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A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. . . OK, 35 years ago, which in tech-time is a long time ago, Sony introduced the Walkman.

If you weren’t around then or aren’t a student of portable, private music devices, it was a 14-ounce, brick shaped portable cassette player with big square buttons, and biggish headphones, that came wrapped in a leather case. It ran on two AA batteries, had no external speakers and was the height of technological sophistication when it came to on-the-go music. It fundamentally changed the paradigm of how consumers experienced music and, thus, sold a cumulative 200 million units. By 1986 the word “Walkman” was included in the Oxford English Dictionary and became part of the lexicon.

Sony kept at it, innovating formats to accommodate CDs, but corporate hubris being what it is, when it came to MP3s, Sony insisted on sticking to a proprietary digital music format (the music version of their Betamax video players), which left the brand way, way behind Apple and its iPod. It also left Sony way, way behind other brands when it came to consumer perceptions regarding brand innovation.

In a recent Brand Keys survey of consumer perceptions of innovative tech brands, 4,500 consumers (500 men and women, 16-65, from each of the 9 U.S. Census Regions) were asked to rate companies and brands on a 1-to-10 scale when it came to innovation for on and off-line technological innovation leadership. The top-20 rankings ended up looking like this:

  1.  Apple (98%)
  2. Samsung (97%)
  3. Google (96%)
  4. Amazon (95%)
  5. Microsoft (91%)
  6. Netflix (89%)
  7. HP/Panasonic (87%)
  8. YouTube (85%)
  9. Facebook (82%)
  10. Twitter (80%)
  11. Hulu (79%)
  12. IBM (78%)
  13. LinkedIn (77%)
  14. Canon/Dell (75%)
  15. Uber (74%)
  16. Airbnb (71%)
  17. Roku (70%)
  18. Sony (68%)
  19. Intel (67%)
  20. Pinterest/Yahoo (65%)

While Sony ended up toward the bottom of our list, and, by the way, lost nearly $1.4 billion in their fiscal year that ended in March, they apparently don’t intend upon staying there – either perception or profit-wise.

The solution? They’re introducing a new, $700 Walkman aimed at upscale consumers looking to trade up in the audio-to-go category. The XZ1 is Sony’s 21st century version of the Walkman; hefty and heavy, hand-carved from a block of aluminum, housing 128 gigabytes for radically high-quality files that combines data storage, download speed, and sound quality.

Brand Keys tracks consumer expectations in nearly 100 B2C and B2B categories, and generally speaking, expectations have only increased – especially when it comes to personal technology. This new Sonly entry is an example of a product built to address some of those consumer expectations likely created from consumer exposure to high-quality HD-TV and newly-popular premium headphones. And whether the new Walkman will be a niche product or a consumer phenomenon remains to be seen.

As Apple (#1 on our list) discovered, truly great innovative products can change everything for consumers – from how they listen to music to what they expect about how they’ll listen to music. And when brands do that, they elevate themselves from well-known brands to innovation icons.

Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.

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