So we know with certainty that we’ll hear about the Samsung Galaxy S5 today – whether it’s a launch or something else we’re not quite certain, but assume most rumors are true. But why is it launching in Barcelona, at Mobile World Congress, a crowded space full of competition?
First, let’s look at the history of Galaxy S launches. The S2 launched in 2012 in Barcelona but, for the past two iterations, the company has created its own events culminating in a baffling Broadway extravaganza in New York. The move back to MWC, then, means something important: that for all its bluster, Samsung is finally figuring out that it is a product company and not a brand company.
It’s well within Samsung’s rights to launch at MWC. It’s a major mobile show and Europe and Asia are big handset customers. But it’s also a bit low rent. While you can feasibly bring Michael Bay out to the Fira, the cachet just isn’t there. It’s a limited stage and it’s crowded with plenty of news from Nokia, LG, HTC, and others.
It was interesting to watch Samsung try to escape the trade show grind. While they haven’t been able to escape the lure of CES, they did try (far too hard) to make the Galaxy S events gala happenings on a grand scale. The message was clear: Samsung knows it has the market share and now it wanted the mindshare.
Samsung’s marketing department is a two-headed monstrosity. I’ve heard from many people in the company that the rift between the Korea-based staff and the international staff is wide and deep and that often word comes down from on high that is run through so many divisions that the results are either baffling stage plays featuring smartphones or ham-handed on-stage speeches that sound like second-tier vaudeville acts. Marketing, in short, has never been Samsung’s strong suit.
What they do get right is product. They launch, like clockwork, new products every few months, and every year they drop a fancy new smartphone in early spring. But that they’ve decided to pull resources from another overproduced event and focus instead on a media event is telling. The S4 launch was a “fan” event and featured hundreds of end users who filled a huge theatre and were subsequently baffled. This event will most probably feature finger food and maybe a nice presentation. Then everyone goes home.
Samsung makes good things. They don’t make a good brand. They have market share because their products are good, cheap, and plentiful, not because of any particular feature set or an all-singing, all-dancing stage show. They made the right move handing off their UI and and OS to Android (just as Nokia will eventually succumb to Microsoft, all Android efforts aside) but, given their track record at building platforms (remember Bada?) it may be time to pull back their branding efforts slightly and focus on product.
Sony overreached when it tried to control the CE conversation. Their efforts to push various failed standards thwarted them at every turn while the speed at which competitors like Samsung could pump out product further destroyed their market. They became a marketing machine, rebranding yearly just to see what would happen. They are now a shell and it will take some shrewd planning and great products to pull them out. The same could happen to Samsung.
Samsung is the H&M of mobile. They produce acceptable stuff quickly. It’s time, then, for Samsung’s mobile division to get off the catwalk and to start doing what it does best: sell phones.