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COMMENT: For more than 20 years I have been writing about Sony and during that period I’ve developed a huge respect for this Japanese brand because one could always rely on the quality of the Sony product and the fact that by majority it was a made in Japan brand, which in the past really meant something.

Their design was often copied by up and coming Chinese, Korean and Taiwanese Companies. These are the very same Companies that Sony today has had to turn to in an effort to survive.

As a company and iconic brand, Sony was always a very arrogant organisation whose Japanese management believed that they were the best and that they could do no wrong. They really believed that it was they who dictated the trends in the consumer electronics market and not the likes of Apple, Samsung or Nintendo.

Then suddenly along came the iPod from Apple and the Wii gaming console from Nintendo while at the same time companies like Samsung and Fujitsu were starting to deliver a new generation of flat panel TV’s and as Sony tried to stay with CRT TV’s because of their manufacturing commitments, we suddenly had a whole new consumer electronics landscape which did not feature Sony in a leadership position.

Suddenly the once mighty Walkman was old hat and the Sony CRT TV was being replaced by a flat panel screen from other manufacturers while the Nintendo Wii is trouncing the once popular Playstation.

 

Now, as the company lies battered and broken, and as they close factory after factory and lay off tens of thousands of employees, Sony management is attempting to manipulate the situate in an effort to protect their once mighty brand which is fast crumbling at the edges.

In Australia Sony has laid off 32 staff, in comparison Companies like Nintendo, Apple, Samsung and Panasonic are hiring people because demand for consumer electronics goods and services has remained resilient and buoyant despite the economic downturn.

But underneath all the Sony gloss is a dark side which is very evident in Australia where Sony management are trying to micro-manage their woes using an army of in house public relations staff and outside consultants.

In the past Sony could demand a premium price for their goods and services because it was a “Made in Japan” brand and this really meant something. But today their products are made in China, Taiwan, India, Slovakia and any country that is capable of manufacturing cheap goods.

 

Some weeks ago we dared to question the pricing strategy of the PS3 in Australia where it is wallowing in third position behind the Nintendo Wii and the Microsoft Xbox. We did this because Sony Computer Entertainment is still charging consumers up to $110 more for the PS3 than what US consumers are charged.

Within hours of this story appearing senior Sony management were screaming down the phone “how dare we suggest that Sony is price gouging” which of course they were.

Then last week when Sony issued a 98 word statement announcing that they were sacking 32 staff locally we challenged them further for answers.

But instead of allowing access to local management to explain the cuts and their forward strategy they chose to hide behind a wall of silence.

What we wanted to know was why Sony was sacking staff locally when the market for consumer electronics goods was still buoyant. We also wanted to know whether Sony was set to cut their prices which are often significantly higher than other brands as they move the bulk of their manufacturing to China?

We also wanted to know how Sony was going in the notebook market where they are trying to sell an 8″ Netbook for over $2,000 when similar products from Toshiba, Acer and Asus are sub $1,000.

We also wanted to know how Sony intended to compete in the flat panel TV market where globally the company is suffering as consumers walk away from the expensive Bravia branded Sony LCD TV’s.

It was only 3 years ago that Sony who were very late moving into the flat panel TV market decided to consolidate their entire flat panel TV offering behind the brand name Bravia. Fellow Japanese Company Pioneer adopted the same strategy using the Kuro brand name. They pulled out of the TV market last month after 18 months of massive losses.

 

Other Japanese brands that quit the flat panel TV last year included Fujitsu, Hitachi and NEC.

We also wanted to question Sony management as to whether a single brand name such as Bravia versus the multiple model strategy of Samsung and LG was the right way to go because once a single brand name is damaged it is very hard to come back.

Despite these quite legitimate questions Sony chose to use their PR muscle to try and silence us in a desperate effort to protect their once might brand.

In the past we have written extensively about Sony products and service. We have praised Sony products because they have been good. We have given them award after award and in 2008 we gave them the SmartHouse “Vendor of the Year Award.”

And I may add we get very little in advertising dollars because Sony spends the bulk of their marketing dollars on TV and via sponsorship of football teams. We cover the Sony round because they have in the past they have been a key player in the market.

We do not accept the fact that we should only be writing “positive things about Sony or any other consumer electronics company. I, for one, believe in the philosophy that we do not kiss the backside of vendors to get advertising instead we write the stories that deliver the audience that vendors need to talk to sell their brand.

And this includes writing about both the good and bad elements of a company like Sony.

 

During the past few weeks Sony PR have demonstrated just how manipulative they are prepared to be and I for one will not accept this. In fact I will go out of my way to tell readers what is happening at Sony as it is a great unfolding commercial story.

Sony  is in serious trouble as they wallow under a mountain of losses. Sony is being forced into cheap production plants in an effort to avoid the high cost of manufacturing in Japan. Core management that have helped build this Iconic brand are either being sacked or are quitting.

Even core partners like European phone Company Ericsson wants out of the relationship with Sony.

While at the same time brands like Apple with their iPhone and iPod and Nintendo with their Wii console and Samsung with their flat panel TV range and their mobile phones are getting stronger and stronger at the expense of Sony.

One thing I am certain of is that in years to come we will still be writing about Sony as either the consumer electronics brand that totally trashed themselves and simple disappeared from the radar a bit like Digital, Compaq, Wang and Data General did during the evolution of the computer industry. Or we will be writing the miracle recovery story.

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