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Marching to the Beats

In business it is essential to listen to your customers. What they want, what they complain about, what they tell you through their buying behaviors. Apple, Inc. is taking this one step further, by listening to what its customers are listening to.

Apple announced this week that it will acquire Beats Electronics LLC for $3 billion. The sale of the headphone and music streaming company is a bonanza for rapper Dr. Dre (Andre to his mother) and music producer Jimmy Iovine (a household name since becoming a mentor on American Idol), who co-founded it.

What Apple is signaling with the Beats acquisition is that it is still in the business of delivering what its customers want. Moreover, this company, which is synonymous with innovation, is showing the maturity to recognize that sometimes it's better to acquire leadership than to innovate it. They could have tried to launch an "iBeat," but instead they decided to buy a great product with existing recognition and a solid consumer following. And they're not folding it under the Apple brand; they're smart enough to let the Beats go on (sorry, couldn't resist that one).

Apple wants to be cool (or hot) again in the eyes (ears) of its customers. Since they are getting Iovine and Dr. Dre as part of the deal, the cool factor is built in, and the engineers behind the brand's success are built into the business plan.

Digital music, like email, is a way of life for many people, most especially the younger set, who are permanently wired for entertainment pretty much from the time they are first able to say those words every parent longs to hear, "Can I have an iPhone?" Not everyone believes the Beats acquisition makes sense for Apple. But their new headphone gambit doesn't seem so offbeat to me (sorry again), especially in the absence of any new technology breakthroughs at the company in the post-Steve Jobs era. They are beefing up their claim in iTunes territory.

Marcum may not be a multi-billion-dollar consumer success story, but I can relate to Apple's strategy. Marcum has grown by being market smart. Sometimes that means innovating new services to meet evolving or emerging needs for our clients. We are constantly on the look out for opportunities to better service our clients and to strengthen our relationships with them by being partners in their success. But at the same time, if we see a company already doing a great job in a market where we are looking to expand or a market where we would like to establish a presence, we have found that mergers and acquisitions can also be a successful part of our strategy.

No matter what business you're in, it's challenging out there for innovators these days. And no less so for those of us in the service industry. Making sure we have the technical expertise, the geographic reach and the talent to stay relevant to our clients is a full-time challenge. The wired world that keeps companies like Apple in business also keeps the rest of us at our desktops 24-7. It's an around-the-clock proposition. But it sure Beats the alternative.

Julie Gross Gelfand contributed to this posting.

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The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Jeffrey M. Weiner and do not represent those of Marcum LLP, its partners or its employees.

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