At Dolby Labs, a dose of Apple marketing magic

January 9, 2014: 10:28 AM ET

At this year's Consumer Electronics Show, we talk with new Dolby CMO Bob Borchers, who explains the company's new video technology and how he'll stoke demand for it.

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FORTUNE -- Bob Borchers recently became chief marketing officer of Dolby Laboratories (DLB), the technology company known for improving what we hear that is also working on enhancing what we see.

Before joining Dolby, Borchers had an illustrious marketing career at Nokia (NOK), Nike (NKE), and Apple (AAPL), where he was part of the core team that launched the iPhone. (He also diverted into the world of venture capital, but has decided to return to what he -- and others -- call a "real" job. In other words, helping operate a company.)

I caught up with Borchers, a 47-year-old father of three, in Las Vegas, where he was attending the Consumers Electronics Show on his third day of work at Dolby. His plans for the San Francisco-based outfit's marketing bear the distinct imprint of his experiences learning the craft at Apple under Steve Jobs. Dolby touches people's lives but can thrive only in an "ecosystem" where multiple players demand it. He favors a simplified, focused approach, a lot like Apple, and he shared part of his game plan with me.

An edited version of our chat follows.

Why leave the plush world of venture investing, where you were a partner at Opus Capital, to join Dolby?

There are benefits to coming from an operational role in venture in being able to provide advice to entrepreneurs. Still, I had an itch to scratch in terms of being inside a company with a great brand. With Dolby, when I got a chance to better understand its innovation and what they've done and to reacquaint myself with the brand after 30 years of loving it but not following it closely, I said, "Holy smokes, this is a lot better than I realized."

When I saw what they're working on and the potential of what is being delivered now, I got excited. For example, I didn't know anything about what Dolby is doing with video and movies and bringing it to life on a display. It was amazing. I just fell in love with the technology and realized there was a ton of untapped potential.

There's a lot of goodwill with the Dolby brand in the audio context. There's an opportunity to say to consumers, "Think about how it's going to transform your movie, TV, conference-calling, and other experiences too."

I share your association of the Dolby name with audio, specifically those old plastic cassettes we remember from our youth. Remind me why we have that association.

Back then you often got that nasty hiss with audio cassettes because it was built into the medium you were using. Ray Dolby figured out how to cancel or reduce that hiss without affecting the sound quality. Today that technology and its successors are in almost every DVR and TV, especially in the U.S. It all started with that little button on our tape decks. You'd press it in, and the hiss would go away.

So what is Dolby doing with video?

At CES we announced Dolby Vision, an end-to-end solution that allows filmmakers to keep their artistic expression all the way to the device. Today you make a film to a standard that is a legacy to old cathode-ray TVs on a brightness scale from 0 to 100 "nits." Today's TVs can do 700 to 800 nits. So Dolby has created a set of technologies that allow film creators and colorists to create their films on a much greater scale.

Dolby encodes that and takes it all the way through to the TV. Each pixel has more dynamic range and allows you to see details that would have been lost in the past, and the net effect is incredibly impressive. Sharp and TCL have integrated the end-piece of that technology, and they'll be shipping later this year. We've also been working with Sharp and others on a glasses-free 3-D technology that provides a depth of experience at home that so far has only been available in theaters. Amazon (AMZN), Netflix (NFLX), Vudu, and Xbox (MSFT) are eager to stream movies in Dolby Vision as soon as they are available.

What's your marketing challenge?

When you get a chance to experience these kinds of things, you think, Wow, why haven't I experienced these things before? It's like a hidden gem. This is about leveraging the nearly 50 years of amazing ideas in technology that have been built by Dolby. It's important that consumers say, "We want to see this in Dolby."

Why focus on consumers when they don't buy anything from Dolby?

Whenever you deliver innovation the manufacturers are going to ask, "Are consumers going to demand this?" At Apple, when we lined up the ecosystem, we understood the need to build up this cascade of demand, all the way from manufacturing to retail, so that consumers would be very specific. It's important that the ecosystem understand the importance of consumer demand. There can't be a gap. The way you mitigate this is by showing consumers the opportunities.

So what's your marketing game plan?

This is about focusing and doing a few things extraordinarily well. New ideas require a lot of time and effort. My goal is to help bring these new things into the market in a way that will build the demand for these experiences within Dolby. Let's start with "1,000 songs in your pocket," [the slogan Apple developed] for the iPod, and then move it forward. It's about prioritizing and executing on a few things extraordinarily well.

Apple in your time and to this day markets with extremely traditional tools, including live events, television, and print advertising. What tools are you going to use?

Dolby has the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, which is where the Oscars are, a valuable experience to raise the profile of Dolby and a great place to explore and develop some relationships. It's a tool that even an Apple wouldn't have but that is perfect for Dolby. Dolby has an amazing relationship with filmmakers like Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro, Peter Jackson, and many others. They have an incredibly authentic voice, and they are great storytellers. Working with them is an opportunity to partner with people to tell the Dolby story. Those are two pieces of the playbook that are going to be important to leverage.

It sounds like you're considering something similar to Apple's groundbreaking Think Different campaign that featured the images of famous iconoclasts.

It's too early to tell. I want to make sure we do things that are uniquely defined with Dolby and that aren't a rip-off of what other people have done. Too much of the consumer's electronics world is about speeds and feeds, which consumers appreciate but don't really demand. We need to get to what they appreciate and, importantly, demand.

What's your marketing budget going to be?

This is Day Three for me, so I can't get into specifics. The marketing budget has been substantial. But it's less about the size of the budget and more about how it's being executed. It's been a little more diffuse than one would ideally like. Part of my internal sense is to ask how we can do a few things extraordinarily well rather than trying to paint the world.

Good luck, Bob.

Thanks.

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Adam Lashinsky
Adam Lashinsky
Senior Editor at Large, Fortune

Adam Lashinsky is a San Francisco-based editor-at-large for FORTUNE, covering Wall Street and Silicon Valley. Lashinsky joined FORTUNE in 2001, after two years as a contributing columnist. Prior to joining FORTUNE, Lashinsky covered Silicon Valley for TheStreet.com and The San Jose Mercury News. A Chicago native, Lashinsky holds a B.A. in history and political science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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