How Bose’s marketing chief is cutting through the noise
When Jim Mollica joined Bose as CMO in 2021, the business was in danger of losing touch with its audiophile audience. He explains how it’s re-engaging with these core customers
It’s been a rough couple of years for Bose Corporation. After venturing into wearable technology and healthtech, the manufacturer of high-end audio equipment saw its sales revenue fall from a peak of $4bn (£3.5bn) in 2019 to $3.2bn in 2021. Over the same period, its workforce shrank from 9,000 to 7,000.
The Massachusetts-based firm has shuttered its direct-to-consumer hearing-aid division, although its technology is being used by specialist provider Lexie Hearing as part of a partnership announced in July. Similarly, experiments with sleep aids and Bose Frames – a set of sunglasses with built-in speakers – have distanced the business from its traditional customer base.
Jim Mollica, who became Bose’s first global CMO when he joined from apparel brand Under Armour in January 2021, believes that this loss of focus on the firm’s core audience has contributed to its disappointing performance of late.
“When you’re a company driven by innovation, there’s no shortage of opportunities to wander into new spaces. Maybe we didn’t always have the strongest filter on some of that innovation,” he admits.
In May this year, Bose stated that it would be concentrating on “the products and technologies that matter most to our customers”. Its latest offerings certainly support that assertion. Take the QuietComfort Earbuds II, for instance. These are designed to automatically adjust the sound performance “to your ears’ liking” by using a system that uses the principles of echolocation to determine the exact shapes of each user’s ear canals.
“It’s our mission to bring transformational and immersive sound experiences to people who are passionate about music,” Mollica says. “From the start, it was clear to me that we should focus on music. There was no need to be distracted by other things.”
Re-connecting with core customers
In some ways, he is working to win over his 15-year-old self. “At that age, the two things that were most important to me were basketball and music,” he recalls.
The music that he was into during his teenage years wasn’t to his parents’ liking, so he saved up for his own set of Bose Acoustimass speakers that he could use in his bedroom, thus starting his “love affair” with the brand.
So, when Bose approached Mollica about the job, he answered the call with a “resounding ‘yes’. Having the opportunity to be a part of a brand that is so storied was really important to me.”
One of the first things he did in the newly created role was to examine the company’s heritage to see how he could “reinforce the idea that Bose doesn’t just treat music as an accessory”.
Technical experts have often held senior roles at the company, which was founded in 1964 by Amar Bose, an electrical engineer specialising in acoustics. In 2011, two years before his death at 83, he handed a controlling stake over to his alma mater, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, on the proviso that the firm would remain privately owned to protect its patents and product development.
“That love for music innovation has always been present,” Mollica says. “But there is an opportunity to rearticulate and sharpen our mission by consistently bringing it to life through content and experiences across all of our brand touchpoints.”
Bose’s work in this respect has included securing singer-songwriter Tai Verdes, rapper Kid Cudi and virtual band Gorillaz as brand ambassadors and partnering with DJ Heron Preston for his New York Fashion Week show, which featured a set from The Strokes.
Associating with such artists helps to give Bose’s customers “confidence in their purchases, as well as reinforcing the fact that we make these products specifically for them”, according to Mollica. “Celebrating the communal nature of music shows our customers that we value the same things as they do. It’s a really important part of our strategy to demonstrate this.”
Building brand association
This messaging extends to audio experiences other than music. A partnership with HBO, for instance, saw Bose’s sound system feature prominently during the TV network’s promotions for the Game of Thrones spin-off House of Dragons at the San Diego Comic-Con event in July.
There are also plans to introduce a “sound concierge” service that helps people to fine-tune their audio equipment to match their needs, whether they’re listening to music, watching movies or playing video games.
“This gives us an incredible opportunity to cater to these different listening occasions,” Mollica explains. “Creating content-rich experiences and building a community around sound improve the brand’s authenticity.”
The company’s change of emphasis has been made easier by the fact that all of its employees have “dedicated their lives to sound”, he adds. “We need to get close to the consumer as a brand, so it really helps that we have so many audiophiles and musicians in the business.”
He compares Bose’s recent marketing efforts to that of drinks brand Red Bull, which has taken an unorthodox approach to building awareness through its associations with football, motor racing and extreme sports such as air racing and cliff diving.
“Red Bull has done an incredible job of associating the brand with certain cultural moments,” Mollica says. “At Bose, we want a presence in any place where music matters. We want people to know we don’t just talk about music; we’re embedded in it. Music is endemic to who we are and what we do.”
With plans to produce marketing content to coincide with the Grammy Awards in early 2023, Bose is clearly a believer in the power of association to set the record straight about its priorities as a brand and re-engage the enthusiastic following it had worked so diligently to earn in the first place.