Sony's iconic Walkman has turned 40 years old today. And in so doing, it's proven once again that if you can build the right brand and pair it with the right product, you can create something that spans generations.

Of course, Sony didn't know that the Walkman would be the Walkman when it released it on July 1, 1979. Instead, the company's then-chairman Akio Morita believed that young people wanted to be able to listen to their music all day long. And he called on Sony engineers to find a way to create that experience.

When the Walkman hit store shelves on July 1, 1979 for about $150, it changed lives. It gave people an opportunity to listen to the music they loved all day. It also made it possible for people to walk down the street and enjoy their preferred music without worrying about annoying others.

But the Walkman also provided some early hints at how people would want to listen to music in the future. It made it simple for them to quickly switch between songs and listen to the tracks they cared about most. And with two headphone jacks in the device, it also meant that they could share their musical tastes with their friends or loved ones.

Indeed, Apple just last month announced a new feature for its iOS 13 mobile operating system that makes it easy for people to share the music they're listening to from their iPhones with multiple AirPods. Even today, companies are trying to solve for shared love of music.

But now 40 years later, the Walkman lives. And while it might not be as important or successful as it was decades ago, it's still on store shelves, proving that it has the lasting power so many companies wish they had.

So, how did Sony do it? And how can you do it in your business? There were a few key ingredients:

Relying on the Brand

Sony has done an outstanding job over the last few decades building a brand that people can trust and care about. And it's also done a good job over the years at ensuring it doesn't do anything too bad to disrupt its brand.

The same holds true for the Walkman. The device's name was top-notch from the start and told people what it was all about. Better yet, Sony remained committed to marketing the brand and ensuring it stayed in line with what its strategic focus was. It all came together.

Companies can learn the same. Building a brand is critical and decidedly doable with help from social media, quality content, and a nice website. But maintaining that brand is also important. And remaining committed to staying the course and ensuring that any product you delivers is in keeping with the strategy is important.

Remembering the User

Sony's success with the Walkman was due in no small part to the company's keen understanding of the user. Sony knew that people wanted to listen to music all day long, but they needed a way to do it. And the Walkman delivered.

Companies, too, can learn from their users, if they spend enough time listening to them and observing them. Do you spend enough time thinking about your customers and what they need that they're not getting?

It's a critical component in any business and for decades, Sony has done that well. It's how the Walkman became the Walkman -- and how it survives 40 years later.

Evolving with the Times

For decades during its run, Sony was able to evolve with the times in the Walkman business. The device was the go-to product when tapes were all the rage and became the must-have when CDs took their place.

It wasn't until digital music dominated the landscape and Apple moved quickly with a better solution in the iPod that things changed for the Walkman. Now, the device only sells to a small slice of the market.

Changing with the times and responding to consumer need came to be a problem for Sony in the 2000s. And it's something you want to keep in mind as a business owner. Don't rest on your laurels and believe that because you're in a dominant position today, another competitor can't come along and change everything.

Indeed, the future is decidedly in doubt for Sony's Walkman. The device has lost its way in a world dominated by streaming music and iPhones. And save for a few folks who want a dedicated music player, it's not the right solution.

And perhaps that's the tale that should define the Walkman going forward -- and the lessons business owners can learn from it.

As nice and as important as the Walkman might have been in the industry, it's remembered now for nostalgic reasons. It's incumbent upon all companies, then, that have a popular product to nurture it, listen to customers, and most of all, be willing to adapt. Absent that, your product could end up like the Walkman.

Published on: Jul 1, 2019
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