Why Washing Machines Are Learning to Play the Harp

September 18, 2019
Why Washing Machines Are Learning to Play the Harp

How much are we willing to pay for the bings, pongs, and whooshes made by appliances?

According to research, we may want to pay more. Our brains are especially receptive to sound. Besides giving us notifications of the progress made by our coffeemakers, dishwashers, and washing machines, melodic sounds can enhance the experience of our most routine activities. At least, that is what marketers believe, and they are betting that distinctive, authentic sounds can increase brand recognition and build a competitive advantage.

Video Spotlight: Appliance Symphony

This post is based on The Atlantic article, Why Washing Machines Are Learning to Play the Harp, by L. Bliss, September, 2019, and the YouTube video, GE Appliances Develops New Sounds for Appliances, by GE Appliances, November 20, 2012. Image source: Shutterstock/Serghei Starus.

Discussion Questions:

1. From an operations strategy perspective, are the specialized sounds order winners or order qualifiers?

Guidance: Review the definitions of order winners and qualifiers. The article makes the case for specialized sounds as order winners with reports from both corporate and academic research. Corporate testing showed that consumers were more likely to buy a brand of appliance with customized sounds. Academic research indicated that distinctive sounds could increase the amount a customer is willing to pay, i.e. extra value. Nevertheless, at the end of the article, the author warns that all these sounds could quickly become annoying.

2. Are the design changes consistent with the products’ life cycles?

Guidance: Washing machines, ovens, dishwashers, and computers are all mature products in a competitive market. Adding extra features (e.g. a variety of cycle settings in a washing machine) and “gadgets” such as distinctive sounds is needed to keep the products up-to-date and differentiable.

3. According to the Kano model, what type of quality do the customized sounds involve?

Guidance: Review the definitions of basic, performance, and excitement quality. The answers to this question are going to depend on students’ individual preferences and therefore requirements. Performance quality is likely to be a popular response because some sounds are both functional and pleasing. Yet, some students may associate the sounds with basic quality because they would be dissatisfied with generic beeps, but would not see the relevance of many different sounds on an appliance. For example, the aural warnings on a car can be overwhelming and eventually tuned out. It is unlikely that students would associate the sounds with excitement quality since they are no longer a novelty factor.


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