In 2022, Season 4 of Stranger Things, a popular science-fiction series, featured a character, Max, with Sony Walkman. She used it to play music all the time to avoid being killed by the monster, Vecna. It became one of the most memorable scenes, especially among youngsters.
Collectors started getting requests to re-stock Sony Walkman cassette players, and social media was filled with younger audiences re-enacting and creating reels. You can still find someone with a Walkman hooked on their belt and grooving to the tunes of running up the hill.
Suddenly, Sony Walkman was back in the game.
But its story has not been a smooth ride!
From the 80s to 2020s
Sony’s Introduction of the Walkman
In 1979, when Sony introduced the world with its new innovation, it revolutionized how users listen to music.
Their technology innovation enabled users to listen to their favorite records on the go.
And the miniaturization of electronics, plus, the availability of magnetic cassette tapes optimized the music experience.
As a result, Sony’s entire stock of 30,000 Walkmans was depleted within 3 months of its release. Sony Walkman in 1980 surely marked the beginning of the personal audio revolution.
Interesting fact: An audio engineer constructed the original prototype for Sony co-founder, Masaru Ibuka, so that he could listen to operas on long-haul flights from Japan to the US.
The change of tide: Emergence of internet and new players
Sony Walkman had a strong foothold in the portable music player industry for almost 20 years before it started vanishing at the turn of the century.
“It’s almost game over at Sony. I don’t see how Sony’s going to bounce back now.” stated Yoshiaki Sakito, a former Sony executive.
Unlike in the past when Sony successfully made Walkman a culture phenomenon, it lacked a sense of response to the following megatrends which eventually caused loss of consumer popularity for Sony Walkman.
While cassette tapes were groundbreaking at one time, technology evolved rapidly. In the early 2000s, the emergence of CDs, internet, MP3 digital music formats, and flash storage offered higher sound quality and a new way of storing and playing music, which eventually led to a shift in consumer preferences.
Competition from Other Brands
Where Sony left an empty space in the innovation sector, other companies took advantage of the new rising technology and changing demands. For example, Apple created iPod as Sony’s sustaining innovation response in the portable music sector. Similarly other MP3 players, such as Korea’s MPMan, created strong positioning for their products and captured user interest.
Rise of Digital Music and Smartphones
Smartphones started ruling the market and consumer interest. People now had their phones as all-in-one devices, capable of transferring, storing, and playing music. It made owning a Walkman more and more obsolete.
Changing Consumer Preferences
Consumer habits and lifestyles evolved along with the advancement of technology. They started looking for streaming services and online music platforms for instant access to a vast library of songs rather than carrying physical media.
Even though Sony made it look cool!
Sony Walkman in 2020s: A blast from the past
Although Sony discontinued in 2010, having sold 200 million units worldwide, it never frizzled away completely.
The product failed, but the legacy continued.
So its historical significance has kept it still very much around. Collectors with a hobby of collecting, particularly musical artifacts, and music enthusiasts who enjoy an old and dedicated music product. Or, people who want to move away from digital gadgets, internet, and smartphones.
Stranger Things in 2022 introduced the younger audience to old school gadgets. Generation looking to relive their nostalgic moments, or people who want to turn back the clock.
Memory and emotions have kept Sony Walkman alive.
On January 30, 2023, Sony came out with a new flagship product, Walkman NW-ZX707.
More than a decade after its predecessor was discontinued, Sony updated the Walkman. It runs on Android 12 software, its physical properties, such as dual headphone jacks, and a long list of audio-centric features have been given an upgrade.
But is it an innovation that is here to stay or just cater to people’s nostalgic feelings and fleeting demands?
Potential Survival of Sony Walkman in 2023
Will people actually switch to another physical product for their music needs regardless of their smartphone?
Realists still see Walkman working for music enthusiasts and collectors getting their hands on a new unit, but in the real world, its value proposition is a tough sell.
Here are some considerations that can help it stay relevant in today’s market.
People currently have a large number of features and functionalities at their disposal. Sony Walkman must have an answer to the following questions:
- Are they providing an immersive experience?
- Is portability and convenience really their USP?
- Would users want to carry an extra product to especially listen to music?
- Can Walkman be a substitute for a high resolution music playback?
- Is this product going a step forward with audio processing hardware?
Innovation has no replacement. The only way Sony Walkman survives in a highly volatile market today is if it creates an innovation strategy.
The new Walkman costs equal to or sometimes more than smartphones.
Do you know how much a Sony Walkman is worth? $900!
Their pricing model may be good to acquire specific customer segments, but it will not be able to position itself as a go-to product for music experiences.
Maybe they can choose to create a niche targeting that particular customer segment or they may need to create another innovation strategy altogether.
Related Read: Business Growth Strategies
Evolution and Adaptation
Sony would need to keep evolving the Walkman with the times to stay relevant in every technology landscape. This could include incorporating high-resolution audio support, advanced noise-cancellation technology, and seamless integration with streaming services. Adapting to rising technologies and responding to consumer needs was a problem for Sony in the 2000s. And you must also keep in your mind as a business owner that even if you have market dominance today, another competitor can change the dynamics for you. Be prepared with your business innovation!
Differentiation through Innovation
To compete with digital products, such as all-in-one smartphones, Sony would need to focus on features and functionalities that set Walkman apart. These functionalities can be exceptional audio quality, audiophile-grade components, and other user experience focused features.
Sony has had one thing going for them since the 2000s. Even when they were losing popularity among various customer segments, audiophiles, music enthusiasts, and collectors always remained their active audience. So, Sony could position Walkman as a premium, high-end audio device especially for them.
As we already know how Stranger Things led to a rise in popularity and demand of Sony Walkman, the brand has a whole new opportunity. They must leverage this interest and demand to create another niche that provides a sense of nostalgia and old-school feels to its users.
They have a perfect mix for their marketing: Emotion, brand value, affiliation, and music!
The truth remains that some devices may only interest a small slice of the market. So, companies must create their business strategies accordingly.
Brand Recognition and Trust
Sony’s is a well-established and reputable electronics brand, so they can absolutely leverage their existing consumer trust and credibility in the market to position their new product–Walkman.
We can already see the result of Sony being a household name via social media platforms and consumer forums. They already have people talking about the re-launch of Walkman, its features, benefits, and pricing in detail.
There’s already a buzz! This is why even as consumer electronics see slump, Sony Walkman re-introduction was not a failure.
It’s common to see certain product lines or models fail in popularity over time. As technology changes, so do consumer preferences. Sony must learn from its own tried-and-true lessons to ensure it doesn’t lose the innovation race this time.
It’s also worth noting that while Walkman didn’t make the cut, Sony has an entire range of products that it keeps upgrading and innovating to keep up with the market changes. So, Sony surely has the knowledge, resources, assets, and manpower to do the same for Walkman.
Let’s see how it harnesses its innovation potential to gain long-term success.
Related Read: Innovation Success Stories