Reason for Sony's dominance: Mind share

The term <i>mind share</i> gets thrown around quite a bit these days. The essence of the term may be confusing, but whatever it means, Sony somehow seems to have it.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
4 min read
Sony Blu-ray player
Sony Blu-ray player Sony

The term mind share gets thrown around quite a bit these days and the essence of the term is, well, confusing. Some may say that mind share is the amount of mental time given to a specific topic, but I tend to disagree. To me, mind share is the amount of time a company dominates our minds during the buying process. Second to maybe only Apple, Sony commands such a significant mind share in this industry that corporate and device flops seem to be all but forgotten by all of those except the most techie among us.

I don't know about you, but whenever I give someone buying advice, their attention is always on what I have to say about Sony products. The responses usually go something like this after the person has asked me for advice and I recommend a non-Sony product: "Wait, I heard Sony products are the best. Shouldn't I get a Sony? What's wrong with the Sony? Bill and Sally at work have one, and they said they're great."

So, after a 20-minute soliloquy explaining why they should choose a different company's device to fit their own needs, they smile, walk away and proceed to pick up the Sony device. After all, the advice they receive from five co-workers in accounting is far more valuable than the one tech writer's opinion. They're just playing numbers. I get it. Sheesh.

But why does Sony have this effect on us? I'll admit it: every time I think about buying a new product that I haven't tested, I immediately go to a reviews page and look at Sony products first. Hey, I had a Walkman and a Sony TV that lasted me a long time--why wouldn't its current products be the same?

For all intents and purposes, Sony was the first company to bring respectable products to every consumer electronics division at an affordable price. But over the past few years, the company's products have suffered from poor design and quality issues that put its devices toward the bottom of my list. That said, I am still in the minority.

While Sony's stock price continues to rise (it's up $8 in six months), its products continue to be average. If you take a peek at the CNET Reviews page, you will quickly find that Sony products have not been doing well in the ratings. And yet, Sony products are consistently found in the top 5 or 10 of most units sold in almost every category. The company is riding quite a wave, but I have to wonder when the bottom will fall out.

Like many other companies, Sony has been ensnared in a host of controversies that would have brought down lesser organizations. Not only were the company's batteries exploding all over town last year, but its inclusion of a root kit and then a "dial-home" program as a DRM measure has not made it any friends in the tech community. While I understand the company is not alone and other organizations have committed more egregious acts, it seems like consumers either don't know about it or simply don't care.

Consumers have been using Sony products for years. Whether it's a TV, audio player or home theater system, people are unwilling to move to another company's products just because their Sony system works. And when that system dies, they will immediately run to the store and pay a premium for a product that is not nearly as nice as the cheaper alternative.

Sony Playstation 3
Sony Playstation 3 Sony

Take the PlayStation 3 and a Sony Blu-ray player to a seasoned technology veteran and I can almost guarantee that person will discount the importance of the Blu-ray and explain the banes of owning a PS3. Now take those same products to my mother and I guarantee she will believe these products are the best on the market because they have the Sony symbol attached to them. Now that is what I call mind share.

In the end, there is no right answer to which product you should buy. CNET Reviews editors, myself and other people knowledgeable about tech can talk until we're blue in the face describing the best features of products. But when it comes down to it, the inquirer must make the decision. Sometimes a Sony product is ideal for the average person walking into a store, while others will buy the device and realize it's not for them. Technology is not a black-and-white discipline. What is good for me may be awful for you and vice versa. That's just the way it is.

But as more people become aware of other products, Sony must stop resting on its laurels expecting Average Joe or Jane to walk into Best Buy and pick up the first Sony product they have seen. We need to see more quality from Sony or else Average Joe or Jane will walk away. Sure, it hasn't happened yet and Sony products still dominate the industry, but can we honestly believe it won't happen if Sony maintains the status quo?

Some companies believe we are all lemmings who will flock to stores to buy the top company's products just because it comes from that company, but I think discounting the general public is a dangerous business strategy. Although Sony currently commands respect and dominance in this business, the tides will change. And then the $600 game console and inconceivably expensive HDTV better give way to a $400 gaming system and a reasonably priced HDTV, or Sony's success may become a significant flop.