By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Minus the parenthetical “Still,” the title of this post was an early ’80s ad headline created for Pioneer by our then-advertising agency Chiat-Day. It answered the question asked by some considering buying Yamaha, Denon, Sony, Technics, etc., home audio: “Why Pioneer?”
None of these or any other home audio companies had to answer the question, “Why buy home audio?” Back then large numbers of consumers knew they wanted good sound at home. They just didn’t always know which company they should buy it from.
How different things are today huh? With due respect, when it comes to home audio brands, today’s potential consumers are more likely to ask “Who?” rather than “Why?” And if they do, it will be: “Why would I want to buy home audio?”
There is other evidence of the seismic shift in the fortunes of home audio than simply declining brand awareness, not the least of which is the devaluation of music itself. Back in the day consumers paid for what they listened to whereas today it’s free, close to free, or piggybacked onto something else. For example, I recently restarted cable service at my Seattle home, and in doing so was offered a number of pay TV options. But for music? More than I could ever listen to all included at no additional charge in the basic cable plan.
I realize there are many who say this is simply an indication of water seeking its own level. “Music isn’t worth what people previously paid to own it,” they say. Maybe. What something is worth is not static.
It’s hard for me to decide whether the multiple format copies of Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumors” I’ve bought over the years were any more valuable to me then than are the free/much lower-cost versions I can listen to now. But I do know this much: I want to hear that and much more music with the best possible sound quality my budget and listening environment acoustics will allow. Moreover I’m not alone.
I may be part of a small group who (still) recognizes why sound quality is important, however there are many, many more who would as well were they made aware of what it takes to get it.
There have been attempts to increase consumer awareness of car audio but none I know attempting to do the same for home audio. Not much came of the car effort, but I believe that had more do to with how things were done as opposed to confirming rejection of “best sound possible” by consumers. Does it make sense for a consumer to say, “I don’t really care about sound quality”? It doesn’t — not any more sense than to expect them to value what they don’t know.
Still need proof there’s dormant interest in better audio equipment? Look at the unquestionable sales resurgence in better-quality headphone sales that has occurred in the last few years. While there now is a headphone brand war, there never would have been had consumers not first been made aware of the benefits that come from spending more on better headsets.
If you sell anything other than the lowest possible level of home audio equipment, you should be lobbying the manufacturers you buy from, and the trade associations you and they belong to, to do all they can to revitalize consumer awareness and interest in better sound quality home audio. Forget brand awareness; at this point that’s long gone away. Concentrate on increasing consumer awareness about the joy of hearing really good sound in both audio and video. The results will astound you.
Trust me: It can happen, because, at the core of it all, the music still matters.
William Matthies is the CEO of Coyote Insight, a planning consultancy specializing in the consumer electronic industry, and the author of “The 7 Keys to Change.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (714) 726-2901.
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