Competition keeps us on our toes

Written by Sudhir Chowdhary | Updated: Dec 16 2013, 08:33am hrs
German audio specialist Sennheiser feels that headphones have evolved a long way and are now part of ones lifestyle. We look at trends from the fashion world and draw inspiration from personal products like accessories and gadgets to incorporate them in our design so as to be trendy and relevant to our consumers, says Gunjan Srivastava, the managing director of Sennheiser Electronics India. He is the chief manager, decision maker and executor of decisions for the India subsidiary. In his last role, Gunjan successfully led the audio video and accessories business for Philips India.

According to him, the Indian headphone market has been driven by the smartphone and tablet boom and the need for personal entertainment has become of utmost importance. India is a strategically important market for us, and our approach to the market is long-term, he tells Sudhir Chowdhary in a recent interaction. Excerpts:

Is it tough to be a traditional brand when there are so many new entrants at competitive price points

Rather than calling Sennheiser a traditional brand, I would call us a heritage brand with great legacy and history of being true innovators in audio technology. Founded in 1945, Sennheiser has been in existence for the last 70 years. We entered India in 2007 and are going to complete seven years in India. We have a strong heritage of being in the forefront of the audio technology and sound space. Whether it is our innovative offerings in the professional segment that started with microphones or our leadership position in the headphones space, Sennheiser has used its heritage and legacy to create innovative audio solutions for years.

Sennheisers vision has always been to shape the future of audio and we do this with our continuous pursuit of perfect sound. We use our long experience to create products that cater to needs of the end user and are customised to local market needs. Sennheiser is more concerned about being in touch with the end user and be able to feel the pulse of the people as it then puts us in a very strong position. We want to build a close connect with our user so that they feel strongly for our brand and go for us.

Competition keeps us on our toes and also it helps identify gaps in the market. From an Indian standpoint it is still a niche market and small in terms of the potential it offers for everyone in this space. We welcome other players who are coming in and creating buzz and relevance for great audio, which will help the market grow.

How is Sennheiser confronting the challenges in the audio market

Sennheiser has always been driven by the passion to excel in every creation and we continue to invest in research and technology to innovate the best audio products. Sennheisers pursuit of perfect sound rests on certain fundamentals that have to be present in any productit has to feel premium, it has to fit with the brand, it has to bring something special to the user in terms of innovation or design and style.

It is considering all the factors around the portfoliowhich products are going into which markets, what the state of technology evolution is, how particular products and technology solutions fit with the brand, how we bring in the design aspect, innovation aspectso its a rather complex evaluation of all of those factors I would say. And it becomes, at the end, very specific to specific markets and its dynamic. Sennheiser has never been a follower, but always been the first one to innovate.

What is the Indian customer telling you

We have invested heavily in research to understand the Indian consumer need which has helped us understand that value on offer for the money that is the most important thing for the Indian consumer. From our research in the Indian market what we have seen that the Indian consumer is value conscious and wants products that are worth the price. The new age Indian customer is telling us that they are not brand loyal just because of a specific name or great past, but they want a brand that is relevant to them and makes products that cater to their needs while offering great value to them.

While Indian consumers are conscious about the cost, but they appreciate great experience and value even if that comes at a marginally higher cost. Similarly in the professional space, we have seen a great demand for Sennheiser products that have been used by professionals around the globe. It has been a great journey for us to understand and work together with Indian consumers, professionalsand our partners to keep innovating and customising our offerings to address their requirements.

Tell us about the Indian headphone market.

The Indian consumer electronics market is unique and over the last decade with advancement of technological innovations and the integration of technology in our lives gadgets have become a necessity. The market has been driven by the smartphone and tablet boom and the need for personal entertainment has become of utmost importance. There has also been lifestyle change and people are now investing in special sporting gear or special gaming gears.

Sennheiser has understood this need for specific requirements and offers a whole range of products be it sporting, gaming or even wireless home entertainment headphones that ensure one is able to enjoy their favourite movie or cricket/ football match at night without disturbing their family.

Experience is also an important aspect of the Indian market and therefore Sennheiser has created experience zones, special shop in shops and trained shop keepers to help guide consumers in their purchase of the headphone they require.

How important is the India market for Sennheiser in terms of business

Sennheisers current business in India is a small part in the global picture but Sennheiser is in India for a long term, and we see India as a big contributor in the coming years. India is a strategically important market for us, and our approach to the market is long-term. We are not here for a quick win; we are not here to take what we do in other places and impose it on the Indian market. We view our development plan in India on a 5-10-15 year basis, which fits with the heritage of the Sennheiser brand, and the way we have done business and the way we have approached targets.

Sennheiser believes in understanding the market as every market is dynamic and requires a unique approach. It is emerging markets like India that have great scope for global brands like us. We have had every business head of Sennheiser global visit the Indian market in the last one year in order to conduct research, meet key customers and dealers and customise our offerings for the market. We feel it is important for us to really be able to feel the pulse of the people as it then puts us in a very strong position.

Is it hard keeping up with the headphone trends

In todays day and age change is the only constant thing and consumer demands are also changing with time. We have seen the audio industry evolve with time and there are some glaring changes that have come about. Headphones have come a long way from being just a bundled pair to a style statement in recent times. Sennheiser has never followed trends blindly but has invested in research to understand the needs and then create products that cater to the needs of people. We have an entire team in Zurich dedicated to monitor global trends and customer attitude for the coming 10-15 years. True to our belief in shaping the future of audio, we invest in research and technology to ensure we create relevant and path-breaking products to cater to consumer needs. At Sennheiser, our focus has always been to stay ahead of the time and preempt the global scenario to maintain our great legacy of being the most innovative audio brand around the globe.

What is your source of inspiration for your designs

Headphones have evolved a long way and are now part of ones lifestyle. We look at trends from the fashion world and draw inspiration from personal products like accessories and gadgets to incorporate them in our design so as to be trendy and relevant to our consumers. Our Momentum series is our foray into the lifestyle fashion segment. We invested heavily in research to understand fashion trends and create a product like Momentum that combines great audio experience along with great look and comfort. The most important inspiration even for designs continue to be our pursuit of perfect sound complemented with the great looks.

India is a major hub for MNC R&D activities. Any plans to tap the talent pool available here

Sennheiser has a long term plan for the Indian market and we have plans of using the Indian talent pool in the coming years. In three-five year time we have plans of moving our Indian talent into more global roles not only to grow the Indian market but also grow globally.