When it comes to sound and style, few do it better than Danish experts Bang & Olufsen. Founded in 1925 by Peter Bang and Svend Olufsen, their visual and audio equipment is renowned throughout the world, not only in terms of acoustics, but also in terms of how impressive their products look.
So impressive in fact, they were recently voted the 5th coolest brand on the planet in the UK Centre for Brand Analysis ‘Coolbrands survey’ – behind Aston Martin, Apple, Harley-Davidson and Rolex. So what it is that makes them so cool? B&O Executive Anders Hansen believes the success is down to “originality” and the fact that they are constantly “searching for perfection”.
“We don’t follow what others do,” said Hansen. “When it comes to design and technology, we are unique. It is a question of giving our customers a better and longer lasting listening experience. We can achieve this because we have some of the best sound engineers in the world. They are constantly challenged to adhere to the designers work.
Getting a beautiful sound out of a small metal tube is a somewhat more difficult a task for an engineer than if you had a whole wooden coffin to work with. It is a real test – but they like that!”
It is not all about sound though; providing consumers with products that are aesthetically pleasing is just as important for the company, particularly with women taking more control when it comes to buying household electronic goods.
“It is something that we call having a good ‘wife acceptance factor’.
“There are of course a number of guys in to stereos that sound great,” says Hansen, “but often their other half will demand something that looks good. That is where we come in.”
“It has to work for everybody. These products are not made to be put in special listening rooms, they are designed to fit in to the living room and make it look nice. That is why we have quite a lot of female fans.”
It is not hard to see why Bang & Olufsen appeals to women; their products never seem to look out of place, wherever they are. The fact that they are often made from aluminum is one of the the main reasons for this according to Hansen.
“The great thing about aluminium is that it reflects the colours that are in the room so it can blend in to to pretty much any environment.”
Subtlety is the key; they don’t want anything too garish. They even tried to make their 103 inch BeoVision 4 TV as discreet as possible, giving it a motorised floor stand so the screen can be elevated or moved down at the touch of button.
With extravagant TVs and some speakers that cost close to 3 million yen, Bang & Olufsen goods are certainly not cheap. That doesn’t mean that they target only the high end market though.
Their new brand, B&O Play, gears more towards the younger, casual consumer. Earlier this year they launched the Beolit 12 portable music system.
It allows you to play music wirelessly from your iPod or PC when connected to a wireless network at a price the average customer can afford.
They are hoping that the Beolit 12 can surpass the performance of the BeoSound ‘ docking system, Bang & Olufsen’s most successful ever product. So far sales have been strong, particularly in Japan.
Whilst Germany, Britain and Denmark remain the three most important markets for the company, Hansen recognizes the potential for growth here, where consumers “have a real appreciation for the materials Bang & Olufsen use.”
They currently have nine stores in the country but are looking to expand.
“Our simplistic and clean design goes well with Japanese tastes. No fuss and very streamlined. On top of that, they really respect a true sound, so our audio products sell really well here,” said Hansen.
He is excited about the future, not only in Japan but also on a global scale as the company reaches out to a wider audience. Their recent Facebook competition to find a design for a set of speaker covers attracted almost 5000 applicants from all over the world.
This first foray into social media, plus new products like the Beolit 12, underlines a change in Bang & Olufsen’s marketing strategy. One thing that hasn’t changed though, is the ability of their designers and engineers to provide customers with high quality products that sound as good as they look.
By Matthew Hernon. Interview by Ray Pedersen.
Have a look at the full range of B&O products on their website.