Ultimate Ears UE Boom Speaker. Switzerland, 2013
Anyone with dreams of creating an iconic product in this lifetime could easily get frustrated reading this site. The average age of products we’ve profiled so far is 52. On the surface, things don’t look very encouraging.
But many persuasive products experience huge growth spurts at a young age. Products like Moleskine’s Pocket Plain notebook and Longchamp’s Le Pliage shopper found widespread success early in their lives. Others like Clarks Desert Boots were slower to build their legend until their strategic potential was identified.
A common trait of persuasive products is their creators’ relentless commitment to innovation. All understand the value of frequent actions that double down their products’ special resonance.
A very young brand that understands this perfectly is Ultimate Ears. The Swiss speaker brand has locked onto high levels of acceptance and growth in a little over two years. They’ve done it with a strategy built around a singular promise and one very persuasive product – the UE Boom wireless speaker.
“A common trait of most persuasive products is their creators’ relentless commitment to innovation.”
Ultimate Ears is no start-up sensation or fashion fad. It’s a calculated plan devised by Logitech – the world’s favourite computer mouse makers.
Speakers For People, Not Rooms
For Logitech, the UE Boom signified a journey into a bold new world. It was a strategy to capture a younger, more diverse audience in a single swoop.
The company needed to let go of its trusted ‘superior engineering/leading brand’ formula and develop a fresh proposition based on design, participation and emotional appeal.
It required a mindset shift – away from accessorising devices and towards accessorising people.
To justify the UE Boom’s premium positioning, Logitech relies entirely on product experience.
“Take your music where it doesn’t go”
The “360º Sound” tagline sells the Boom’s bigger sonic experience, while drawing attention to its rounded form and a powerful underlying promise: grab-and-go sound for any location or lifestyle.
The Boom’s shell is crafted from rubber and fabric —two durable, highly tactile substances that imply durability and water resistance. With no sharp edges or raised controls it makes you want to pick it up and run with it like some futuristic relay baton.
Wireless connectivity allows Logitech to add more layers of user experience long after purchase. Like a smartphone brand, Logitech can bring new functionality to old speakers via firmware upgrades. An update last spring, for instance, gave users the power to link up to ten Boom devices at once. That’s a premise for a great beach party.
Innovations like these are perfect examples of what Ultimate Ears Senior VP Rory Dooley refers to when he calls his products “speakers for people, not speakers for rooms”.
It sounds like a cliché, but what separates the UE Boom from its competitors is the emphasis not on what it does, but on what the user can do with it.
Social Music Player
The Boom was pitched as the world’s first social music player –a better speaker, but far more significantly, an escape from the solitary experience of headphones.
Much like the strategy that enabled the Nintendo DS to leapfrog traditional gamers, the Boom isn’t aimed so much at getting speaker buyers to switch brands as it is focused on bringing new, fashion-conscious consumers into the world of premium speakers.
“The Boom was pitched as the world’s first social music player: an escape from the solitary experience of headphones.”
Throughout its short lifetime, Logitech has worked hard to add breadth and depth to the UE Boom story to show it’s not another fad gadget.
From the beginning, the Boom was made available in an extensive range of colour options, drawn from a palette more typical of snowboarding than audio gear.
Patterned variants were released, as were special editions made in collaboration with street, skateboard and music artists. By offering a wide range of looks, the Boom reinforces its personal accessory claim, while denying valuable shelf space to competitors.
Then there was the transformation of the Boom from a product to a sub-genre.
Within months of launch, Ultimate Ears released a new, entry-level product in the shape of the Mini Boom. At the beginning of 2015, the Megaboom (“a portable wireless speaker on steroids”) arrived to delirious reviews.
Finally, earlier this summer saw the arrival of the UE Roll: a fully waterproof sound pill ready to strap onto bodies and go anywhere. Its design shows a much better awareness of user experience than the Mini Boom had provided for.
Setting Strategy to Shuffle
Logitech’s CEO Bracken Darrell admits the company missed out on the headphone explosion detonated by Beats in 2006. Speakers, however, were a story still waiting to be written.
The company wanted to be relevant to younger users and give themselves the best possible chance of being at the frontier of the next big thing – the next Beats.
“I came because I wanted to create an amazing company, and a design company.”
Bracken Darrel, Logitech CEO
Portable speakers arrived on the market over a decade ago simply by being within the impact crater of the iPod. Logitech was an important player in the category, but its geeky image linked the brand with desktop peripherals – a market in decline.
Logitech had a good name, but didn’t have the kudos to be a leader in the fast-growing mobile accessories market.
Darrell joined the company at the beginning of 2012. He recruited a new chief design officer and beefed up their design know-how with new employees, agencies and an improved culture of collaboration.
In 2012, the speaker market was in transition. The spread of wireless technology and longer battery lives were reshaping product possibilities and expectations. Likewise, behaviours from the lifestyle headphone business were beginning to creep in. Brands like Sonos, Jawbone and even Beats themselves were making inroads and earning high margins with designer speakers.
Logitech recognised the time was ripe for someone to show leadership with a new promise, but it would require a different voice and identity.
The CEO took the company’s $100 million+ R&D budget, 85% of which had been dedicated to computer mice, and spread it around three new product categories where he thought Logitech could make headway: teleconferencing systems, tablet accessories and remote speakers.
When the UE Boom made its market debut in January 2013, the payoff was immediate. After slashing the company’s investment in its core product line, Darrell’s three new strategic pillars contributed $400 million in new business for Logitech by the end of 2014.
Designed to be Different
The Boom’s smooth market entry highlights the diversity of values that can seed consumer brand belief. ‘Thinner, lighter, louder’ have little meaning to a consumer with no point of reference. An expensive ad campaign doesn’t resonate as powerfully as a product that is easy to notice, understand and use.
Logitech put a lot of momentum behind getting things right. There’s no doubt that the company’s $2 billion size and relationships with device resellers makes an ambitious roll-out easier to execute. But plenty of big-name players have seen ambitious new initiatives drown in their own hubris – think Virgin Cola and Bing.
In contrast, Logitech’s strategy and implementation have been close to textbook perfect. With a distinct positioning and relentlesss innovation, it’s no surprise to see the Boom and the extended Ultimate Ears family continually winning market share in an expanding market.
Design awards from Red Dot, iF and IDEA have been just a few of the accolades to be bestowed upon the UE Boom since its launch. A recent FastCo article gave fascinating insight into the design philosophy behind the Boom.
“Consulting designers Nonobject think of the UE Boom not as a speaker, but as ‘the musical instrument of the 21st century’.”
It’s here that we find more clues to the Boom’s ability to stand out in a crowded market. Consulting designers Nonobject think of the Ultimate Ears line not as speakers, but as “the musical instrument of the 21st century.”
Just as musical instruments age and become embedded in their owner’s lifestyle, the Boom’s materials are made to wear in a personalized way. After a year of use, a skateboarder who clips it onto his daypack will have a much different Boom than a breakdancer working underground stations.
It’s an interesting perspective that helps creators to think beyond the norms of the market – especially one so young.
Creative insights like these give clues to the subtle differences that make some products more persuasive than others.