Sennheiser is bringing its special binaural sounds to make you feel like as if you are really there with Ambeo Smart Surround, their new technology and consumer product that records immersive audio with smartphone simplicity.
The family owned, Germany-based brand, a manufacturer of headphones, microphones and wireless transmission systems with presence in more than 50 countries, is banking on reaching a sophisticated set of consumers clamoring to complement the 4K and 360-degree videos they capture with immersive and innovative solutions that’s all about recording sound the way ears actually are supposed to hear it.
The 71-year-old Sennheiser, which totaled $729 million in sales in 2015, will make Ambeo Smart Surround available in the second half of 2017.
Uwe Greunke, head of global marketing and brand marketing for Sennheiser, joined [a]listdaily to explain how they’re bringing their premium, consumer-grade binaural recording products to an international stage.
Sennheiser announced Ambeo Smart Surround last month. What is going to be your strategy in marketing this new technology and consumer product line?
Our overall goal as a brand is very simple—it’s to shape the future of audio. That’s the idea. It’s something that we’re very passionate about, but we’re always looking toward the next level. For us, it was always teasing to push audio forward. We as humans are visually oriented, and you see how the TV space is always progressing. But audio is a little bit behind. From our history to our high innovation approach, we are taking it very seriously to give audio the kick it needs. We started the big idea behind Ambeo last year. Going from mono to stereo is a big step. Ambeo is the next step after stereo. It’s the combination of ambient—the sound around you—and stereo. For us, Ambeo is the idea which covers the whole sphere of capturing, mixing, processing and listening. It’s not simply a listening device. It’s also an immersive listening experience and attitude for recording. It’s very simple, but it took us years of experimentation and technology to run it. The biggest message that separates us apart from the competition with Ambeo Smart Surround is that we are creating affordable and accessible audio by catering to both the consumer, and the professional.
How does the consumer appetite for Sennheiser differ on a North American level, and a global level?
We are a niche player in the space focusing on audio on a global level. The home turf is still Europe, but the Unites States is a highly attractive market. We are well-known brand on the pro level, but of course, there is competition. But big stars like Beyoncé and Pink are using our equipment. It’s a growing market. We also have high brand awareness and a significant market share in China and Japan. The global market is our key. But when it comes to modernity, and with companies coming up with new technologies like virtual reality, US is still the driver for it.
With Sennheiser having a footprint in VR as well, how are you trying to have ownership in the space?
That’s an important point. We as specialists are not big enough to re-drive the trend. The trend is driven by others, namely YouTube and Facebook. So we are partnering with them, instead. They are using our products for production, so that’s our way into the trend. And we give them special support, and we’ll as re-share their stories. And they help us update and optimize. Partnerships allow for smart products and new solutions.
With regard to the PC 373D headset, what opportunities are there for Sennheiser to be a part of eSports? With so much interest around the “next big sport,” how can Sennheiser become an authority in the competitive gaming arena?
Sennheiser has been active in the gaming headset market for more than 10 years. So we are not a ‘non-endemic brand,’ but due to the diversity of Sennheiser’s product portfolio, we’re not perceived 100 percent dedicated to gaming only. The PC 373D is not an eSports product, but focuses on gamers who we want to level up to a premium audio experience. Sennheiser sees significant potential in the eSports market. That is why we developed and introduced the new gaming audio amplifier GSX 1200 PRO. In combination with the Game Zero, a closed gaming headset, it is the perfect match for competitive eSports tournaments. With our engagement in eSports we increased our brand visibility via product placements and team and tournament sponsorships over the last few years. (Question answered by Tim Völker, Sennheiser’s director sales and marketing for gaming.)
Is there a new marketing strategy, whether it be social, influencer, or experiential, that you plan on testing this year?
I’ve been in marketing for over 20 years, and online is still a growing field. But PR is still very important. We work toward having great relationships with the press to get coverage. That’s our sounding board, per se. But as far as trends, we want to incorporate more with the user. The Ambeo Smart Surround is a very good example of that. At CES, we brought a product and campaign that was 80 percent ready, and an idea of how to market it, and we wanted to listen and incorporate feedback back into our strategy to develop things from there. I think this is a growing trend, to have help from the users, build the community, the use cases and proof pints, rather than leaving up to a community and spending a lot of money on paid media and run ads where people don’t get the idea. It’s always better to connect with the actual users, and give them an opportunity to tell a story as well from their perspective. That’s still a big strategy for us.
What are the insights and data that influence your marketing strategy?
We look at customer behavior, like click path, interest, social media posts and comments on YouTube, newsletter response, working with CRM data and trends analysis. We also look at market research, like feedback on product concepts, price and value proposition.
Is there a new product or service that you think will influence decisions?
Smartphones without headphone jacks—like the iPhone 7. A big trend for us in the industry is the changing ecosystem. Apple and Samsung are making the 3.5 millimeter headphone jack go away. There isn’t a simple way to plug-in to your media players. This is a challenge for a lot of companies. We’re also looking at augmented reality devices with the need for 3D audio, and products-on-demand—like renting rather than buying.
What are some of the tent pole events for you this year? Do you consider music-centric festivals like SXSW, Coachella and Lollapalooza?
This was one of the biggest things we changed last year that we go to shows like the ones you mentioned, and Art Basel and Prolight + Sound, too, and bringing the Sennheiser experience to the people. These are places where we don’t want to talk about the product. It’s all about the experience. If you’re convinced after the experience and idea, then we would love to talk to consumers about it. We’re all about personalizing to each individual. We have to find good answers with great products.
Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan