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BLOG: How Samsung changed the smartphone game

Zafar Anjum | April 16, 2013
Or how Apple lost control of the narrative and let others define its story.

I think Samsung's rise happened on the back of good product design and clever marketing. For consumers, it was the new pretty girl in the office that made impressionable colleagues shun their trusted workmates (read iPhone). We all seek variety in life and at this juncture of time-being the typical consumers that we are-we are being lured by Samsung.

Recently, Indian newsmagazine Outlook did a cover story on the Samsung phenomenon in India. Samsung entered the Indian electronics market 18 years ago in 1995 as a bit player. Today, the unlisted (in India) company is India's top electronics and appliances firm, the magazine reported.

According to the Outlook story, Samsung's successful strategy has five pillars:

  • Product blitzkrieg: Samsung launches products from entry level to super premium level and ensures that there's a Samsung product for everyone.
  • Aggressive pricing: The company ensures that there are products at every price point to suit every consumer.
  • Speed and innovation: Samsung brings new technologies to the masses quickly even if it is not the first one to launch it globally
  • Belief in branding: Samsung believes in increased brand visibility and brand equity through huge campaigns (Last year, it was one of the big sponsors of the London Olympics)
  • Ruthlessness: The company exits segments that are not considered savvy

Seize the narrative

Out of the five points, I want to dwell on one point: branding.

According to industry estimates, in 2012, Samsung increased its mobile phone ad spend by over 400 per cent over the previous year in the US which, in value terms, was 20 per cent more than what Apple spent (from the Outlook story).

I also believe that one big reason Samsung has been able to upstage Apple is its "communications tactic". Samsung understands that we are living in a "Conversation economy" whereas Apple is still living in the past.

In a recent piece, Gregg Keizer noted this dichotomy. In plain words, Apple needs to change its marketing communications strategy. He writes:

Apple's noted silence has hurt its mystique and caused it to cede the "cool" factor to competitors, a communications expert said today.

 "It's what Apple didn't say that made them so powerful," said Peter LaMotte, an analyst with Levick, a Washington-based strategic communications consultancy. "They were so silent that it created an entire industry of rumor mongers."

Now that silence hinders rather than helps Apple, LaMotte argued. "The Apple mystique protected them from a need to engage in the conversation. But the mystique has worn out. They used to own the 'cool' factor. Not anymore."


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