TDK enjoys a special status among media brands. It’s been synonymous with music listening since the early 80s, when an entire generation grew up recording their favorite songs onto their premium audio tapes. By 2009, TDK Life on Record had expanded into CDs, DVDs, thumb drives and a range of other storage media, but had lost a clear consumer focus in the process. When they approached Ziba that year with the intention of revitalizing their brand through expansion, we quickly spotted an even better opportunity: not to diversify, but to refocus. More than 20 years after its heyday, TDK still enjoyed positive associations with music lovers, but the combination of precision, warmth and control that earned this love had gone missing from TDK’s own offerings and the market as a whole.
Life on Record
Digilog: Bringing the warmth of analog to digital listening
Finding the Music Prophet.
Ziba’s initial hypothesis grew directly from this lapse. TDK wanted to target young males; we focused the effort specifically on music lovers, who appreciated both the analog of the 80s and the digital of today. We tested this theory by sending researchers into the homes and hangouts of some of the planet’s most music-obsessed cities, including Tokyo, Berlin, San Francisco and Manchester, the cradle of the UK rave and modern pop scenes.
Three months of investigation led the Ziba team to the Music Prophet, a super-connected urban listener that made an ideal strategic target for TDK’s new initiative. Typically professional men in their 20s and 30s, Music Prophets aren’t musicians, but count music among their greatest passions. They subscribe to podcasts, collect vinyl and MP3s with equal devotion, and spend hours a week listening to new acquisitions and old favorites. Like audiophiles, Music Prophets are committed to fidelity and performance, but they value discovery and community even more.
Over and over, we heard Music Prophets saying: We understand the history that brought music to where it is, and we respect it deeply. But we don’t actually wish we lived back then.
They’re also faced with an uncomfortable dichotomy. Over and over, we heard Music Prophets saying: We love the convenience of digital music, the ease of sharing, and the thousand ways to stay current. But we miss the warmth of analog, the social nature of records and cassettes, the crackle of vinyl. We love playing records because it lets us touch the music. We loved pressing play and hearing the “thunk” of the tape drive engaging. We wrote out playlists and liner notes by hand. We understand the history that brought music to where it is, and we respect it deeply. But we don’t actually wish we lived back then.
What Music Prophets want—and what’s missing from modern audio—is not more features or better portability, but a powerful listening experience, whether it’s social, personal or out loud. Right now, the Music Prophet has hard drives and iPods crammed with digital tracks, but he faces a market that constantly defers to the values of digitization: lightweight, insubstantial, minimal, and “friendly.”
The best of both worlds.
What Ziba proposed was a new line of gear that offers the best of analog and digital—both warm and modern. This means a hero lineup addressing every experience Music Prophets currently miss, from listening out loud with friends, to spinning vinyl on a solid, pristine-sounding turntable, to getting lost in the warmth and detail of a favorite track on a plush pair of headphones.
The TDK Performance line expresses these intentions through its details. Digital and analog controls work together, with a dead-front LED display next to chunky aluminum knobs and touch-sensitive selectors, giving precise control and tactile feedback. Sleek, pared-down forms nod to modern aesthetics while blowing them out to sizes and proportions that border on absurd. Solid wins the battle over precious, expressing itself in deep, rich materials like piano-finish gloss acrylic and machined metal, with dense, rigid construction that’s reassuring to hold. Every entry in the line outperforms the average portable audio system by a wide margin, and looks magnificent in the process.
The reaction of a CNet senior editor summed it up: “They had to pry this thing out of my hands. My apologies to TDK. They shouldn’t have had to see me cry like that.”
Success: Provocation and love.
It adds up to a listening system that fills the gaps in the Music Prophet’s life, something component systems and iPod speakers can’t do. More than that, it’s provocative—a rare quality in modern audio. Whether thrilled, offended or intrigued, everyone who sees and touches the TDK 2011 audio line feels something. Buyers at national retailers express excitement they haven’t felt about a music line in years, and Music Prophets are rediscovering the joy of listening out loud. CNet senior editor Donald Bell’s reaction to the 3 Speaker Boombox sums this up perfectly: “They had to pry this thing out of my hands. My apologies to TDK. They shouldn’t have had to see me cry like that.”
With Ziba’s help, TDK has done more than just extend a brand; they’ve created an entirely new category of audio gear, one that loves music as much as their listeners do.