NFL fans suddenly have a lot to say about Bose headphones. Unfortunately for the brand, none of it is going to help them increase sales.
The NFL confirmed last week that Bose would be exercising its right as the league’s “official audio provider” to keep rival headphones out of the picture. From now on, you won’t be seeing your quarterback wear Beats by Dre headphones during any post-game interviews. Instead, the only headphones you’ll see onscreen from a player’s pre-kickoff ritual to 90 minutes after the game, between pre-season training and the Super Bowl, will be Bose.
Not because the players prefer the brand. Because they are contractually forbidden from wearing anything else.
Not surprisingly, Bose’s heavy-handed marketing tactics aren’t sitting well with either of the company’s main target groups: NFL fans and audiophiles.
“Just think of wearing Bose headphones as an NFL player like wearing a McDonald’s visor while [you are) working the drive-through,” wrote one commenter on Endgadget.
“Better sound through marketing,” quipped another on Deadspin.
Bose makes a great product. I have three pairs myself. However as the C.E.O. of a word-of-mouth marketing agency, it pains me to see good brands start bad conversations about themselves. The key to word-of-mouth marketing is getting consumers to share stories about why they love your product or service. There are a few simple steps to making that happen—and not one of them is “use lawyers.”
If you want people, particularly influencers, to share stories about your brand, you need to give them stories that check three boxes. These stories must be interesting, relevant and authentic. Influencers—people who love to tell others about the coolest stuff to buy and do—don’t share stories that they don’t think will be interesting and relevant to their listener. Otherwise they risk boring them and losing their audience (influencers need an audience like football fans need large-screen TVs).
But most important, a shareable brand story must be authentic. “All my friends swear by their Samsung Galaxy.” “My grandmother says that the Bissell Sweeper is the only sure way to get Christmas tree needles out of that rug.” “Every cop I know swears by his Maglight so they must be tough.”
There is nothing authentic about forcing professional athletes to wear your headphones. No audiophile or NFL fan will ever tell his friends to try these headphones because he saw a linebacker switch brands to avoid paying a league fine. Today’s sophisticated consumer knows the difference between an authentic endorsement and a paid-for visual. It’s the former that gains more customers, not the later.
The truly sad part is that Bose has long built its reputation on world-class audio engineering and then having consumers share their experiences with others. Remember those little cards about Bose that the company includes in each case so when someone asks you about your headphones you can share the info with them quickly and get back to what you are doing?
I can’t recall a single celebrity spokesperson who made me want to buy a Bose product but I do know a dozen business travelers and/or musicians who travel more than I do and they all use and talk about Bose so that’s why I bought mine.
At the heart of Bose’s brand is a very authentic story: “People who really know music will pay more to have the best equipment.” Finding ways to have more conversations with consumers about that story is a better use of resources than taking away players headphones like some kind of elementary school hall monitor.
Better sound through marketing, as the Deadspin commentator put it, that’s the other guy’s game. The biggest knock on Beats by Dre has always been that the sound doesn’t match the hype. Thus Bose is already well positioned to dethrone its competitor—it just has to do what it does best, which is make great headphones, and encourage Bose fans to share with others why they love Bose.
Of course, Beats is currently the 800-pound-gorilla of the headphone world. It owns 61 percent of the over-$100 headphone market, whereas Bose owns just 22 percent, according to market research firm NPD Group. People also used to buy a lot of Reebok Pumps, Chrysler cars and listen to disco. This too shall pass.
Why rely on rule of law when you could rely on referrals from friends, which we all know in the social-media age is far more effective than traditional, top-down marketing? Bose should be using its money to live up to its slogan and encourage others to share what is interesting, relevant and authentic about their product. That is the path to success in today’s market.
Ted Wright is CEO of Fizz, a word-of-mouth marketing firm in Atlanta, Georgia. His book, Fizz: Harness the Power of Word-of-Mouth Marketing to Drive Brand Growth, is now available at fine book sellers nationwide.