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23rd Jan 2020

Sonos Just Made a Major Brand Mistake

THE ANNOUNCEMENT

Tuesday of this week (January 21st, 2020) Sonos – a high-end, respected and desirable networked home speaker company – announced an end to the support for what they are calling “legacy” devices. This ranges from there oldest models dating back to 2005 to products purchased in 2014-2015. This announcement has got the internet (especially twitter) abuzz with criticism and hashtags. [remind me of a time when it’s a good thing your company is part of a user-generated hashtag, not often.] Today we’re going to look at why this announcement may be a major brand mistake for the company.

 

THE PROBLEM

Reading into the articles on Popular Mechanics, Pocket-lint, and iTnews – it’s clear this is just the beginning for issues with ‘smart home’ / IoT (Internet of Things) devices. How long can we expect a fridge, TV, doorbell, or home speaker system to stay updated? Will we be forced to replace our devices not because they break but because they are no longer supported? How much waste will this create if unchecked? And will the government need to intervene and create legislation to protect consumers from savvy corporate executives that see extra dollars in outmoding existing products and technology to users are forced to upgrade?

 

THE BRAND

There are a lot of interesting questions here – but since I own a marketing company – I will stick to those that relate to the brand, brand awareness and brand loyalty.
First off let’s look at some major traits shared by Sonos’s demographics. Although I can’t say for certain, I would expect that the majority of Sonos users have the following traits:

Technically Savvy [Early adopters are the ones whose equipment is likely about to be outdated]
Appreciation for HiFi / Immersive Music Upper Middle Class to Wealthy [To properly equip your whole home with a Sonos system will cost you $2500+ – although this is less for an apartment]

What is most concerning of the traits above is the tech-savvy early adopters. These people can generally make or break a brand in its early years … and even later in its evolution. Combine that with what you might call entry-level audiophiles and you have a core demographic that expects quality and reliability.

Being a modestly early adopter of Sonos myself (Sonos is beginning to launch into retail locations, appearing in Best Buy stores), the product’s usability and compatibility impressed me. I had a $5000 Lynn audio system that I couldn’t bear to part with and with the “Connect” component allowed me to stream music and keep it relevant. Soon I added more components and eventually, I had music playing seamlessly in every room of my apartment. It was convenient, sleek and user-friendly. I love it so much that I distinctly remember walking through Costco and considering adding even more components to it when I move. [You know you like a product and that it has brand recognition when you notice it in stores.]

 

THE DILEMMA

This brings us to the present and what (based on my experience running a marketing company for 8 years) I consider to be a major brand mistake by the company. Sonos in announcing that most products purchased before 2015 are now “legacy” and will be no longer supported – are alienating their early adopter base and there cheapest most effective means of marketing.

Think about how you heard of Sonos – who recommended it to you. Was it the geeky tech at a big box store, a tech-savvy friend that swore by it, or a blogger that had fantastic things to say about it? They are all early adopters – and are all passionate about the product. AND it is all of them that likely have the earlier versions of Sonos products still connected to there Sonos system. By outmoding their systems – Sonos has offered up the worse insult an early adopter can hear … they are now “Legacy”.

This has already had brand impacts. #boycottsonos, for example, is treading. There tech support team will likely be in overdrive responding to angry customers, and this will likely get worse as things carry on and the effected components stop working or integrating into Spotify, Google Play, as well as several other streaming services.
Sure, some people will say – everyone has their haters – and as Sonos grows it will be no different (just like apple and the battles it’s fought with consumers as it tries to squeeze them #batterygate). But I would ask those people why a company should willingly create all this hate and feels of betrayal if they can fix the problem another way.

 

THE [POSSIBLE] SOLUTION

Instead of working against the early adopters, invoking a feeling of betrayal and causing additional environmental problems we don’t need. Why not be an innovator, a game-changer and go in a greener direction?
Sonos has done one positive thing – they have tested the waters and have a chance to veer away from the path they’re currently on. They still have time to correct this major brand mistake. There are a few months before the “outdated” products become “outdated” and start limiting the system from updating itself.

This is speculative… but it seems that a capable software engineer could create a system that allowed for newer devices to be updated while older devices still connected in a limited fashion. It’s not that the older products won’t eventually break, fade, or just look outdated anyway. Build new software or hubs that connect old and new. Try creating without destroying! Keep your early adopters happy. In the end, they will far outperform any ad campaign you or I could think of making.

 

Update 01/27/2020: After heavy backlash, Sonos CEO apologizes and reversed their announcement stating that they will no longer prevent legacy speakers from getting new updates. 

 

Learn more about avoiding a major brand mistake by checking out our branding philosophy. Click Here to learn more.

References:
Popular Mechanics:
https://apple.news/AckhgiNkgRua9Vn4e1oYfeQ

Read in iTnews:
Sonos customers up in arms over move to stop updates for older speakers
Facing a social media firestorm.
https://apple.news/AJs8_TBN5QmyLc42wHJ-6zQ

Read in Pocket-lint:
The Sonos update debacle is a taste of smart home woes to come
So Sonos has said what most companies are afraid to – that its older products won’t be updated and, what’s more, will stop newer products on the same system being updated, too. The outrage against Sonos stems from basic communication errors…
https://apple.news/AUKJSdQD2StSZ5E057b1NiQ