Iceberg Watch: Bang & Olufsen


I remember B&O as the iconic brand of audio equipment in my youth in the 1970’s and 80’s. Too young for Braun which was the style leader in my parents’ generation, B&O represented not so much the gold standard for audiophiles – they aspired to brands like Thorens – but for interior design.

Nowadays, they still charge a fortune for their uniquely carved pieces. But less and less consumers are willing to pay for it. Not that B&O has ever been a mass market brand. It was always just for the chosen few. However, the chosen few of today don’t feel that the brand fits into their lifestyle.

Part of this is likely due to the fact that the digitization of entertainment has commoditized the players and desensitized the listeners. The iPod has changed our habits of music consumption – and lowered our expectations. We have traded in quality for availability.

But another factor is, in my view, a misunderstanding on the side of B&O of what really discerns their brand from its, mostly cheaper, competition.

Bang & Olufsen’s Essence

The essence of this brand is not design, or performance, or even craftsmanship, as many, including B&O executives, suggest. Its essence is moving parts.

If Apple‘s ambition is to get rid of anything mechanical in their products – e.g. by reducing the phone to one button, the laptop to one touchpad -; then B&O is the celebration of mechanics. This brand‘s experience is all about the ballet of parts that gracefully move to the humming music of servos. If Apple builds the world‘s most beautiful digital watches, then B&O builds Swiss, sorry, Danish Chronographs. And like in watches, it is the moving parts that make a piece from B&O justifiably more valuable, and expensive, than something from Apple or Loewe – not to mention Samsung or other more affordable alternatives.

Bang & Olufsen’s Opportunity

B&O might look at their category from a different perspective. Which are the products that just can’t work without mechanical parts? These are the hero products for B&O. Everything else can only be an also-run in their portfolio. While at first sight this perspective may look pretty narrow, I believe there is lots of room for mechanical excellence in the digital product space. Like, where is the phone WITH a keyboard that can seriously compete with the iPhone on style and usability? Where are the CD and DVD players that hold and index my entire collection, while I watch arms grabbing, tables spinning?

Bang & Olufsen’s Threat

Death.

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