Sony Fine Tunes Marketing Strategies – Company Business and Marketing

Matt Stump

When upper level managers at AOL and Time Warner begin meeting to discuss synergies, it might be helpful if they took a page from Sony Corp. of America.

Soon after Howard Stringer took over as head of Sony’s operations in the U.S., he brought in Kim Till, a former Euro Disney executive, as SVP-strategic planning and marketing.

Her job: to coordinate marketing initiatives across Sony’s major U.S. divisions, Music, Pictures and Electronics. To get there, Till created an informal 40-person Marketing Strategy Council.

The MSC consists of senior marketing executives across the wide range of Sony products who are charged with not only resolving conflicts between divisions but creating marketing strategies to increase revenues across businesses.

“It’s a huge shift in strategic direction for Sony to move from a black box company where you’re making the consumer electronics to being the person who adds in the content, delivers the service, charges service fees, and really becomes the service provider in a digital world,” Till said. “We’re undergoing a real transformation and it’s really important from a marketing and strategy side to get all of the different operating companies together.”

The foundation of the company is built on electronic devices. Since the Walkman appeared in 1980, Sony has been synonymous with leading edge consumer electronics: TV sets, HDTV sets, portable radio, tape and CD players, evolving to include set-top boxes, personal computers and devices to download and play Internet music.

Sony owns PlayStation, the gaming platform; The Station, an online gaming platform, and reams of content, starting with a major Hollywood studio, thousands of hours of current (Dawson’s Creek, Party of Five) and past (Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune) TV shows, the Game Show Network and the budding Soap City Network.

Sony Music covers a wide range of artists, ranging from Tony Bennett to Bruce Springsteen to the Dixie Chicks.

With these assets housed in separately run divisions, Till launched quarterly strategy sessions where the MSC would meet to discuss projects. By making attendance voluntary and establishing a ground up mentality for idea generation, Till quickly got senior marketers across Sony’s wide groups working together.

“Almost 90% of it is proactive” in creating ideas, Till said, rather than handling conflicts between divisions.

For instance, Ford held a contest to send some lucky Dawson’s Creek tans to the set of the hit TV show in Wilmington, N.C. Sony record artists played at a special concert held in Wilmington.

Dena Kaplan, VP-sales strategy and communications at the Game Show Network, has worked with the PC division to give away Sony computers and other CE gear in various Game Show contests.

Till is looking forward to movie releases of Charlie’s Angels and Spiderman to build other cross-synergy campaigns. Tags for both movies will be added to current and future Sony CE devices, such as phones and portable music players.

It’s those kinds of synergies that will likely play out when Cablevision Systems Corp. begins rolling out advanced set-tops from Sony Corp. Interactive gaming, music downloads and purchases, and repeats of Dawson’s Creek stored on a set-top hard-drive may just be the tip of the iceberg, or perhaps the Tivo box since Sony is an investor in the personal video recorder company.

Till schedules MSC meetings in “fun” locations, like New Orleans and California’s Napa Valley. “We do alliance discussions, strategic branding, cross promotion at retail,” Till said. “You form these personal, informal bonds where in the three months between the meetings there’s great networking that doesn’t happen in the formal structure. It’s working phenomenally well.”

“We’ve also run an Internet strategy group, but it’s a lot more difficult. We haven’t had the same success that we’ve had on the marketing side, to be honest, and it’s because I think Internet assets are so fundamental to the future of these people’s businesses.”

The Internet rights of music artists vs. the right to download music is a controversial issue that’s yet to be fully worked out, Till said. “Whereas with the marketing side, it’s usually a win-win.” But Till feels there will be win-win opportunities for extending TV and video game franchises in the Internet world. Already, interactive versions of Jeopardy appear online and on Web TV.

Till is working on an umbrella brand strategy campaign for Sony that hasn’t hit the market, but that will seek to tie all Sony’s content and electronics assets together. “How do those come together in a message for consumers and for Wall Street and how do they integrate?” Till says is the question Sony asks. It’s an answer Sony wants to give in the campaign as it seeks to be the number one digital entertainment company in the world, Till says.

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COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group

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