What Is Happening To Sony? Can Sony Be Saved?

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2013 was a good year and a very busy one for me. Having been on the road for over 120 days; delivered some great projects and worked with some of the smartest and most creative people around the world was all fun and also exhausted. Now is the time to think about what the future holds?

I really don’t know what to write these days, I want to write about a lot of things from economics to politics and from luxury brands to consumer electronics and from rethinking management to education, so much to do and so little time. I hardly find time to write for my own magazine these days.

2014 will be a year of big change or beginning of one for many.. We’re seeing most dominant designs of our everyday technologies reaching the end of the S-curve and it will hard to see any breakthrough unless we change the way to look at the industries. Some big innovation is needed to create demand. Not speakers and headphones and other accessories although it helps retailers a bit.

Innovation is hard to come these days and most innovations today are mostly incremental in nature. In the world of consumer technologies, from smartphones to tablets and PCs or digital cameras to TVs, everyone one of them is facing serious challenges whether you’re the market leaders (defenders) or followers (attackers). It is hard to drive new behavior and predict on their adoption rate and the low end is flooed with commodty players. On the other side of the coins, opportunities are plentiful. Microsoft, Sony, HP are all in the process of rethinking their business strategies.

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Sony was once the most loved and most innovative company. The company is both strategically vertically and horizontally integrated; once designed and produced the best TVs, video cameras, music players, home audio systems and game console, today they are struggling on all fronts. Sony was my no. 1 brand for a long time. For many, Sony is already dead or what turned into I call a zombie brand. It might seems like an overly pessimistic view given the size of the company and they still have a lot of good products, strong brand (in some markets) and a lot of technological innovation, but then what went wrong?

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Sony used to be the synonymous with Japan and innovative products. They even considered buying Apple at one point and decided it not worth acquiring (Can’t imagine if they’ve done that and there would be no Apple today). In 2012, Sony’s net loss of almost US$6 billion mainly came from heavy losses in its TV business. Of all eight divisions, only music and financial services units managed to boost a little profit from a year ago.

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When I visited Sony stores the last time a few weeks ago, they were so 1990s even though some of the products are pretty impressive. In fact, I was very impressed with the latest camera line-up and I use a RX100 along my Leica M. I am not sure if good products are enough these days.

Sony have made a lot of mistake including alienated smaller retailers, limit itself to internal innovation capability insteadn of using outside consultants to come up with new ideas and heavily rely on local markets (30% of their sales) and as a result ignore what’s going on out there. Sony CEO Kaz Hirai has proclamed that Sony must chart a new course, his quote: “I believe Sony can change.” So far it is not happening.

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This Japan’s technological prowess, wowed the world with the Walkman and Trinitron TV and PS2 and PSP is now struggling to stay relevant. Is it just Sony or “Japan Inc.” that is in trouble?  They missed the while digital music wave, missed the smarphone wave, missed the tablet wave, missed the social face and now probably will miss the next whatever wave. Even Google missed the social wave and left the door opened for Facebook and Twitter, but they do have a few wins such as Android.

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And for Sony, my advise for you is to stop behaving like a Japanese company. Adopt new practices and move fast. Speed kills. The world has changed and you need to wake-up. Play catching up is not enough and you’ve been doing a good job producing a decent tablet, a nice phone and a set-top box, a not so smart smart watch and whatever, does it matter?

You don’t have a strategy. You want to win in every product category and that’s impossible. You should get rid of at least 50% of your product lines. And at least make 10% of your product spectacular ones – iconic. Rethink if you want to play in the smartphone game, may be you should exit it for now.  Your strategy of “One Sony,” will not work, it is an ideal strategy only on power point or paper. Apple works with “One Apple,” but if you consider the context of Sony’s situation, it may not be the best move for now. Sony needs to think different and should not make the mistake of try to replicate Samsung or Apple, those two companies are unique in their own ways. The two will own the market (already did) and eat you dinner, since they already took your breakfast and lunch. 2014 is a critical year for Sony.