Sony and Apple might have a lot more in common than you think. Both companies have operated in electronics and media for years. Both companies have continually-updated flagship products: the iPhone and the PlayStation. Apple’s and Sony’s consumer offerings converge on their core products in an increasingly-cohesive ecosystem.

More surprising than the similarities is that Sony and Apple have so far avoided direct competition. The PlayStation TV might not look like a competitor to the iPhone, but the foundation it lays could set up a new competing ecosystem for consuming media.

The Ecosystem Model

A recent Forbes article by David Amerland outlines the ecosystem model for integrated product marketing. The ecosystem model focuses on generating long term customers by integrating its products to create an environment and culture in which users feel comfortable.

Ludwig Kietzmann, Editor in Chief of Joystiq.com, seemed to describe PlayStation as an ecosystem in a quote from our recent PlayStation TV article on highspeedinternet.com.

“Sony is sure to leverage the content it has with its TV and movie studios – they’re making those products anyway, so why not use them to leverage the PlayStation brand? Sony as a business has taken several steps over the years to make its fractured departs more coherent, and popular entertainment is a connective tissue between the PlayStation platform, their televisions, phones and creative studios. This is the same company that used the Spider-Man font for the PlayStation 3, remember?”

Is Sony implementing the ecosystem model with its PlayStation brand?

In his Forbes article, Amerland outlines the formula for creating an ecosystem using four points; Convenience, Empowerment, Integration, and Freedom. The article cited Apple, along with Amazon and Google, as an example of an ecosystem done right. They integrate their services and make it convenient to buy. The combined functionality empowers users to do things faster, but provides enough freedom to use non-ecosystem products like Google’s mail or maps apps. Let’s explore how Sony uses these concepts with PlayStation.

Convenience

The convenience aspect of creating an ecosystem is really about getting out of your customers’ way. As Amberland puts it, “The best companies work hard to make themselves invisible.”

With the PlayStation Network, Sony took away the barriers to downloading games. They don’t make you visit an external website. When you sit down at your console, you can download what you want to play without letting go of the controller.

Convenience – check!

Empowerment

Amberland describes empowerment as letting customers “do more, do it faster, and do it better.”

PlayStation TV definitely qualifies. Sony Computer Entertainment recently announced it will release PlayStation TV in America in late 2014. With its ability to stream PlayStation 1, PlayStation 2, and PlayStation 3 games, PlayStation TV gives users more games to play without worrying about compatibility issues.

Empowerment – check!

Integration

The integration element is actually about seamless expansion. Amberland cites Amazon as an example, “Amazon has digital services that range from cloud storage to publishing—it constantly expands its activities to offer more.”

PlayStation TV also fulfills this ecosystem element. When used in conjunction with PlayStation 4, PlayStation TV gives gamers the ability to play their PS4 games remotely. It also provides streaming to any Sony-brand TV.

Integration – check!

 

Freedom

Amberland says the freedom element is more about creating the “illusion of freedom, by making consumers voluntarily stay.” He goes on to explain that when consumers feel trapped by a brand they can give the brand a bad reputation on social media.

Gaming consumers are free to choose a different console, but it won’t work (at least not as well) with PlayStation TV, the PlayStation Network, or have the same functionality with Sony TVs. One big question is whether customers will be constrained by Sony music and movies. Customers will likely demand broader offerings to buy into the ecosystem, and it remains to be seen whether Sony can provide diversity.

Freedom – too early to call

 

Brand Dependence

Based on the criteria laid out in Forbes, Sony, like Apple could leverage the ecosystem marketing strategy for its PlayStation line of products. Despite PlayStation’s 12-year lead on the iPhone, questions remain about whether companies like Apple, Google, and Amazon have put too much distance between themselves and Sony.

Consumers only have room for a few ecosystems in their lives. With success or disaster looming, Sony needs to understand that no one wants half a media library with PlayStation and half with iTunes or Prime.  So, by adopting the ecosystem, Sony may look to boost its media offerings and that could in turn give a bigger boost to its gaming platform.

The ecosystem model clearly works, but the strategy can be perceived as either genius or disingenuous.

The next iPhone doesn’t have to be the best phone on the market for you to buy it, it just has to work better with all of the other Apple products you already have. The next PlayStation console may not be as good as the next Xbox, but it might work better with the rest of the Sony gear you already use.

A successful ecosystem strategy will give customers the “illusion of freedom,” but create dependence rather than independence.

So… Happy Dependence Day, Sony!

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Photo: Sony
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