Avi Greengart is the Research Director for Consumer Devices at Current Analysis (Mobile Phones, Connected Devices, and Digital Home). He also regularly writes for Slashgear, sporadically blogs at Home Theater View and Tweets far too often as @greengartAvi's expertise lies in understanding consumer electronics marketing, consumer behavior, and technology adoption patterns: where new technologies meet the mass market. 

 

 

Avi Greengart is an expert on the convergence of technology and entertainment: video, audio, computing, and wireless, how these are coming together, and what's likely to survive long enough to make a difference in your life.

Column #41 (09/27/02)

Branding, Corrections, and Other Odds and Ends

Branding Dilemma: What If A Walkman Isn't A Sony?

If you're a brand manager or marketing manager, one of the groups of people you have to make happy are your lawyers, who are always trying to make your licenses more restrictive, your trademarks more durable, and your life more difficult.  How so?  If you're in marketing, you want your brand to own its category (ex: if you're Acme and you sell widgets, you want people calling widgets, "Acme's") and legal is always throwing up roadblocks, claiming the sky will fall. 

This isn't as obscure as you might think: Xerox has been battling this issue for decades (with its company name, not even a specific product designation), and one of the primary reasons Intel renamed its consumer microprocessor line the "Pentium" was because competitors had argued that the "x86" names Intel had been using ("386," "486," etc.) were generic.

Well, give the boys in suits their due, because the sky has fallen.  On Sony.  Austria's Supreme Court ruled recently that - at least in Austria - "Walkman" has become generic, and the name does not refer to a specific product or product line from Japan's Sony Corporation.  This means that anyone who wants to call their product a "Walkman" in Austria can go right ahead.

I don't know much about international legal precedents (I'm a marketing expert, not a lawyer), but I'm sure someone will try to use this decision to break Sony's trademark elsewhere in Europe, and then, the world! 

Column Corrections and Follow-Ups

Isn't an online column wonderful?  In addition to appearing here, I have put these additions/corrections in the column files themselves.  If only The New York Times would follow my lead...

Column 39 Correction

In Column 39 (8/19/02) HDTV Update: Mandates, Promises, and Mergers, I noted that, due to the 9/11/01 terrorist attack, there are no terrestrial (over the air) HDTV broadcasts in the New York area, as the HDTV antennas were all located at the World Trade Center.  In fact, CBS is still broadcasting its HDTV programming in Manhattan from the Empire State Building.

Column 38 Corrections

In Column 38 (8/5/02) Product Review: Visual Communicator, I noted that there were several shortcomings to the initial version of the software, including poor audio quality and the inability to do any editing whatsoever after recording.  Serious Magic has proven to be quite responsive.  First, the CEO contacted me to assure me that the Serious Magic-supplied microphone must be defective (he promised a replacement that still hasn't arrived), and indicated that improvements in the program would be released shortly.  I tested another microphone I had on hand and confirmed that the poor audio quality was due to the mic, not the program.

Serious Image has kept their word on product improvements as well.  They recently posted updates to Visual Communicator; most changes are minor, plus a few significant upgrades:

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Visual Communicator now has support for non-destructive changes even after you record your video.  The green screen background, effects, color adjustments, volume, and other properties can be changed and immediately reviewed or published without having to record the whole show again from scratch.  This isn't as good as being able to splice the video itself, but goes a long way towards eliminating the program's initial - extremely frustrating - inflexibility.  Bravo!

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As indicated as planned in the review, they have expanded their output to support 640x480 AVIs.  They also added Digital Video output, and a new advanced-mode allowing selection of publishing codecs.

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You can improve the sound even if you have a defective microphone - you can now view and adjust the recorded microphone level while Reviewing a show, and fine tune the level prior to publishing.  In addition, the Audio Input panel was enhanced.  It now provides separate adjustments for the hardware input volume and a new Digital Boost slider which was added to increase the volume range for sound cards with low Mic input levels.

Column 30 Follow Up

Question:

I recently purchased a Klipsch speaker from an online retailer at a significant discount from a local brick and mortar retailer's price.  At first I thought the discount was due to the lower overhead costs faced by the online retailer.  However, after some research it appears that the lower price is the result of my buying from an "unauthorized dealer".  What is it about this unauthorized status that enables them to sell at such discounted rates?  Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

AskAvi Replies:

I touched on this briefly in Column 30: Authorization Denied: Dealing with Sales Channel Management.  It could be one or a combination of several things:

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Authorized dealers are sometimes contractually obligated by the manufacturer to maintain a minimum advertised price (usually in order to get advertising kickbacks from the manufacturer).  An unauthorized dealer may be willing to accept a lower profit margin by selling below this price.

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An unauthorized Internet dealer may have lower costs due to being an Internet retailer - much lower rent, warehousing costs, potentially reduced advertising costs, and limited sales force salaries (or none at all).

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An unauthorized dealer may have lower costs due to not training their staff on the products, or by hiring less knowledgeable sales staff.

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An unauthorized dealer may have lower costs due to not providing after-sale support.

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An unauthorized dealer may charge less initially, but won't absorb the cost of returns (by charging you a 15-40% restocking fee, or not accepting returns at all).

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An unauthorized dealer may have bought the merchandise from an overseas distributor where the cost of goods are lower due to exchange rates and/or lower prices in that market.

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An unauthorized dealer may have bought the merchandise from an authorized dealer which bought more inventory than they could sell. The unauthorized dealer then passes along part of the savings to you.  Why would an authorized dealer buy more than they need?
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They misjudged demand.

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To get a bigger volume discount from the manufacturer

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The manufacturer pressures them to take on a lot of inventory to goose earnings.  The dealer bows to this pressure for these goods in order to get favorable treatment with other low-supply/high-demand items.  

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Your unauthorized dealer may have bought the merchandise from a "friend" who "found" the merchandise after it "fell off a truck."

Column 12 Follow Up

One reader wrote in to comment on Column 12 (11/12/01): Why Are All Speakers Black?, noting that Paradigm has several bookshelf models you can order in a number of finishes, including white.  I have confirmed this on their web site; I have also auditioned Paradigm speakers at retailers over the years; at each price point they tend to offer solid value.

Column 5 Update

At the end of Column 5 (9/24/01): The Dark Side of Successful Product Marketing: Bose, I suggested that if your space and/or aesthetics dictate the need for itty bitty speakers, you should consider Gallo Acoustics' line of shiny metal grapefruit-looking speakers.  I have since had a chance to audition them at a retailer, and while the fault may lie with the setup or the relatively large room they were in, I was not impressed.  The round footstool-like bass module put out nice tight bass, but was not integrated well with the satellites, nor did the satellites convey details I knew to be in the music.  The treble on a similarly priced Bose Lifestyle system in the same room sounded much better to my ears, though the bass from the Bose bandpass subwoofer was not as taut.

I have also had a chance to listen to Bose's simplified 3-2-1 speaker system at a different retailer.  This system is supposed to provide simple setup and realistic surround sound from just a pair of speakers (one on your TV, the other behind you).  I can't vouch for the setup, because it was already assembled.  But the surround sound part simply didn't work.

-avi

Please note: All submissions to AskAvi@Greengart.com become the property of Greengart.com, and Greengart.com retains all copyrights of both questions and answers. (Don't send us anything you intend to copyright or patent.) Not all submissions will be answered.

 

2001, 2002 Avi Greengart