Today, more than ever before, organizations are finding it difficult to maneuver through a myriad of business challenges ranging from stiff competition for market share to economic meltdowns to high costs of production.
To remain afloat, managers, especially in the marketing department, have been handed the most intricate of duties, entailing looking for ways that their respective organizations might strategically expand their market segments in an ever constricting market base (Duboff & Spaeth 102). To up their stakes, assiduous managers must develop marketing strategies that have the capacity to sustain an organization in the face of solid competition facilitated by a multiplicity of factors, including the materialization of a global marketplace, increased number of organizations offering the same type of services, and technological advancements (Pearce & Robinson 23). It is the purpose of this paper to compare how Sony and Apple stores continue to sustain their individual market segments in the 21st century by undertaking a critical evaluation on their respective marketing strategies. It is imperative to note that both Sony and Apple has well established consumer electronic stores in many countries around the world which acts as links between the respective parent companies on one hand and the consumers on the other. According to IBISWorld, “consumer electronics stores retail a broad range of appliances and electrical goods as well as home entertainment products like televisions, DVD players and stereo systems” (para. 10).
This market segment, however, has already been penetrated by other heavyweights dealing in the same products, and hence the need to remain assertive through the employment of creative and innovative strategies to market products, product development, outstanding customer service, and dependable backup services (Cahill 5). It is a well known fact that both market segmentation and marketing mix forms the most fundamental ingredients of any marketing exercise. Below, an attempt is made to evaluate and compare the two concepts as they relate to Sony and Apple stores.
Market Segmentation for Sony and Apple Stores
According to Cahill, a market segment can be defined as a sub-set of a market composed of consumers or entities sharing one or more features that inexorably occasions them to demand similar products based primarily on some set characteristics of this products such as quality, price, or functionality (3).
A market segment for any particular company is also determined by the products on offer, their diversity, and their relevance in assisting to fulfill certain needs and urges that may persist during certain time periods. A true market segment for any organization must be distinct from other segments, and must exhibit homogenous characteristics within the segment. Further, a valid market segment must have the capacity to respond similarly to a given market stimulus, not mentioning the fact that it can be reached by employing a market intervention (Cahill 5). Both Sony and Apple stores would readily attest that the road to establishing and securing sustainable market segments for their respective products have been tumultuous, if the market patterns are anything to go by. Sony, the Japanese electronics and entertainment giant, is undoubtedly one of the most successful and resilient electronic companies in the international arena judging by the number of market segments under its command (Tarr 24). This means that the company’s stores are rich in diversity of products, further implying that many consumers are likely to visit the stores in search of a particular product or brand name that best suits their needs.
It can be said without fear of contradiction that Sony has successfully ventured into four different market segments namely, electronics, Sony Music and Sony Pictures, mobile telephony, and digital home entertainment (Smith 7). On its part, Apple has successfully ventured into digital entertainment through its iPod brand name, and the firm is also making considerable inroads in the electronics market through its Apple PC and network servers (Masna 21). In the electronics market segment, Sony stores benefit immensely from the state-of-the-art gadgets on offer, including cameras, personal computers, televisions sets, MP3 players, speakers, and camcorders (Tarr 26). The company has developed the Play Station 2 (PS2) to take care of its digital entertainment segment, while the mobile telephony segment is spearheaded by its SonyEricsson brand. Traditionally, the operating system market is dominated by Microsoft.
It may, however, amaze many to know that Apple, through its Apple Computers trademark, has a considerable stake in this market segment due to its Mackintosh operating system. The Mac OS offers customized services to customers mainly in the publishing, editing, graphic design, and digital media market segments (Hall 25). Apple stores, through their learning and technical support programs, offers mentoring programs to customers visiting the stores, making them adapt much more easily to the application package. According to Hall, “…Apple still remains a dominant player on the vertical market segments such as publishing and digital media” (25). What’s more, “Apple’s embrace of Unix in its Mac OS X operating system gave the company a big boost among scientists who need hefty processing capabilities” (Hall 26) This, according to market analysts, is yet another market segment for Apple stores. Lastly, Apple also specializes in web services applications, implying more business opportunities for the stores.
The Marketing Mix for Sony and Apple Stores
The marketing mix is perhaps the most prominent marketing phrase of the 21st century, largely due to the fact that the elements contained in this terminology constitutes the most fundamental and strategic components of a marketing plan (Boheen 24).
Also identified as the 4P’s in the contemporary business world, the marketing mix elements comprise of price, place or distribution, product characteristics and promotional channels. It is imperative to note that Sony and Apple have continued to employ a multiplicity of tactics in their marketing mix strategies in the hope of attracting more customers to their stores. Some of the strategies are evaluated and compared below depending on individual elements of the marketing mix
It is important to note that both Sony and Apple stores serves as important conduits for the distribution of products and after-sales services to customers. According to the management of Sony, the company “…will continue to use its direct-marketing e-commerce and flagship Sony Style boutique stores as a vehicle for building Sony’s sales across all of its channels of distribution” (Smith10).
