Research vs Vision: the origin story of Sony Walkman, Mini Cooper, and the iPhone
It’s always interesting to watch how companies approach the building of their new products. During the market research phase, companies are trying to future-proof every detail to ensure it will be popular among users and bring more money to the company.Research methodologies and strategies have been improving since the beginning of the 20th century. Some companies were collecting data and heavily relied on it; some thought that not every feedback should be considered, and others didn’t find customer research useful in building a product.In this article, I’m going over Sony and the creation of the Walkman player, BMC and the creation of the Mini Cooper and last but not least, Apple and the creation of the iPhone. These iconic products may seem too different, but they share many exciting insights into how and why they were born.Sony Walkman: “A tape recorder that didn’t record”.Photo by Alexander SvenssonThe story of Sony Walkman’s creation is fascinating, and one of the essential parts of it is the market research that management received right before the launch.In the past, Sony and many other Japanese companies heavily relied on the research information they got directly from wholesalers and retailers in the distribution channels. Usually, they sent employees to dealers and other channel members to learn about shipments, inventory levels, retail sales, and customer feedback.That was the way Sony conducted its research as well. The company wanted to collect data relevant to consumer attitudes about the product or how customers will interact with it, but they weren’t interested in the research that was remote from actual customer behaviour.“A tape player, which could not record, would never catch on,” was stated in the market research that Akio Morita, the company chairman, received before the launch of the player.Image by DALL·E 2 feat MeLet’s come back to the point of why Sony created the Walkman player. Portable players existed before, but Sony set a new level of sound quality in a portable device that didn’t exist before.Before the Walkman, portable players were equipped with sound recording ability, but the team couldn’t fit this function into the player without losing the main characteristics of the Walkman: portability, lightweight and sound quality.During the build phase, the team realized they could not add a proper recording feature along with the new, improved sound quality of a portable player. The decision was to concentrate on a player without a recording feature and focus on the market of music lovers.…and as you know, Akio Morita made a decision to release the Sony Walkman player anyway and ordered 30,000 units. Just to understand the confidence: monthly sales of the most-popular tape recorder averaged 15,000 units. Just for the record, those 30,000 units have been sold in the first two months after release.Sony showed consumers something they couldn’t imagine. Something that is truly hard to get feedback on during the research phase. Akio Morita approved the project (despite the research that wasn’t in favour of the Walkman player’s launch) and helped Sony to become one of the most successful companies in the consumer electronics industry.Mini Cooper: “Initial resistance to a product so different — the shockof the new”.Image by DALL·E 2 feat MeThe path of the first Mini Cooper (or The Austin Se7en and Morris Mini-Minor as they were called at that time) to its customers was very bumpy. » Read More
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