Brands like us have to continuously surpass consumer expectations: Sony’s Gyanendra Singh
Picking up the right audio product that fits your needs and your budget is no easy task. But there are some legacy companies that you can trust blindly, at least when it comes to quality. Over the last year we’ve seen consumers upgrade their entertainment solutions at home to better accommodate work and play and that trend is still on a high.
We spoke to Gyanendra Singh, Head of Audio Marketing at Sony India, to better understand how the company has fared since the pandemic struck and what lies ahead. Here are some excerpts from our chat -
Let’s talk about how the journey for Sony has been in the speaker and home theatre space for the last couple of years
Gyanendra Singh: Our domain for audio can broadly be divided into two categories. So, one is the personal audio products, the wearables and the other is the home entertainment products, where we have the home theatres and the party speakers. The pandemic has created a new spurt in demand and the trigger has been all the work from home. This has forced people to look at audio consumption with a far greater emphasis on quality.
With no multiplexes to go to and no entertainment one could consume outdoors, OTT platforms started to come to their own. After a little bit of a lull, they started to create a lot of content. All of this put together led to a lot of content coming in, and people consuming more and more entertainment at home.
It also made them realise that the devices that they have need an upgrade. So, whether it is a television or whether it is audio, they wanted to upgrade it because they wanted to get closer to experiencing cinema at home. So, I think that has been a very strong tailwind for categories like home entertainment, particularly soundbars.
And on the other hand, for a brand like ours, because our offerings are spread across various price points, we've been able to capitalise on this tailwind.
Bluetooth speakers initially witnessed tepid sales but they too started to grow eventually. There is a new phenomenon out there. People have been listening to music more, and therefore the portability of those kinds of speakers has been very helpful. People have also been using them for workouts. So, there are a lot of wearables being used for workouts at home. There is also general music consumption at home when you're sitting with others around and that is what has given rise to many of these smart speakers also being used. Plus, it's a very portable personal product, so people are using them while moving around a little more.
Of course, the opportunity to go on outings as aggressively as people were doing earlier hasn't really been there. But yes, people are finding also some new creative uses for some of these speakers. One of the most interesting applications for these speakers has been for mothers who have many younger kids attending classes from home. The mothers connected the laptops to the speakers because they wanted to keep a tab on their lessons.
Which category did you see the first initial spike in when the lockdowns began?
The wearables. Essentially headphones, earphones, etc, we saw a strong growth spurt and I think the very clear reason for that both work from home and learn from home. These were the two things that triggered initial demand, soundbars pretty much followed in step, you can say there was hardly any time gap between those two. Broadly, these have been the two categories that saw a spike first. And that spike has continued.
So, if you look at the earphones and the headphones category, in the last year and a half, we've also seen the form factor change, and so many truly wireless devices have come into the market. That has brought its own push and it’s very strong. So that's another other reason for the high demand and the entire ecosystem is giving a very strong push to that. And on the other hand, soundbars, as I explained earlier, were pushed by the need to have better-quality audio. And since people are spending much more time at home, they realised that many equipment needed an upgrade, soundbars being one of them.
When Covid-19 started there was an economic slump. So from a company perspective, were there any changes that you incorporated in your range of products to cater to buyers better? Or were there any launches that you guys specifically timed for April, May, June of last year?
So, nothing specific with respect to the pandemic, because the launch of a new product is a well-researched and time-consuming process. One can’t be looking at the pandemic and then making a call in a very short-term frame. But what I'd like to say is that the consumption of soundbar as a device has been on the rise in the recent past and I'm talking of the last couple of years. So the product acceptability and people going for soundbars were already there. The pandemic in some way has only accelerated that demand. And raised this angle to more and more consumers - “Look here you need to do something about your entertainment consumption at home. Time to upgrade.” That is what has happened.
When people were making purchases, did you see more people buying into an entire home theatre solution? Or did you see more people actually just picking up independent soundbars?
You would have people who are only picking up soundbars because probably he/she felt that the visual part of the home entertainment that they had at home was quite fine. But there is a need to upgrade the sound part. So, therefore, only a soundbar would do. And then we also saw people picking up a television set and a soundbar as well.
And there is another thing that many of us can relate with - a situation where there are more people in the household who are all staying together now, spending more time in the same space. Earlier you might have been ok with one television and everyone watching that. But now, morning to evening, when you are at home, the consumption of all of these things has been much higher. So, people are also investing in multiple televisions, multiple soundbars.
Have you seen the Indian customer get better informed over the last year about what their audio requirements are?
There’s been a kind of a derived understanding, in the sense that he/she is opting for better products. And I’ll pick up an example from one of our recent launches, the Sony HT-S40R. And the reason that the consumer is picking it up tells us that yes, he/she is a well-informed person and is making a good choice.
In the last year, we've seen a complete boom, as far as truly wireless solutions are concerned. How are you differentiating your offerings from what all other brands are pushing out in the market?
Brands like us have to continuously surpass the expectations of the consumer in terms of what we offer. So, I’ll talk of the earphone, headphone category first. So, if I pick an example, the headphone that we have, the 1,000xm4, and in fact the entire 1000 tech series, which is the top-of-the-line series that we have. If you look at different products in that, what we are offering to a consumer is not just a good product that is absolutely excellent with respect to the basics the audio quality, there are other features like noise cancellation as well.
Many brands talk about noise cancellation, but you have to use the device to try it for yourself to be able to figure out how good it is, and then compare it to what they get with a Sony product.
Speaking of soundbars, India is a very vast, very diverse country geographically and also in terms of the consumer spectrum. So we have soundbars starting for as low as under ₹20,000 and we are offerings that cost a little over a lakh. And these are products that are essentially home theatre offerings. Finally, there is a consumer who picks up what is relevant for him from across the spectrum and I think we should be able to continue to do that with the effectiveness that we have been doing so far, and continue to push the right products, which we feel the consumer would really like.
Some insight into what's coming over the next year, since the market feels very saturated now?
We believe the discerning consumer is looking for a more immersive audio experience and also needs features that can add quality to the whole home entertainment experience as they spend more and more time in the home environment. To keep up with such demand, we will continue to surprise our consumers with our innovative and cutting-edge technology backed by industry-leading audio output with a value for money offering. Meanwhile, we expect existing technologies such as DSEE-HX, 360 reality audio, and Dolby Atmos to continue to reach a greater number of consumers.
It's been a year and more since the first lockdown and people who needed to and wanted to upgrade their home theatres and other entertainment/WFH systems have already done so - what do you predict is going to happen next?
While last year’s festive season saw a lot of pent-up demand leading to the increase in the sale of home and personal audio devices, we still expect a lot more consumers to upgrade and make new purchases as there are multiple realities at work in the market at the same time. Gathering momentum of the economic activity, deeper penetration of OTT content, increase in the social interaction of consumers and the role of these entertainment devices in facilitating the same, influential buying through festive marketing, friends and family word of mouth, social media attraction and e-commerce sales are all contributing to strong demand in the market. We expect this momentum to continue in the foreseeable future especially during the festive period.