HTC's branding campaign walks a fine line between carriers
interests and consumer demand. Source: Flickr user Izzat Sulaiman
The superphone era is providing a golden opportunity for handset manufacturers to build their brands and differentiate themselves from the competition. But ODMs (original device manufacturers) must walk a fine line in targeting consumers directly without drawing the ire of their carrier partners.
ODMs have always occupied an awkward place in the mobile value chain. Like other manufacturers of consumer electronics, they typically use their ad budgets to raise brand awareness and set their product apart from the crowd. But they also serve at the pleasure of their carrier partners, who dictate how the device is physically branded — which usually means the carrier’s name is front and center on the device itself, as well as on the user interface.
Those rules don’t apply much to Apple, of course. The Cupertino firm has managed to increase its profile by producing a gotta-have device in the iPhone, then continuing to back it (and the supporting App Store) with effective, big-budget marketing campaigns. And in the U.S., at least, those ads don’t create any carrier friction due to Apple’s exclusive tie-up with AT&T. Apple can drum up demand for the gadget, but Americans who want the iPhone don’t have a choice of service providers.
Palm tried to duplicate Apple’s successful strategy with the June launch of the Pre, which Sprint inexplicably failed to promote effectively. But while the device received positive reviews, Palm’s commercials missed the mark, leaving consumers uninformed — or downright creeped out. Palm may have another chance to draw attention to the gadget early next year when Verizon makes it available, but its window for the Pre may already be closing.
Motorola seems to have taken the opposite tack with the Droid, allowing the nation’s largest carrier to do all the heavy lifting on the advertising front with a $100 million ad blitz. The strategy is moving a lot of product but failing to do much for Motorola’s brand, focusing attention instead on Verizon and its overall Android initiative. On the other hand, the ODM is wisely hyping its MotoBlur user interface to tout its Cliq device, providing an unmistakable link between the handset and the company for consumers.
The campaign that has impressed me the most, though, is HTC’s “You” effort. Without pushing specific handset models, the TV commercials tout the phones’ Sense user interface and stress personalization features. The strategy allows HTC to differentiate itself without pushing consumers to specific devices — and therefore specific carriers — with a vague touchy-feeliness. It’s a tack that seems likely to raise brand awareness without drawing the wrath of HTC’s carrier partners. And in the era of the superphone, it’s that’s a recipe for success.