Quality and nostalgia is potent mix

Best known for manufacturing blank cassettes from which music fans made mixtapes, TDK is going back to what the brand stands for to carve out a new niche in the audio hardware market

Making mixtapes on blank cassettes was a rite of passage for teenagers in the Eighties and early Nineties. And most people’s musical masterpieces were likely to be created on a TDK tape, recorded over and over with new tunes from Radio 1’s Top 40 Show. But the digital era has eroded this teenage tradition and now young people are likely to download their favourite tracks from iTunes.

TDK’s solution is to turn the nostalgia that people still have for the brand into a platform to market a series of high-end digital audio hardware products.

It will be unveiling its new boombox-style hi-fi, modern turntable and premium headphones towards the end of this year. And in the run-up to the event, it is attempting to create a new buzz around the brand by using celebrity power to extract people’s memories of TDK and making mixtapes.
Chart band The Strokes and hip hop star Nas are the first faces fronting a special TDK microsite. They will feature in an online film, recalling the mixtapes they made when they were younger.

Visitors to the website will be able to listen to a selection of mixtape-style music streamed from an image of an old cassette. Other music industry personalities have been invited to submit blogs about their memories of making mixtapes, while the public can also contribute posts.

The revitalisation of TDK as a brand is the result of storage business Imation buying TDK Corporation’s recorded media arm, Life on Record. It is this division, under the guidance of Imation, which aims to apply the TDK name to new products. Matthieu Valk, Imation’s EMEA marketing and communications manager, explains: “We’re bringing life back into the brand and reminding people about it. But it’s not about them saying ’I love

TDK’, it’s them talking about the experience of making mixtapes when they were growing up, maybe taping off the radio as a teenager.”
The website won’t immediately allude to the new hardware, but once the products are unveiled, images will be displayed on the site. TDK is also looking to extend its artist collaborations for a series of worldwide branded gigs to be held to complement the product launch.

“We wanted to work with artists that were relevant, but would still have memories of making a mixtape. So we didn’t want to work with any really new, young bands. It was about finding artists with mass appeal as well as appealing to the urban male ’audiophiles’ we have identified as our target market,” Valk says.

When Imation took over TDK, it set out to identify the purpose of the brand in its portfolio. The first step was to establish what the brand’s value was in terms of global awareness. Despite a lack of major activity for some time, the level of brand awareness remained high – perhaps thanks to collective memories of making mixtapes.

“The brand has been dormant for quite some time. [Former parent company] TDK Corporation had a huge research and development facility and made great products, but had no focus on putting them in the consumer space,” Valk claims. “But there is still huge recognition and appreciation of the brand.”

A brand awareness survey undertaken in 2008 revealed positive scores, including 77% in the US, 78% in the UK, and percentages in the mid to high 80s for Germany, Italy, Australia and Brazil. TDK Corporation’s home market of Japan scored 97%.

The research also highlighted that men aged 28 to 40 had the highest affinity with the brand, making it a logical market for TDK to target.

TDK conducted focus groups in Sydney, Tokyo, Berlin, London, and San Francisco among “guys whose music collection is the centrepiece of their room” to observe their interaction with their music collections and systems before inviting their friends over and then taking notes on what they look for in a music shopping experience.

“It hasn’t been about just creating a product and pushing it into the market and seeing if it works,” says Valk. “We have spent the past two years doing in-depth customer research to let our audience speak to us and define what they need.”

The study concluded this audience has a strong connection to their music, but the rise of digital has removed a feeling of being really involved with the tunes.

Valk says: “Everything these days is digital, but these people were lacking that ’analogue’ feeling of turning knobs or changing settings for bass and treble.” The new digital range features analogue-style knobs that can control various elements of the music, leading TDK to coin the term “digilog” – which will feature prominently in marketing around the products.

