How the Sonos Brand Promise Was Betrayed by a Tone Deaf Upgrade

Feb 18, 2020

Product upgrades are typically a marketing opportunity. But as Sonos recently learned, there are pitfalls to evolving your offering – especially when it comes at the expense of existing products.

The high-end wireless speaker provider was hit with a roar of negative feedback when it announced it was abandoning support for speakers sold in 2006 and 2007. Sonos customers took to social media with calls to #boycottSonos.

In technology product cycles, 14 years is an incredibly long time. These Sonos devices are older than fundamental parts of the music streaming industry today, including Spotify and the iPhone. Apple and Samsung have been fined for “planned obsolescence” of products released just a year apart.

The Sonos Experience is still about Speakers

So why is the outrage against Sonos so deafening?

For decades, people have thought of stereo equipment as a long-term investment. Traditional speakers don’t require software updates, which means they don’t become obsolete. People expect to update their laptop, and they’ve come to accept that they’ll need a new smartphone every year or two. But that’s still not the market expectation for speakers, smart or otherwise.

More importantly, the move to abandon the superseded speakers goes against Sonos’ brand promise of top sound quality with easy integration. “Start with one speaker and easily add more later,” the brand claims. Audiophiles did just that and spent years building a multi-room sound system for their entire home on the Sonos system.

When Sonos pulled the plug on those older speakers, users didn’t see an incremental software upgrade, they saw a betrayal of its brand promise. 

Sonos Responds to the Crisis

Sonos’ response to the crisis struck the right tone with a straightforward apology letter from recently appointed CEO Patrick Spence. He promised continued support for “legacy products” and more compatibility fixes to come.

But this misstep will have reverberating consequences. It’ll take time and resources to ensure that reverse compatibility, and the marketing team has its work cut out for it in restoring Sonos’ brand reputation.

Long story short: The things your brand stands for are more than marketing claims – they’re central to all aspects of your operations. Every business decision has to tie back to how your audience sees (and hears) your products and your offering. 

Amplify this story.

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