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    Sennheiser: Mostly a professional headphone brand, is now keen to be heard by consumers


    While customers are still discovering the magic of sound heard through a Sennheiser, audiophiles swear by the brand and Sennheiser is ranked among top brands by those creating music today.

    Headphone brand Sennheiser, recently celebrated its fifth anniversary in India. While they do not share exact numbers, Asia and America last year contributed almost 8% to its turnover of Euro 468 million. And Daniel Sennheiser, president, strategy & finance for Sennheiser Electronic GmbH & Co KG looked very pleased with the numbers, when we met him in Mumbai recently. Sennheiser proudly tells us how the immigration officer at Mumbai airport recognised him and turned out to be a customer.

    "We are in India not as an experiment, but as a strategic choice. We believe in India, I am personally very interested in India. We are here to stay and grow," says Sennheiser. Popularly known as a headphone brand, Sennheiser's contribution to the professional side of music has been much greater.

    While customers are still discovering the magic of sound heard through a Sennheiser, audiophiles swear by the brand and Sennheiser is ranked among top brands by those creating music today. Its professional range includes studio gear, DJ gear, stage and monitoring gear, broadcast tools, aviation gear and call centre and office equipment.

    The consumer product portfolio mostly comprises a variety of headphones and gear for assistive listening. Sennheiser is also a favourite among musicians in India with Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, Lucky Ali and Suleiman Merchant among the artists closely associated with the brand.

    As it stands today, both consumer and professional verticals contribute 50:50 to Sennheiser's revenues but going forward consumer products will see more action. "Our professional heritage makes a very distinct positioning for us. Our quality and premium position appeals to the consumers and we sell more headphones than anything else.

    At a global level, we make more turnover with consumers than we do with the professional side," says Sennheiser. Germany, France and China are among the strong markets for the brand and India has registered double digit growth since the beginning. Sennheiser is not worried about being known as a largely headphone brand and he feels it's a good thing that customers know what they stand for.

    The company is in no hurry to break away from this positioning but some of the launches lined up for later in the year will showcase the brand as a fashionable one. "The positioning has been beneficial for us for almost 70 years. We are family owned, so we have limited funds. We are completely independent and want to make choices that we believe are right for the consumer."

    Sennheiser however concedes that the company has realised that looks and design are quite important. "We have taken some big steps design wise and as a fashion brand. You'll see colours," is all he is willing to share right now. Besides audiophiles, a Sennheiser customer, according to Sennheiser is likely to be mature or as he puts it, "a more discerning person who understands music. A Sennheiser customer would not be too concerned with how the product looks, but he knows his music ," he says.

    Product warranty is an important differentiator for Sennheiser, says Sharmila Sahai, managing director, Sennheiser India. The brand offers its customers two years international product warranty, no questions asked — a confidence that stems from the quality of product, says Sahai. As far as distribution in India is concerned, Sennheiser works through partners and is available in large format MBOs as well as standalone stores.

    While the brand doesn't spend much on advertising, BTL is extremely important for Sennheiser. "We believe that, if you try our products you will be convinced. So it is important to get people's hands on the product, the important question is how we organise this", says Sennheiser.

    In some countries, it has its own stores, which helps control the retail environment and in others the brand has opted for a flexible point-of-purchase program that enables demonstrations and can be executed locally to cater to different environments. The internet and recommendations from professional users is another important tool to reach the consumer. In its home country, the brand also runs an internet TV channel, which Sennheiser says has a lot of followers. Partnerships are another area of interest for Sennheiser.

    In India, Sennheiser earphones were offered with Samsung Note recently. But Sennheiser is in no hurry to form partnerships either. "We are being solicited all the time, but our thresholds are very high. Again as a family owned company, one of our highest values is independence and that gives us the freedom to focus on the customer and his needs. So any partnership which will give us significant advantage over the customer is what we would get into ", he explains. Between 1996 and 2002, Sennheiser worked for various advertising agencies. His last job before joining the Sennheiser board was with P&G.

    Probably because of lessons learned from his previous jobs, he is a big believer in direct customer interaction. Every week he makes sure he meets customers in their environment and listens to what they are saying. He says he learns something new all the time. "Almost every day I am surprised by what customers have to say. There are some statistics that say about 50% of all ideas come from consumers but my personal statistic is probably more than 50%," he laughs.
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