Want To Be As Big As Sonos? Their CMO's Advice: 'Know Thyself, And Know Your Audience'
Joy Howard

A giant in the music industry, Sonos is unrivaled in defining what’s cool. They’ve the shaped way society listens to music through fostering a narrative that speaks directly to the modern sensibility and thoroughly understanding the consumer experience.

Sonos widely recognized brand is both dynamic and smart, which can undeniably be attributed to the company's overall success (aside from just producing amazing products.) The mastermind behind Sonos refreshing and engaging voice is the company’s Chief Marketing Officer, Joy Howard.

Howard took the time to chat with TechDay about what it takes to captivate the customer and create & maintain a successful brand within the ever changing music industry.

In terms of marketing, how has Sonos been able to successfully position itself as a fixture within our changing musical landscape?

Whether it’s marketing, the online shopping experience, our stores in New York and China, our pop-up experiences with Airbnb or our product design, we start with the experience, first and always. What will the consumer experience? How and where will they interact with the product and brand? What do they need from us to understand our value to their lives? Being a music brand is also a great place to start—who doesn’t love music? It’s one of those global shared experiences that help people connect emotionally, and because Sonos exists to fill your home with music, we’re hitting on two major personal passions—what you listen to when you’re in your most private spaces.

How is Sonos able to directly relate to the customer and optimize the customer experience overall?

We put the owner first, and we work very closely with them to understand their experience with music, with listening to it out loud in their homes, and how they want to interact with brands. It’s critical to us that we show the effortless and elegant Sonos experience in everything we do—from our website to your experience in a big box retailer to how you use the Sonos app when you’re sitting in a listening room in our own stores. Delivering a seamless experience requires incredibly tight collaboration across product & brand design, software & hardware and even logistics.

How did the "You're Better than This" campaign come to fruition and what was the strategy for maximizing appeal with your target audience?

Because we’re surrounded by music out loud all day at Sonos, it’s easy to forget that some people have given up on that experience, or maybe never even had it. When you spend so much time engineering great sound, it can be a real bummer to realize that many who do listen out loud, have traded quality for convenience…and never looked back. Instead, we’ve compressed rich music into tiny files and sacrificed the sound.

We’ve shoved those tiny files through earbuds…and sacrificed the joy of listening together. We’ve played music through disposable Bluetooth speakers…and sacrificed fidelity.

Then, sadly, in the very quest for quality, some of us traded listening out loud at all. Huh?

That’s right: We went all-in for a nice stereo in the living room. We set up home theater in a very special room…or maybe just in our living room. The only problem is that we never seem to be IN that room listening to music. The party never makes it in there – it’s always stuck in the kitchen. Because you’re in the kitchen, you turn it up loud in the living room. Then you DEFINITELY don’t go in there, because it’s so loud it makes your eyes water.

We’re not okay with this. We believe you and your music deserve better: quality AND convenience wherever you are in your home and without any interruptions.

Why? Because you have the internet! If you have the internet, chances are you probably have WiFi, and that means that you can have great music anywhere and everywhere in your home. All you have to do is get Sonos, download our app, connect once, and never again.

Listening out loud on your iPhone or sharing a pair of earbuds is fine, if you’re both 11. It is! Tweens of the world, rock on!

But if you’re old enough to live in your own home, then you’re old enough to fill it with music. In an age of WiFi, why have wires? If you don’t need wires, then why tether yourself to a speaker with Bluetooth? Sure you can carry that speaker around your house like it’s 1987 and you’re headed out on the 4 train with your boom box to the Bronx.

Except you’re not. It’s 2016, and you’re in your home. Laptop speakers are totally fine, until Rashida Jones comes over.

At that point, you’ll probably want something better. Because YOU’RE better. And we make Sonos for you.

What sort of marketing strategies does Sonos use to reach highly targeted demographics, rather than just general consumers?

We know a lot about our owners, and we know a lot about music lovers and those who pay for streaming—those are the consumers we consider particularly engaged with music and important to Sonos. Not to mention important to the health of the music industry overall. We have strong partnerships with streaming music services that allow us to be very tailored and intentional with our marketing to music lovers, and we’re expanding into partnerships with other brands and who share our vision of the home as the center of vital cultural experiences- and understand the vital role that music can play there.

How is Sonos able to keep the brand "fresh" and maintain its standing as a top brand in the very competitive speaker and wireless music streaming industries?

We make home sound systems: just a very few speakers, components, and an app that work together seamlessly. That’s it. And we make them very well. It’s a compelling proposition to a consumer when they understand that the worst their Sonos speaker will ever sound is on the first day they bring it home. Through software, we make our speakers better over time—the most recent example being the Trueplay software update that allows you tune your speaker to any room no matter how bad the acoustics or the placement. And we shipped that for free, like every one of our updates, and it works on every piece of Sonos that’s been built, ever. So that’s one way to stay fresh and relevant. Obviously we don’t obsolete ourselves which is a strategy a lot of our competitors use to appear “fresh.” Instead, we build experiences—physical and digital—that allow us to be in service to our owners and consumers who love music and want to connect with musicians and creators who share that love.

What advice would you share with new startup founders aiming to solidify their brand and bring visibility to it?

Know thyself, and know your audience. Talk to them like people, not prospects, and fully understand what you can do to make their lives better. Build radical partnerships with brands that are truly aligned to your own mission—not just those that seem to be popping up a lot on social platforms—and deliver value to them and to customers.

Any upcoming innovations we can expect to see from Sonos soon?

Tons, but you’ll need to stay tuned!