Wired For Success: Noel Lee’s Strategy & Perseverance Created a Market for Monster Products from Cables to Headphones
4.28.17 Entrepreneurial Success

Wired For Success: Noel Lee’s Strategy & Perseverance Created a Market for Monster Products from Cables to Headphones

By: Adam West

The Crunch: When Noel Lee first developed what is now known as Monster Cables in his garage in the late 1970s, he knew the improved clarity of his wires would enhance expensive sound systems. But first, he had to convince consumers there was a difference from factory-provided cables. Noel used the art of the demo and a word-of-mouth approach to create a market, and Monster soon became a household name synonymous with quality. Any electronics company that’s been around nearly four decades understands reinvention, and Monster Products has come full circle with a reimagined boombox that Noel thinks is going to be the next big thing. With Monster’s track record of creating trends, it’s difficult to doubt him.

Marketing a product can be difficult when consumers are confronted with something they don’t realize they will want.

“If you create a need and then fill it, you control the market…at least for a time,” said Noel Lee, inventor of Monster Cables and Founder and CEO of Monster Products. “Ideas like the Walkman or iPod were against-the-grain ideas, but their founders were visionaries.”

Portrait of Noel Lee, Founder and CEO of Monster Products

Noel Lee had to create a market for Monster Cables before he could begin selling them alongside electronics.

When Noel Lee created his revolutionary cables in 1978, consumers were slow to respond because their high-end speaker systems already came with factory-supplied cables. Why would somebody spend an extra $20 on cables when their systems were already connected?

“It’s like a cure with no disease,” Noel said. “If you don’t know you’re sick, you’re not going to buy medicine. People didn’t see the need for better speaker cables.”

Noel set out to generate buzz for Monster cables, traveling to the 1978 Consumer Electronics Show and borrowing the corner of a booth to show off his creation. It was here where he first demonstrated the enhanced quality that speakers could achieve when wired with his cables. People were spending hundreds and even thousands of dollars on premium speaker systems, so Noel positioned Monster Cables as essential to getting the most out of top-shelf systems.

The art of the demo was crucial to Monster’s success. With no money to hire marketers, Noel took on the task himself and used a word-of-mouth approach to spread the news about his premium cables. This proved to be essential to the company’s success as Noel was a natural at marketing.

“We came up with a slogan, ‘Get all the performance you paid for,'” Noel said. “Now $20 looked cheap in comparison.”

With clever positioning, perseverance, and incentivized sales teams, Noel has turned Monster into a household name for audio and video cables as well as speakers, headphones, power strips, and other audio accessories.

An Audiophile’s Passion Project Becomes a Market-Leading Product

Monster began as a passion project in Noel’s family garage. The audiophile, whose first name directly correlates to his birthday (December 25), quit his job as a laser fusion design engineer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to chase his dream and tour as the drummer for a band called Asian Wood. When the band broke up, Noel took a job at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

“It was horrible. I couldn’t do the 8-to-5 thing,” Noel said. “I couldn’t be regulated like normal engineers on a project after being kind of a free spirit as a musician. I wanted to get in the audio business, follow my passion, and make a profession out of it.”

After several speaker stores turned him down for being overqualified, Noel worked as a sales representative for an audio equipment manufacturer. Then, he developed the product he’s now known for while tinkering with cables to develop a product that enhanced sound quality through the more efficient conduction of electricity.

Noel built a buzz for Monster Cables with relentless effort. Within a couple of years, the concept of improving sound through cables was big business.

“I was just driven,” Noel said. “I didn’t know I would start a company that would revolutionize cables and audio and headphones. If I knew how hard it was, I probably wouldn’t have done it.”

Understanding a Brand’s Unique Value Leads to Longevity

Companies that have stuck around as long as Monster Products do so by innovating and remaining relevant. In the case of Monster, incentivizing salespeople to present its products to consumers purchasing high-end electronics has served them well.

Screenshot of the Monster Products homepage

Monster remains relevant through premium products and partnerships with famous musicians like Aerosmith’s Joe Perry.

“We aren’t in the cable or power business,” Noel said. “We’re in the business of teaching attachment selling. When you buy a pair of speakers, you attach our cables to it. When you buy a Blu-ray player, you attach our cables to it. We were able to show retailers there was a significant increase in the profitability of stores if you got 100% of the salespeople to present a Monster product.”

Using this approach, Monster became second only to Sony in terms of creating profit margins for consumer electronics retailers. Noel told us this industry has “a habit of killing its young,” meaning that newer products cause drastic price drops in slightly older technology, causing retailers to take a serious hit in profit margin.

“What we found is retailers couldn’t keep the doors open based on selling hardware, and if you don’t sell attachments to make it work well, then you’ve cheated the customer and you’ve left money on the table,” Noel said. “Completing the customer experience on the products they buy from retailers is our obligation to our customers.”

Noel told us a lot of companies fail because they get too focused on the products themselves instead of determining their unique value to the market and how the future will affect them.

“When you think about starting a company, you’ve got to think about what it’s going to be like in 5, 10, or 15 years,” Noel said. “Is your product or image still going to be relevant to the consumer? A lot of times, it’s not because companies get too focused on the product. Well, the product becomes obsolete and technology moves on.”

Photo collage of the Monster Superstar Ravebox and the Monster Elements Wireless Over-Ear Headphones

Monster’s Superstar Ravebox and Elements Wireless Over-Ear Headphones are helping the company remain fresh.

To remain relevant, it’s important for companies to evolve alongside their customer base.

“If you’re going to have longevity, you have to keep reinventing yourself,” Noel said. “Our brand today is as strong — if not even stronger — as it was when we first started.”

One example of reinventing Monster is what Noel’s done in the headphone space. From the sound, design, and engineering behind Beats Headphones (2008-2012) to headphones today like Clarity, iSport, and Elements with Pure Monster Sound, Monster makes great products. Noel’s selling proposition as always been about making consumption of content the best in the world.

“The most exciting. The most exhilarating,” Noel said. “Monster Products make this consumption possible.”

Product Innovation Comes Full Circle with a Reimagined Boombox

Monster Products has been a household name for nearly four decades, and Noel said a key to remaining on top is paying attention to the next generation.

“We’re working with artists, DJs, and influencers that nobody’s ever heard of, but the kids know about them,” Noel said. “So tapping into that is a big challenge for older companies that don’t understand that. If you want to know how to market, ask your kids.”

Monster’s latest innovation is actually a reinvention of an old-school phenomenon: the boombox.

“The product is called Monster Blaster, and I think this is the next big thing after headphones,” Noel said. “Instead of private music, it’s shared music. Really, you need both. You want it to be personal when you want to shut out everything, but you also want to be partying with your friends.”

Last year, Monster released the Monster Blaster, which packs Bluetooth technology, a subwoofer, and a rechargeable battery into a small but powerful package. Noel anticipates a lot of competition as the device allows for shared experiences like dancing.

“Hopefully, we can do the same thing with Monster Blaster that we did with Monster Cables and Monster Power,” Noel said.