh, shoot, the kiss of death just happened here. Sure enough, all the fun divisions (including mine) got sold, lock, stock, and barrel, to another company, and my former company became one of yawn stuff.
But good yawn stuff. It has been doing great, for shareholders that is, in spite of yawn. You don't see it in fun movies anymore, you don't see cool ads that make you want to work there, but would the top execs care? Heck no. MBA schools teach, "corporations are in business to make a profit." Period. Nothing else matters.
From the 1970's until maybe the ealy 2000's, Sony seemed to be the leader in innovative consumer products - the Walkman was a groundbreaking product just as the iPhone was. It took existing cassette tape technology from something heavy and boring into something mobile and exciting.
Shift forward 40 years and what is Sony cool for? It's TVs were great 10 years ago but Samsung has taken the lead there. Its mobile phone business is in the also-ran group. It had some quite cool laptops years ago (I always loved my old Vaio with its magnesium case, dare I say it more elegant than my current Mac powerbook with its rather harsh angular aluminium case).
What seems to be hapening is that we have new ground leaders in design (e.g Apple) and clever followers (e.g. Samsung) but the old Japanese order are neither. Sad really.
Yog-sothoth, you just summed up what just happened in the consumer electronics industry in the last 40 years in mere three paragraphs. Nicely illustrated.
And yet, I am still struggling to explain why things have turned out the way they are now. It's true that good things never last forever, but for someone who watched this industry closely, how things slipped away from the Japanese CE industry still amazes me.
I'd argue that the japanese companies messed up in the software department. IIRC Sony flopped every chance they got to provide good software support for their hardware, and that is where Apple absolutely destroyed them.
Panasonic and Sony had difficult time. But they always design technically very sound products. I alway appreciate Panasonic and Sony products and purchase when I have an oppotunity. I like Panasonic doing what is correct, success and more profit will follow. I look forward to good days for Panasonic and Sony.
I think the problem with the duo of Sony and Panasonic has nothing to do with technology. I think it is marketing. It is the same problem Nokia is having with Lumia. When people see your brand as old, it is hard to change that perception. Take a Sony phone to a party of younger ones, people may think you are coming from the ancient world.
junko.yoshida wrote: The question is "when" a brand starts looking "old."
In Sony's case, I would say it was when they removed OtherOS capability from PlayStation 3. OtherOS allowed you to use PS3 hardware to build a cheap supercomputer by running GNU/Linux in place of the built-in gaming OS. This captured the imagination of the developer community, including the Air Force Research Lab. Then Sony decided to remove this capability from later updates, totally alienating developers and marking Sony as a stodgy company that's terrified that customers might feel free to use a purchased product however they see fit. Sony basically said: you can buy this terrific high-performance hardware, but you can't get at it. Sony may never recover from this decision -- the developer community has a long memory.
>>The question is "when" a brand starts looking "old." Were there any instances or things they did that started to make them look like a company of the past?
It is a tough question for Sony. But if you check their ads, you do not see any trendy element in it. It is like RadioShack before the last few years. The same can be said of Burger King before they "killed" the king advert. When you see ads and see energy of the youth, you connect with them. Yet, that does not mean every brand has to do. Oracle does not runs ads on TV becuase it is an enterprise software which cares not how the young sees it. Sony and Philips are in that league, it is not a problem of age, it is simply a marketing problem. When you watch Apple ad, you remember when you were in college or high school (that energy is there).
@Junko: In consumer electronics new product development, middle level management and top level management are very crucial to product success. New imagination, conception and and adaptation to it is very complex process. And in this busy development cycle, most people do not have time to keep upto date. It needs lots of reading and time to think and digest. And as they are not keeping with time, new product idea suffers.
One way to look it is to change and reassign 100% of new product deveopment management and design team staff every five years. It is difficult to say but younger blood are more transparent and more ebulient.
The challenge of changing product development team and design team is the new team might not capture 100% of the product history. They will spec an old failed feature in the new product, believing the feature is new.
The reality is, in 5 years, if the team has delivered multiple successful products, most team members will be moving on to the next level or to next company. The team will be inevitably renewed. In most cases, it is the head of product and of design who drive. To replace them may improve the innovation. If they stay open minded and listen to different ideas, the company may continue walking on the innovative road while maintaining the integrity of the product. To my experience, this mindset is build on top of the company culture. It requires not 1 person but the whole management team to deliver the message.
To me, Sony and Panasonic still are making good products. The latest Vaio with Windows 8.1 looks stunning and is feather light. Sony TV are still producing the best picture among brands. I am speaking the HDTV, not the 4K. 4K might be a bit ahead of the time since I haven't watched one 4K movie being shown in Sonystyle shop.
Question, like Junko asked, when the brand becomes old. What can a company do to turn around the brand image? To my observation, there are companies in different segment changing brand name to short form, for example, JC Penny to JCP. Shorter name is easier to remember to most people. Does it really help changing the image? If changing name is not the answer, what is?
@chanj0, thanks for your comment. I think what triggers to make the brand old is often more to do with the company's decisions on certain products or business model.
In my mind, Sony's brand started to get old, when Sony repeatedly made mistakes by sticking to their proprietary formats (i.e. memory sticks); and became paralized, unable to resolve the conflict of interests in promoting its own MP3 players (digital walkman) while trying to protect its own digital music business.