Why do I have so many headphones, and what do they say about me?

When you look around your Working from Home set-up, how many pairs of headphones can you see? I can see 6… an old pair of apple in-ears perfect for sitting at the computer listening to calls, a ‘Britney-headset’ with arm-mic needed for when the washing machine threatens to deafen everyone else on a Zoom call, some big chunky unbranded gaming headphones, my Sony WH-1000XM2 noise-canceling beauties perfect for cutting out noise when listening to music whilst traveling/in the office (safe to say they’ve not seen much use recently), and finally my Air Pods bought in New York because everyone has them and for hands-free calling & long lockdown-inspired runs around London. In a drawer on the other side of the room I have the same again… 1 pair of ears, and upwards of 6 pairs of headphones. What’s going on?

In recent years, headphone brands (and let’s face it a range of other tech brands too) have begun to take single technical features on their headphones to the extreme, and unusually for a lot of tech brands they’ve done this by communicating the benefits rather than the features or specs. It’s now about “wireless headphones that make it to the finish line with you” rather than “52hrs battery life” ?!?

Occasion-based category mapping exists in many other industries, from entertainment to fashion, but for technology brands especially, it is somewhat more original. Jumping into the world of footwear as an example, we can see how this kind of occasion-based marketing works well, where a product is essential, but differentiation is driven by occasion. For the same reason that many people have going out shoes, work shoes, everyday shoes, running trainers, etc. when searching for headphones to buy you are met with lists of the best running, best wireless, best looking, most sweat-resistant, perfect for WFH headphones.

If consumers are just wanting something to wear around town that might not be the best technically but look great? Beats by. Dre and Adidas Stan Smiths come to mind. Or are your needs for something a bit more technical and workout-resistant? Under Armour HOVR and a pair of Jaybirds, please. Something a bit more aesthetic and quality? Let’s go for a pair of Nike X J Crew Killshots 2 with a pair of Bang & Olufsen on the side.

When a product like headphones becomes universal, how can you differentiate? A race to the bottom isn’t sustainable and reliance on tech specs just won’t cut through the noise…

Where do your headphones sit on the map? What do they say about you? Do you even know?

By: Sam Barton

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