Before Beats came along, everyone used headphones, the product itself was not a new invention. However buyer concerns in this category were mostly about performance. The average consumer just wanted something good enough to listen with. Beats by Dre was the first brand to transform the headphone into a lifestyle product. Born with its roots in hip-hop and pop culture, a culture that celebrated luxury, celebrity, and aspiration, Beats created the headphone equivalent of fancy clothes, fancy liquor and the pop lifestyle, it made the headphone answer to Nike and the iPhone.
For a brand to succeed, it needs to secure a unique place in the mind of the consumer. Differentiation and positioning not only helps brands be “unique” but they also can transform an ordinary brand into an extraordinary one (Klopper & North, 2011:91). ‘Beats by Dre’ has successfully positioned itself in the luxury headphones and speakers industry as the go to choice amongst its target market. It has done this through a mix of positioning strategies including brand endorsements, features, benefits, emotions, price, quality and aspiration.
The brand identified its target market as music lovers with a taste for culture and pop culture consumers as a whole, giving them a way to consume music on a premium level. It seeks to bring the energy, emotion and excitement of playback in the recording studio to the listening experience of music lovers wherever they may be. It really understands its consumers love of culture, fashion, luxury, sport and of course music and provides a brand that speaks to all of that.
The critical benefits of Beats by Dre include the sound quality, which is noticeably different from regular headphones. It is heavy on bass giving a heavy intense feel to the listening experience. It is also very stylish; many of the consumers proudly wear them as part of their outfits.
Although some brands outstrip it in actual listening experience amongst audiophiles, Beats brand strength draws from its focus and positioning with the culture. Its about the music, but its also very much about the lifestyle. Competitor brands such as Bose, Sony and Sennheiser position themselves on technical prowess and features. Beats takes a different route by appealing to the lifestyle aspect of consuming music, its differentiation is its ‘coolness’. Their product range even has simpler and more accessible names than the other brands mentioned, for instance Beats Solo3 Wireless vs Beyerdynamic T90. If you looked at a positioning matrix plotting cool factor against quality of product, Beats by Dre wins by focusing on the high cool factor and high product quality quadrant.
The Beats by Dre brand is not afraid to think big and go beyond the usual arena for headphones. It is focused on producing premium products but also on staying on the pulse of culture with its brand associations with the biggest music and sports stars. It stays connected with influencers and tastemakers, seeing through their eyes and working hard to stay ahead of the curve and meet trends as they arise. It has even spread its wings all the way to new cultural spaces such as the Rugby Word Cup. Its brand affiliations and collaborations with artists and sports stars also spread its reach far and wide. Its presence at huge sporting events also extends its impact globally.
There is no luxury headphone brand quite like Beats. As the first mover in the luxury headphone market it quickly gobbled up the market share with the strong brand association with Dr Dre, a producer who had achieved great success in the music industry and was known for his exacting attention to detail. Many more celebrity driven brands have popped up over the years including Soul by Ludacris, SMS Audio by 50 Cent, We The Best Sound by Dj Khaled, but none have had the same amount of impact that Beats by Dre has had.
Their great positioning allowed Beats to grow from strength to strength and eventually to be bought by Apple in 2014 for $3 billion 8 years after being founded. It is now available at all iStores worldwide and exposed to everyone who uses the Apple brand. With this new platform and integration with one of the leading brands in the world, they have the opportunity to continue to innovate and strengthen their brand position, creating products that are exquisitely designed, engineered to the highest standards and extremely desirable to its target market.
Unless you have been living under a rock over the past decade, you would not have escaped the ‘b’ branded oversized headphones that became all the craze in the late 2000s. Retailing at an average of $200 per headset, the advent of Beats marked the rise of the luxury headphones market.
The company was founded in 2006 by super producer and hip-hop luminaire Dr. Dre (of NWA fame) and music mogul Jimmy lovine. In the 8 years from its inception until eventual acquisition by Apple in 2014, the brand enjoyed a meteoric rise controlling the lion share of the luxury headphone industry. And it did this by crafting a compelling brand and deploying aggressive unconventional marketing tactics.
What makes a brand a brand is not just the logo, even though the logo is a key part of the brand identity. A brand is everything associated with the product or company. Keller (2008:39) defines brand identity as the “DNA of the brand”. A brand identity defines what the brand stands for and encompasses the brand’s vision, mission, values, internal mantra, tagline, logo even the verbal and visual language. ‘Beats by Dre’ has masterfully created a distinct and powerful brand identity.
Beats launched with a mission to help music listeners ‘hear what the artists hear, and listen to the music the way they should’ by bringing studio quality audio experience to the ears of everyone who bought audio products from Beats by Dre. Prior to this, the rise of piracy and the mediocre audio quality of Apple’s plastic earbuds meant that music was more available than every before but most listeners heard the music with crappy headphones. For Jimmy and Dre, people who had made their name in the music industry, it was simply unacceptable. In the words of Dr Dre, ‘People aren’t hearing all the music’.
Visually the aesthetic of the Beats by Dre brand is very clean with a focus on the products. The ‘b’ logo is very recognizable whether it sits on the headphones or on the speakers, on a laptop, phone or car; it is a symbol that has come to mean premium high quality audio experience with strong cultural cachet. The Beats brand is really more high fashion than high fidelity; audiophiles often criticize the headphones for being notoriously bass-heavy. However, the design and brand power of Beats have made their products highly desirable. They are slick, and bold, often in bright rainbow hues and metallic finishes. They come in distinct red, black and white packaging. It is not uncommon to see owners proudly wearing them either on their heads or just casually hanging around their necks. Wearing Beats by Dre signals that you are cool and that you take your music seriously.
The brand positions itself firmly within the pop cultural landscape, connecting with music, sports and massive cultural moments. Beats products feature prominently on popular music videos and with the numerous collaborations with leading artists from Lil Wayne to Justin Beiber, the brand is heavily endorsed and comes with a lot of celebrity clout.
The verbal brand is centered on the experience of ‘hearing’ and what music does for us. Music is linked with lifestyle. The brand kicked off its launch with the promise that listening with Beats will finally allow you to ‘hear what the artists hear’. Other campaigns have included ‘Colour’ which evoked vibrant individuality speaking to Beats as fashion, and ‘Hear what you want’ a campaign that illustrates shutting out the negativity and noise of the world and listening to what you want – your music.
Their 2014 Rugby World Cup campaign saw the brand entering unfamiliar markets and cultures by connecting the spirit of Beats to the spirit of the game with ‘The Game Starts Here’ campaign. This campaign told the pregame stores of rugby’s biggest athletes, showing them using Beats to prepare themselves mentally and physically to perform on the world stage. Further boosting the brand as one that is firmly focused on delivering inspired top performance, winning and authentic stories.
When the movie about the early days of NWA (Dr Dre’s former group) Straight Outta Compton movie released in 2016, Beats by Dre ran a digital campaign with a Straight Outta Somewhere meme generator that that allowed fans to customize the movie title and represent their heritage, where they are from and share their story. This further cemented the heritage of the brand as hip-hop royalty and as a brand that was all about authenticity and creativity.
Beats by Dre is a prime example of branding done well. Now owned by Apple, we look forward to what this brand does in the future with this new platform and scale.