Dr. Michael Petty
6 minute read

Most of you probably remember the Sony Walkman, the first portable personal music player that made a massive market impact in the 80s. It ruled the market for over twenty years, evolving as the dominant technology at the time. Then suddenly, it was gone. In less than eighteen months, it lost almost all of its market share until it was finally pulled out of the market for something better aligned with evolving technology to meet the needs of the consumers.

The Rise and Fall of Walkman

Sony had surely given the Walkman a great deal of attention over the two decades of its market dominance. It evolved from a cigarette pack-sized cassette player to a waterproof, shock-resistant CD player, complete with an elastic armband to be conveniently used while exercising. Capitalizing on the mobile way music entertainment was delivered at the time, the Walkman was the technology of choice.

Who would have thought that the Walkman, which dominated its competition such as Panasonic, Philips, and other minor players for decades, would eventually fall due to unforeseen changes in and outside of its industry? How could a resource-rich company like Sony, with a history of innovative and high-quality products, allow itself to be so devastatingly blind-sided? And, for the billion  dollar question, how could Sony miss its rising competitor from a completely different industry, Apple’s iPod?

What Went Wrong

So if Sony did well in areas like innovation, sales, and marketing in developing the Walkman and considered internal and external competing forces, what went wrong must have been strategic planning and execution. Do you think so? Well, if you do, then you’re wrong. It was the lack of long-term environmental scanning, a critical tool in every strategic thinker’s toolbox.

Should Sony have used this strategic tool, it could have seen the small changes that eventually created existential risk—risk that could arise not only from their industry’s head-to-head competition but also from other industries outside of their traditional arenas and purview. They could have avoided being a victim of an extra-industrial threat and could have taken advantage of their advances in technology, research, and execution to capitalize on what could have been.

What Could Have Been

With the proper implementation of long-term environmental scanning, Sony could have seen the shift in consumer interest and technology to digital. By seeing the clues early on, they could have made appropriate changes in their existing strategies to outplay Apple early on. After all, Sony had the momentum and market dominance; their customers were loyal and would have probably preferred a new Walkman versus something different.

So what could have been different? For starters, Sony’s decisions, actions, and ultimately results for long-term success could have been strategically better. They could have seen the signs early enough to think, plan, and act in order to continue its reign as the top choice in mobile music delivery. Who knows, we may have had a Sony Walkman phone in our pockets instead of iPods, iPhones or other market offerings that we have today.

Don’t ever think your company is exempted from the existential risk of competition from other markets or segments. In today’s stiff competition, you must be scanning the environment for changes and clues of change to better think and act for the future. If you don’t want your product/brand/company to suffer the same fate as Sony Walkman, give us a call today at Flagship Futures Group, and we’ll show you how your company can go the way of the iPod and not the Walkman.

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