Bose: Passion Driven Innovation
A few years ago when I was living in France, my elder brother visited me. We both walked down to the small city centre in hope of finding a home theatre system for me. Back then, I was a novice to the audio world with very limited knowledge on available systems, whilst my brother had years of experience of assembling speakers, woofers, sub-woofers and amplifiers on his own to achieve the best sound effect and quality.
We entered a store that sold several systems. My eyes were immediately caught by popular brand names such as Sony and Yamaha, particularly with the display of large multi-component systems. The intricacies intrigued me and were compelling evidence for what I perceived to be high quality.
While I kept myself busy with the popular and catchy systems, I realized my brother was stationed in a corner looking at what appeared to be a black box akin a computer CPU.
Along with it were two small speakers. The 3-piece system cost more than the systems I was looking at. The brand name was something I had not heard of before, called Bose. He engaged himself in a conversation with a salesman and before long signaled to me that we were buying the system. Imaginably, I was full of questions. He tried explaining to me that the system was far better than the rest I had seen or heard of. I was still half-convinced, yet paid the full amount and left the store with my brother and a newly purchased audio system that I had no clue about!
At home, while I was preparing dinner, my brother hooked up the system in less than 15 minutes and before I knew, I heard sounds of car crashing from the movie Bad Boys II. I ran to the living room and froze in amazement at the sound I was hearing. My brother flashed a cheesy smile and said, “Congratulations, you now have the best sound system amongst the rest of us in the family!”
Since then, the system redefined my music enjoyment and home entertainment experience. I started researching about Bose and its technologies. The company, which had begun in 1964, was setup by Dr. Amar G. Bose who was underwhelmed by the performance of a high-end stereo speaker system that he had bought in 1956. This, in turn motivated his extensive speaker technology research, concentrating on key weaknesses in the high-end speaker systems available at the time, which led to close to half a century of successful products of enduring quality.
Looking deeper into the company’s innovation drivers, offers some pointers:
i) R&D overdrive: To date, Bose remains a privately held company that enjoys the freedom of unparalleled R&D advantage, unlike its rivals that are more often than not accountable to share markets, venture capitalists and federal regulators. This enabled Bose to plow its profits back into R&D, capital investments and product developments to ensure company growth, contrary to what a listed company would do.
ii) Maverick ideas: Bose remains uncompromising in taking to market maverick ideas, not pursued by competition, to create products of style with exceptional quality. This is evident from its Bose® Direct/Reflecting® technology, Acoustic Waveguide® technology and the more recent Bose® Suspension System for luxury cars. The focus was clearly on well-understood breakthrough technologies. In addition, the company itself started with a few MIT students and went on to hire people who believed steadfastly in technology. Passion and honesty in the workforce helped Bose drive away fear from competition and concentrate on winning technologies. They knew they had to be different and that in turn helped propel them in the right direction.
iii) Understanding consumers’ unspoken motivation: Where products are typically created to meet perceived customers’ needs, Bose took the leap to figure out what people would love to have but never even thought to ask and then went ahead to find the technology, develop the product and bring it to market so that people know about it and appreciate it.
iv) Advertising lifestyle, not product: Bose prides itself in its differentiated communications approach to advertising and marketing its products/technologies. Instead of boasting of what it has, the advertising materials are focused on the message of something different and special inside the product, aimed at getting people’s attention. Arguably, advertisements driven on what a product consists of could be half the truth and consumers may also not be able to tell the difference.
v) Simplicity: A key differentiator in Bose’ systems is the discernible simplicity – easy to understand what it does, not how it does it and easy to use – departing from myths such as more buttons and knobs, complicated wiring and multi-component systems. Inevitably, Bose targets a niche market willing to pay a premium price for its products. Yet, within this segment, in order to have lots of people use the product, it had to make the products usable by lots of people.
The radical approach to innovation may not be part of today’s mainstream approaches, yet it has worked for Bose. Based on my own personal encounter, the consumer experience with my first Bose purchase was both enriching and educational. Undoubtedly, passion-driven innovation has helped Bose introduce innovations with differentiated and enduring technologies that in turn have made many people’s lives better. Or at least, sound better.