Sennheiser is a private German audio company specialising in design and production of a range of electronics, primarily headphones, but other audio products with consumer, professional, and business applications as well. Paul Whiting, president, global sales, speaks about the firm’s experience and development in India, their increasing relationship with Bollywood and the Indian music industry, as well as the products Sennheiser has to offer.
Firstly Paul wanted to bring up what Sennheiser does in India since it's introduction in 2007. He explained, "We specialise in three areas - consumer audio, which is basically headphones and includes about 50% of their business; the other two divisions are professional audio and integrated audio which makes up the other 50% of the business".
He went on further and explained that professional audio which is tied up with the music industry includes anything from a microphone used in karaoke bars to large wireless systems for live sound and broadcast sound. Sennheiser recently completed in the Eurovision Sound Contest where they had over 160 wireless channels, using the new digital 9000 series, a benchmark in the wireless market. He also explained that they deal with a variety of markets, and everything in between, a whole spectrum that lies between these three areas.
Paul then went on to talk about Bollywood, and Sennheiser's ties with the Indian film industry. "The studio work is mainly where you'd see Sennheiser products being used. Boom mics especially. We've worked with Bigg Boss, with Zee, Yashraj Films, and so on. We've actually gotten awards for working with the film industry worldwide, from Emmys to Grammies. And now we've come across to Bollywood, so they use not only our Boom mics, but also out wireless products as well."
Sennheiser is a big name in the Western markets, but they seem quite foreign to the Indian audiences. Paul sheds some light on his first experiences in India, "Well, when we first came here, the question I had was 'have we made the right decision?'. Because walking down the streets, there wasn't a headphone anywhere?" But he then clarified saying, "well I think I did see one guy in the back of a truck with a pair of headphones on. But what was really interesting was, there actually was a market for headphones here, because as we see today, we've seen this category develop much like similar categories develop over time."
Paul said that they went out on to the streets and asked people about headphones, but the extent of the their knowledge was only about the headphones they got with their mobile phones. And they associated the brand of the headphones with the brand of the mobile phone. Paul realised that that would be the biggest task with the Indian markets, establishing that headphone brands are something else. "And today, not everyone wear Sennheiser on the street, but there are a lot of people out there who have a pair of Sennheiser headphones"
When asked about how they compete with competitors in a place where Sony or Panasonic are more recognisable, Paul said that they used pure marketing strategies. "We used various marketing campaigns, a range of things done through cine malls, social media, and other ways to get people familiar with the Sennheiser name. And the biggest question we kept getting back was why do I need another headphone if I'm getting one with my mobile phone? And that's when we started explaining that the point of it, is to experience something better, to listen to music in a clearer, more understandable way, and by the way, you can also use it with your mobile phone."
When talking about the audio market, Paul gave some insight into how it is a continually growing market, and by definition it is an emerging market. He believes that with the emergence of the new middle class, the need and use for headphones is rising rapidly, with the consumers as well as the retailers. While talking further about their competitors like Sony, it was said that in the Indian markets, what is their strength is also their weakness. Since these brands are spread over various products, it works to Sennheiser's advantage that they (Sennheiser) specialise only in headphones, thus giving the customer better service and quality. "Our aim is to give the Indian audience a different and better experience."
"What you need to understand is that each market is different. The Indians, the Chinese, and other markets all listen to sound in different ways, because of the different types of music, and the different beats etc."
Touching upon the topic of Bollywood again, Paul mentioned that Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, Farhan Akhtar as well as a host of other people are Sennheiser brand ambassadors. He also mentioned that they try to focus not only on Bollywood, but also the smaller music industries in smaller localities. They have also tied up with the True School of Music who are in India through a collaboration with Blue Frog in Mumbai.
Paul also mentioned that they try to solidify the ties between the people who use their products and the company. They have different workshops, training programs and other such events that help them create a relationship with the artists, the engineers and all the people involved with them.
Speaking about their financial projections this year, Paul explained that the political climate in India seems to have affected things, but he feels that things will pick up gradually.
Finally we asked Paul how their experience was in India. He started off by saying, "Well nothing's easy. It was challenging but it was interesting because it was a new market, and it was a market that was ready to hear you out. There was never a closed door. They were always receptive to what we had to say."
To end the interview, Paul said "Of course for me, sound quality is important, but really it's more the quality of service that counts. The quality of the product. And that's really where the strength of the brand has been building up over the years."