The stores, in particular, give the consumers a chance to do their shopping for Sony products anywhere they want, not mentioning the fact that they facilitates synergies between the company and its retail partners. Sony, however, does not use the stores to stock all their products as this would conflict with the interests of its retail partners. On the contrary, Sony uses the stores to “sell a select range of products and inform the customer and demonstrate things” (Smith10). The Apple store experience is not in anyway connected with the products on offer, rather, it stresses the formation of relationships between the products and consumers (Washor et al 61). The stores, however, are arranged in pretty the same was as Sony’s, with specially designated areas for learning, purchasing, technical support and playing (Washor et al 60).
Most Apple stores have an awesome ambience, with the company’s latest products hanging on the walls or placed on strategic positions. Apple staff members are always on the lookout for customers requiring any kind of assistance, and are always armed with digital cash machines secured to their waistlines in case the customer needs to make on-the-spot purchase. The Studio is located at the back of the store. Here, customers can be taught how to apply Apple products and software to meet their specific needs. A problem solving and troubleshooting bay, known as the Genius Bar, is also reserved for customer learning.
In short, “…relationships, relevance, and rigor are integral to the design of the [Apple’s] store and the experience (Washor et al 62). The architecture and ambience of Sony stores is also befitting, but not anywhere near what Apple stores have invested in physical appearance. Physical appearance is known to pull potential customers into purchasing more or less from an enterprise (Useem 108)
Sony has been successful in developing various brand names for its products, with the latest addition being the super flat-panel plasma TV retailing under the brand name ‘Bravia.’ Overall, some of Sony’s brand names on offer in selected stores include high-end LCD panels, rear projection micro-display HDTV, flat-panel TV, Vaio PC, DVD recordable camcorders and SonyEricsson mobile phones (Smith 10). The state-of-the-art styling and quality of Sony products have been a major selling point, with the management underlining the fact that some stores have not received any complaint about their products.
Customers are taught on how to use the gadgets before leaving the store, hence ensuring the safety and functionality of the products. In case of any problems, the products offered at the stores come with a comprehensive warranty, mostly ranging from 1 year to 3 years (Boheen 24). Repairs and technical support is always guaranteed at the customer’s request. Apple do not enjoy an expansive product range that can be equated to Sony’s, but it is certainly tracking in the right direction mainly due to the development of creative and innovative gadgets that have been able to penetrate the below 30 years market segment with much ease (Dalrymple 17). The top-of-the-range products offered in Apple’s stores include the iPod, iPhone, Apple computers, network servers, and software programs. It is interesting to note that Apple’s PC uses the mackintosh operating system, and has been successful in meeting the needs of Mac OS lovers. The top selling product for Apple stores still remains the iPhone due to its styling, quality, multi-purpose functionality, and technical backup support (Softpedia para 1).
The projections for the company reveal that more extra-ordinary products will be on offer in Apple stores this year. It can, therefore, be said that products offered on both Sony and Apple retail stores are laced with considerable amounts of sophistication, style, splendor, and fun to match up well with the companies’ brand image and reputation as perceived by the target audience (Useem 111).
A significant chunk of revenue for both Sony and Apple goes into effecting promotional strategies. Both stores use integrated marketing communication (IMC) tools to develop and maintain brand image, while attempting to keep their customers satisfied. In IMC, Sony and Apple stores employ both online and offline communication and advertising strategies to reach out to their already existing customers while venturing into new and emerging market segments. Apple uses more online approaches such as search engine optimization (SEO), banners, and pay-per-click strategies in addition to customer relationship programs and other traditional mediums of communication such as TV and radio (Dalrymple 17). Many of its advertisements target a much younger and trendier market segment with messages of creativeness, innovativeness, and independence of thought.
Sony stores also employ both online and traditional means of communication and advertisement to reach out to its customers. Sony is particularly fond of using popular personalities and celebrities in its advertising campaigns to link its innovative and creative products to individuals with exceptional gifts (Olenick 17). According to Olenick, Sony always aspires to mix sophistication and style when selecting appropriate materials or personalities to use as mediums of its advertising campaigns.
Sony also conducts live demonstrations of its top-range products by hiring models to visit its stores and perform physical demonstrations of its products to customers in an attempt to heighten the level of customers’ interactive experience with new state-of-the-art technology. Olenick posits that “…Sony stores are also broadening their attempts to attract women customers with a series of TV spots that utilize TiVo’s Green Thumb technology that shows extra ad content at the viewer’s discretion” (17).
Sony stores are known to stock new high-end consumer products, while Apple stores stock just about everything, from computers to network servers to iPhones and software (Dalrymple 17). The pricing strategy for both stores do not reveal much differences bearing in mind that they deal with more or less the same products – electronic consumer products. The Sony stores, however, are not favorable for customers with a constricted purse as some of the products on offer are priced in excess of $75,000. Both stores exercise some seasonal pricing approaches to cash in on customers who are more than willing to spend during the festive seasons (Olenick 17).
Other services offered in the stores such as learning are free.
From the above discussion and analysis, it appears that very slight differences appear in the way Apple and Sony stores run their activities. This may be attributed to the fact that both are more or less dealing with electronic consumer products.
Their market segments, however, are largely different, with Apple targeting the young populations and specialized market while Sony markets can be generalized to whole populations due to its variety of choice (Olenick 17; Masna 21). The marketing approaches used by both stores, including the marketing mix solidly reinforces the fact that customers are treated with much respect, and are always welcomed to experience technology in the respective stores . This is the object of any marketing initiative. The approaches adequately recognize that without leveraging customer satisfaction, there would be no need to engage in business.
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