Sony: A legacy of innovation drives business growth
The Edge spoke exclusively with Hiroyasu Sugiyama, the managing director of Sony Middle East and Africa (MEA) about the importance of MEA markets to the company and what trends he sees emerging that electronics companies can capitalise on.
Can you talk about the importance of the Middle East market to Sony? What opportunities do you see?
The Middle East market is undoubtedly one of the most significant contributors to our business growth. Consumers in this region exhibit a good level of trust in the Sony brand, as well as readiness to experience the innovation and quality we offer.
We have identified considerable opportunity in emerging markets such as Iraq, where the economy has stabilised to a large extent and is showing tremendous progress. We recently held a distributor conference in the country to announce our plans for widespread investment to bring the Sony experience to the Iraqi population.
What are some of the challenges you face in the Middle Eastern markets?
Some countries in the Middle East and Africa are going through a difficult period of social and political evolution. This brings with it economic and business uncertainties, and is one of the biggest challenges Sony faces in the region.
In the electronics market, the intense competition, rapid price erosion and an accelerating product lifecycle is a global phenomenon, and this region is also affected by this challenge.
How involved are you with your local partners? What sort of things do you work on together to develop your position in the market?
Our local sales partners and distributors form the backbone of our business in the Middle East and Africa region. We are constantly in discussion with them to design mutually beneficial strategies for extending our reach and exposure in the respective markets. Indeed, we depend on them to serve as the best ambassadors of our products and the Sony brand.
In Qatar, for example, we have a successful relationship with Darwish Holding, who, through their retail arm Fifty One East, have been distributing Sony products in Qatar for over 50 years.
“Our local partners and distributors form the backbone of our business in the Middle East and Africa region.”
What do you think sets Sony apart from its competitors?
Sony is an electronics and entertainment conglomerate with a wealth of proprietary technologies and high-quality products. With this portfolio, we are able to leverage our links within the Sony Group in an effort to further differentiate Sony’s hardware from that of its rivals, and to elevate the appeal of our products.
In our television (TV) business, for example, we believe that there is potential to sufficiently differentiate from rival products by leveraging our carefully cultivated proprietary technologies to enhance picture and sound quality. The technologies that we utilise comprise signal processing-technologies to reinforce features such as contrast performance, video response performance, energy-saving capabilities, and audio technologies.
How important is Africa to your future growth plans?
The growing consumer electronics market in Africa is expected to be the single largest contributor to business growth in the continent. We have seen a hunger for new products and technology in this market, and hope to capitalise on this huge potential to grow the business exponentially. Our target is to secure a market share of USD1.4 billion (QAR5.1 billion) by 2015. However, our focus is not on sales growth alone, but the 360-degree development of our business, covering all facets of operations in Africa. This includes setting-up offices and investing in local talent to run these offices, to opening Sony branded stores and service centres that will be managed and operated by local professionals trained by Sony experts.
Could you give us some specifics on what this plan entails?
Sony’s growth strategy for Africa is hinged on market expansion – establishing zonal offices in Nigeria, Ghana, Morocco, Angola and Kenya – to increase market presence. We also have an extensive range of products for all consumer segments and are now working on launching them in Africa simultaneously with their global launch dates. Sony’s new concept stores will give customers a hands-on experience and access to live demonstrations of our latest products to help them easily appreciate the product benefits.
We are also looking to capitalise on the high demand registered for Sony audio products, which have proven to be category leaders with a dominant market share, to stir consumer interest in new products. Sony is also looking to develop Africa-centric products focused on the needs and requirements of African customers and create products that fit their preferences. And finally, maximise our potential in the mobile business, which is growing at a phenomenal pace, with our strong line-up of Sony Xperia devices.
What are some of the trends we can expect to see in TV technology in the future? Will there be a focus on more integration with personal devices?
TV is a critical device for consumers to enjoy various content and services at home. The Bravia range of TVs are Wi-Fi enabled and offer a wide range of Internet connected services including Sony’s smart connect solutions, enabling cross-device connectivity between mobile devices and the TV. In addition, smart connect features such as one-touch mirroring provides greater control and additional content options by interconnecting media sources across the home and mobile entertainment ecosystem. These technologies are increasingly determining the purchase decisions of consumers, and are a gradual but promising trend in the sector.
Could you explain what the new 4K TV technology is?
4K TV technology is defined by enhanced picture and sound quality. The series feature four times the resolution of full HD and are packed with Sony’s own technologies such as signal processing, speakers, and signal–to-sound architecture to deliver powerful sound quality.
The 4K TVs are quite expensive today. Will this stay a high-end product or do you see prices dropping in the future and this technology becoming the standard for all your TVs?
The beauty of 4K images is easily apparent, and the difference in quality is comparable to the effect delivered when consumers shifted from standard definition to high definition. Once a consumer has experienced the 4K picture quality, it would be difficult to go back. We believe that 4K will become the next best standard of home entertainment. From our experience with the launch of the 84-inch 4K Bravia LED TV, the sales of which far exceeded our expectations, it is clear that consumers are willing to see the value for their investment in 4K.
At the same time, our goal is to extend the 4K viewing experience to as many consumer segments as possible. We do realise that the Sony 84-inch 4KTV, priced at QAR99,999 is not for everyone and so we have launched the 4K format in smaller, more affordable, screen sizes of 65-inch and 55-inch. We will continue to review our offerings in this regard, without compromising on quality.
Your CEO recently announced a revival plan for Sony, what will be the focus of it?
Indeed, Sony has been, and is still undergoing strategic restructuring, which involves consistent efforts to take the best course of action based on lessons learned and the dynamic turns of global consumer technology trends. One major step in this direction is Sony’s enhanced focus on mobile technology, digital imaging and gaming offerings.
For the television business, Sony televisions have always set the best standards. Superior television technology has always been our strength. We will continue to be in this business of offering customers the most compelling television experiences at the best value and will spare absolutely no efforts to turn around our TV business and consumer electronics operations.
A host of other propositions are under consideration, but the end goal is invariably the same, which is to preserve the legacy of innovation that precedes the Sony brand across the entire product line-up.