When news hit this week about Sony's huge losses and massive layoffs, it showed how far the once-popular brand has fallen -- but it's easy to forget that Sony was once the gold standard consumer electronics brand.
Perhaps Apple should pay attention.
First, a look at the ugly numbers: Sony announced this week a stunning year-end loss of $6.4 billion (its fiscal year ended March 31). As CNet reported, Sony originally was predicting a $2.7 billion loss, then dropped the bombshell with the actual number, which was almost 2.5 times larger than the original estimate.
After that horrible news, hardly anybody could have been surprised when Sony announced it was laying off 10,000 employees worldwide as part of an overall reorganization.
Slate reported that Sony's television unit in particular has been bleeding money. Even though flat-screen TV sales in general are expected to drop for the first time this year as the market saturates, it's important to remember that at one time, Sony was *the* TV brand.
Before flat screens came along, people bought Sony TVs. Heck, I had two of them in my house. Today, I have a Samsung and an LG, both South Korean brands that have been eating Sony's lunch for years.
But it wasn't just TVs. There was a total failure on the part of Sony (except perhaps with the PlayStation) to take advantage of the market changes over the last decade, whether those changes were in mobile phones, MP3 players, laptops, or tablets. Apple swooped in during this time, creating products people wanted. And while Apple soared, Sony plunged.
Remember the Sony Walkman? Long before the Apple iPod, the Walkman was the original portable music player and it was an unprecedented star at the time. Yet for some reason, Sony was never able to translate that original popularity to MP3 players.
Sony teamed up with Ericsson in the mobile phone market, but that never went anywhere.
Before the MacBook, Sony Vaios were a popular choice for laptop buyers. I still have an old one on the floor of my office I bought in the early 2000s. Once the MacBook came along, though, Vaios faded along with other Sony products.
New brands filled the void left by Sony's inability to maintain its brand dominance.
Today, Apple sits at the top of the consumer electronics brand heap, along with the previously mentioned South Korean offerings. Maybe these brands should take heed, especially Apple.
That's because it's easy for large corporations to grow complacent, to look at their lofty cash balances and their dominant market share, and think that the brand name alone will keep them on top.
As Sony has learned, that is simply not the case. Apple and Samsung and other top consumer electronics brands of today have to stay focused on making good products, or perhaps some Chinese or Indian brand will supplant them. Or maybe some company we consider an also-ran today (much as Apple was considered in the late 90s) will suddenly reinvent itself and go lunging for the throats of these popular brands.
Sony's decline should be an object lesson for all brands: Change with the market, or you could be facing a similar precipitous drop. It happened to Sony. It can happen to any brand.
— Ron Miller is a freelance technology journalist, blogger, FierceContentManagement editor, and contributing editor at EContent magazine.