Alongside the website and gig activity, TDK plans to distribute a viral video of the new boombox product in action on city streets. It has already filmed young men carrying the boombox around New York, in the old over-the-shoulder style, and is considering a similar film in London, perhaps on the Underground. Such activity will revolve around building a new hype around the brand before the products are released, says Valk.

Although TDK has no plans for a mainstream media campaign to push its rebirth, there will be one billboard in New York and there are plans for radio giveaways.

But could something as simple as invoking the memory of making a mixtape be powerful enough to pit the brand against the established market leaders in the home audio and cinema category (see table)? Valk admits this will be some task, but argues that TDK’s products are niche and will be presented in stores that way.

He says. “We are in talks with retailers about taking exclusive store space, running training courses for sales people and creating an in-store experience so customers can listen to the product. We won’t be competing with the likes of Sony, Philips and Panasonic in the same space in stores, and we aren’t aiming to do the same volumes as those brands.”

During TDK’s period of learning and strategising, it took notes from Lacoste, says Valk. About ten years ago, the fashion brand was suffering from its presence in discount retailers. As a result, it increased its product range from summer wear to all-round lifestyle wear to rebuild itself and become a premium name.

“We looked at a couple of brands that have gone back to the core of what people appreciated about them, taking the good elements from their heritage and working with that,” says Valk.

Perhaps going back to the core of what TDK stands for – a love of music combined with personal involvement – could help not only bring the brand back for 2010 but help it carve out a new niche in the audio hardware space.

VIEWPOINTS

Tyler Mallison Strategy director The Gild

Many of us today still reflect fondly on the time when we bought the latest vinyl record, cassette tape or CD from our favourite local record shop. These objects were a powerful physical symbol of our own ability to tap into the musical zeitgeist and keep up with the times through the latest format.

With Apple at the forefront with iTunes in the PC space, and established hi-fi brands such as Sony, Panasonic and Bose having a solid position in hardware, what does this mean for a well-known brand name like TDK, whose history is attached to outmoded technology?

Perhaps the answer lies in those fond memories of mixtape. Although the world has shifted, a brand like TDK has the potential to leverage its latent emotional equities and play on its nostalgic power and authenticity.

However, nostalgia alone is not enough to ensure success. TDK must consider how it can play a new role and tap into emerging oppor – tunities created by the digital model. Audio hardware is only one possible avenue of many.

TDK needs to tap into what makes it unique. If the brand is selective about the consumer need it aims to fill, and can link that gap with its brand truths, then it could well succeed. Well-designed turntables for a musicsavvy collector, for example, may be perfect. But if TDK ventures into offering just another branded version of hardware that is already available from more credible brands, then it will likely fail. Out-of-category brands such as fashion label WESC, which has successfully introduced stylish headphones into its lifestyle fashion range, could provide inspiration.

Andy Slinger Senior consultant Brand Vista

TDK is strongly associated with the era of mixtapes and how it brings this up to date is going to be key.

The good news is that it is starting from a very strong emotional position. Creating mixtapes truly felt like a labour of love – the effort you put in somehow made the result mean more.

While downloading and the precision of iTunes has taken some of the passion out of music compilations, the artists TDK has enlisted are those who inspire dedication among their fan bases. The logic makes sense – artists of today, sharing the mixtapes they loved, that just happen to echo the tapes that you made. But the real proof of TDK’s brand revival will be in the products. Do these truly deliver a “life on record” experience, [as the brand’s strapline promises]?

Brands are no longer built purely on their advertising. Today, consumers are far more interested in what the product does rather than what it says. Without experiencing TDK’s new boombox, headphones and turntable first hand, it’s impossible to say whether the brand is living up to its promises. The huge danger for TDK, though, is that it creates a range of “me too” products that have no connection to its “life on record” positioning.

Will TDK be true to its heritage and enable free music for all? Will it be brave enough to support free downloading? It seems unlikely, and unless its products offer something that truly connects with the spirit of the mixtape, then the whole campaign, while appealing, will not deliver.

Company share of home audio and cinema category by retail volume

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