Sonos is an exciting company. In the 20 years since its founding, the company has carved out an enviable niche with its multi-room audio service.
In fact, it’s hard to think of any other consumer technology company that holds such sway over the market. From TVs to headphones, laptops to game consoles, few companies dominate their spaces like Sonos.
This does not mean that the company not have competitors — I’ve written extensively about it my adoration of bluesound gear and Bose has been in this sphere for a while – it’s just that they’re not on an equal footing.
For example, Bluesound doesn’t quite do the same, as its focus is more on the audiophile community. Second, while many of us could call it a competitor to, say, Microsoft Windows, far fewer would do the same for Sonos.
The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come to the conclusion that Sonos’s biggest competitors aren’t companies in the precise space (that’s multi-room, wireless audio equipment).
The biggest threat to Sonos is the tech giants that make voice-activated speakers.
In 2021 alone there were 186 million smart speakers shipped† Their growth has been spectacular, reaching 6.5 million in 2016.
Why are these numbers important? Well, a major selling point of the most popular smart speakers — the Amazon Echo and Google’s Nest range — is how damn affordable things are.
Currently, you can pick up an Amazon Echo or Google Nest Audio for around $100. Or, if that seems a bit too pricey, you can also grab the smaller Echo Dot or Nest Mini for $50.
Sonos, on the other hand, has traditionally been a premium brand. Many of its ‘mid-range’ devices shipped for about $400†
If it stayed with this strategy, the company would lose its market position. But it doesn’t. And the latest hardware shows how cleverly it has responded to the threat of smart speakers from tech giants.
Widen the Sonos sales funnel
The companies most recent product is the Sonos Ray, a soundbar that retails for $279.
This is no coincidence. It’s also not a one-time decision to try and ship more products. No, this is part of Sonos’ deliberate strategy to compete with tech giants and broaden its sales channel.
It is no coincidence that a year after the sale of smart speakers more than doubled (31.7 million shipped in 2017, up to 85.8 million in 2018), Sonos released its first truly affordable hardware: the SYMFONISK collection in collaboration with IKEA.
The bookshelf version of this cost $99, half the price of the company’s previous cheapest speaker.
Shortly after, the company also released the One SL. Again, at $179, it was the lowest-priced speaker Sonos made itself.
The next piece in how the company has evolved to combat the threat of smart speakers from the tech giants was with the launch of the Sonos Roamthe first portable Bluetooth speaker.
Start low and go high
To put it as succinctly as possible, the device is a self-contained unit that is good enough to hook into everybody looking for a portable speaker.
In other words, the Roam acts as an easy access to the Sonos funnel.
You can buy it without committing to an entire system. But if you like it in the end? Well, it’s not a big step to decide to fill your home with more Sonos equipment. I mean why should not you’re buying something that complements a speaker you already own?
This strategy should pay off for Sonos.
Not only did the company announce its release three more colors of the Roam (that’s Olive, Wave and Sunset if you care), but we can see the aforementioned launch of the Sonos Ray as an echo of this strategy.
Sonos dangles a carrot in front of people in hopes they’ll get a taste of it.
The entry-level soundbar can be viewed through a similar lens to the Roam: built-in TV speakers are known for being low quality, and a soundbar is an easy way to improve on this.
This means that the Ray offers people a high quality, affordable option that can work as a standalone unit.
But Sonos has even more tricks up its sleeve. Suppose a user likes the Ray. They enjoy the richer sound they get compared to their TV and they want more. Well, then they can buy a set of Sonos One speakers and give their entertainment setup surround sound with ease.
What’s happening here is Sonos is dangling an entry-level carrot for people and hoping they get a taste of it.
What’s more, Sonos uses its experience in creating audio hardware to outperform its rivals. I have no doubt that Google and Amazon are capable of making soundbars and subwoofers, but given the amount of other pies they have in the oven, it’s unlikely to be a priority.
Sonos, which is more agile and in a more niche market, can make these projects a reality. And thereby attract people who want more from their audio installation than a standard smart speaker that can tell you again.
Swinging with the tech giants
If you need more confirmation that Sonos itself sees Amazon and Google smart speakers as the biggest threat, all you need to do is look at the announcement of its own voice assistant: Sonos Voice Control†
With this move, the company has disconnected from Alexa and Google Home.
By having its own assistant to control devices, Sonos can deliver a faster, smoother experience — all while removing the thorn that their biggest competitors are literally an integral part of their own devices.
We’ll have to wait and see if Sonos Voice Control (which launches in the US on June 1) offers the same – or even better – experience as the more mature voice assistants, but Sonos’ intent is clear: it won’t give its market without an all-powerful battle. to position.
With the release of its latest products, Sonos has confirmed its ability to think long term. Rather than sticking to a strategy of only making expensive audio equipment, the company recognized a burgeoning threat to its market position and adapted.
Quietly and with control, Sonos has not only given people high-quality alternatives to popular products, but in doing so has opened up the hardware to a whole new segment of people – many of whom will dive headfirst into the company’s ecosystem after this first introduction.
It’s not easy to dominate a niche in the modern world of technology, and it shows how damn smart Sonos is to pull off something like this. Will it continue? It’s impossible to say, but if Sonos continues to play his hand with such skill, I wouldn’t bet against it.