Don't Fear the iPod
Just because the market loves its portability doesn't mean it's voting thumbs down on quality audio—or your business model, for that matter.
By Ira Friedman
Here's a quote from the CEDIA EXPO 2005 wrap-up article by Custom Retailer's Ron Goldberg, referencing how "disruptive" a force the iPod has become in the CE business:
"If your competitive advantage is selling quality, you've frankly got a problem in this new market reality, because if iPod is how people want to get their music, you're not just competing with Best Buy anymore. Now you're also competing with Target and Wal-Mart. Maybe it's not too late to consider grad school?"
Ron contends repeatedly throughout his article that the iPod has proven that quality of sound is no longer the primary driver for the consumer—instead, he maintains, "portability, integration, interfacing and distribution are the new consumer expectations from audio gear."
Refresh my memory. When was superior sound quality ever the driving force in the audio business? Was it during the heyday of the audio cassette? 8-track? The Walkman? The goal of the mass of consumer audio, or any consumer product, is never about attaining sublime performance, but about the interface, the design, the functionality—the delicate balance of a product's many attributes weighed against a price point.
No one will argue that McDonald's grills up the world's best-tasting hamburgers, that Mazda builds the highest-performance sports car, that Dell builds the best laptops. And yet these are all market leaders in their respective fields.
But try as it might, the Miata design team just can't stop Ferrari lovers from buying F430s. McDonald's chefs can't stop certain people from seeking out the finest hamburger restaurants.
There is a simple fact of markets: Only a small portion of consumers are drawn to buy "statement" products like F430s and Kobe burgers. And regardless of how many upgrades the Miata design team makes to its vehicle, it's still a Miata, with the features and performance befitting its price point.