Early Market Campaign: active vibration controlAdvanced Mobility

Active vibration control
Noise and vibration permeate our lives. Most of us experience vibration caused by some form of motorized transportation—automobiles, airplanes, buses, trains, boats, subways—on a daily basis. Until recently there had not been a cost-effective way to provide active vibration control or noise cancellation.

A small group of experienced design and engineering professionals formed within Harman International Industries Inc. (NYSE:HAR) to investigate the potential of applying the company’s design and manufacturing expertise in new markets. Specifically, they wanted to determine whether transducer and actuator technology might help solve certain long-standing technical and commercial problems.

Challenge

The electrodynamic linear motor has been the core technology in loudspeakers since the late 1800’s. Harman’s Applied Technologies Group wanted to explore the potential of applying loudspeaker technology in new markets.

Their mission was to evaluate the potential of likely near- and long-term applications for Harman’s core technology. The automotive industry had shown the most near-term interest in using Harman technology for vibration control. However automotive is also a segment with very long product adoption cycles, potentially requiring significant continuing investment. Other segments might have better or at least faster potential for generating substantial returns.

Market segment characteristics

Harman also needed to learn the best way to build awareness to attract the interest of potential customers in the early market for vibration control. Their goal was to do so in a way that has relatively low cost, and did not commit the company to a dead-end path.

As the potential for the technology was being determined, management also wanted to discover the best way to structure their effort. Here, the issues revolve around resource allocation decisions, funding levels and expected levels of both product and development contract revenues. With different ways to structure the business, Harman wanted to remain responsive to customers and is able to produce results.

Business model alternatives

Part of this initiative included identifying the kinds of “business models” that are available, and under which conditions should they be considered. A range of alternate ways to build a business were available, ranging from continued internal funding to the potential of attracting risk capital to support the development of the business.

Management wanted to know how the true potential of the technology could be determined. This question included finding the ability to protect the key attributes of these new applications from aggressive competition. While patent and legal protection is the conventional approach, it is never as powerful as the protection that comes from building a position of market leadership.

Harman was able to demonstrate a number technical advantages in active vibration control, including speed, linearity (consistent response with variations in voltage), durability, and efficiency. But these advantages did not answer the question of which vertical industry or application to pursue first.

Solution

Innovators are the early market for vibration control
Innovators look for opportunities to be an agent of change

Harman needed to find initial alignment with the most-promising target market

Harman turned to Warren Schirtzinger at High Tech Strategies, Inc. for help selecting the industry with the fastest adoption rate and shortest path to commercialization and financial return.

Warren conducted a market assessment which included interviewing a relatively limited number of innovators and technology enthusiasts. This assessment provided objective information about the early market’s understanding of  vibration control, their perspectives and biases, their needs for information and their sense of the potential for the technology.

High Tech Strategies helped develop a “business model” and operating plan for the next phase of Harman’s effort. Warren helped Harman examine the alternatives, understand the implications of each, and move toward an approach that Harman could follow in the near future.

Warren also provided a “technology introduction” that built effective word-of-mouth understanding of the potential for the technology and product derivatives. It also lowers marketing and selling costs by stimulating potential customers to come to Harman, and provides a continuing source of realistic feedback from potential markets.

And for a limited period of time, Warren acted as as Harman’s strategic marketing arm to help assess the potential of different market segments, understand the requirements of each, begin to build the materials and programs that target such segments, and then provide support in reaching those segments until it becomes appropriate to assign or hire full-time people.

In essence, Warren taught Harman executives how to identify the early market for vibration control, then attract and work with early adopters in the industries with the highest potential for adoption and financial return.

Results

Based on strategic guidance from Warren Schirtzinger, Harman selected road noise cancellation in the advanced mobility sector as their initial target market.

Representing the first of its kind in the automotive industry, Harman’s Road Noise Cancellation (RNC) technology minimizes unwanted noise generated when the vehicle tires roll across the road surface. RNC, which is presently ready for market implementation, enables automakers to use lighter weight materials and improve fuel economy without compromising on vehicle noise levels.

For example, the Genesis GV80 by Hyundai uses active noise cancelling developed by Harman. Hyundai says their Genesis GV80 luxury SUV features the same noise-cancelling technology as used in premium headphones. As any frequent flyer will likely know, headphones with active noise cancelling (ANC) use microphones on the outside to hear ambient sounds – like the drone of an airplane cabin – then work out the opposite waveforms, and play that into your ears.

The result is a dramatic reduction in background noise, and this is exactly what Hyundai’s premium US brand Genesis achieves with the new GV80.

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I have used the concepts and techniques I learned from Warren, every single day for the last 15 years.

Director George Henry
George Henry, PhD
Managing Director, Utility Knowledge Base Inc.

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