Sony Ericsson is placing its comeback hopes on a new strategy and high-end devices. The manufacturer is re-aligning itself in a bid to evolve into a brand that is more confident and ready to take on its competitors.
The first real evidence of that change came in September, when it announced that it would adopt parent company Sony’s strapline of ‘make.believe’.
Behind the scenes, the company appears to have been working hard to recover from the damage done to its reputation after reports of four out of 10 handsets being returned.
Sony Ericsson has made no secret of how proud it is of its new flagship handsets, the Satio and the Aino, and it will soon become clear whether the changes have worked.
The manufacturer has steadily been building hype around the two phones and is confident that its financial performance will pick up in the coming months.
Typically, the Q4 Christmas period is a key time frame for businesses, and Sony Ericsson is investing heavily to make sure its presence is felt across the whole industry.
The Satio and the Aino are the first flagship handsets to launch for some time – a significant change in approach from a manufacturer that, at one point, was releasing ‘big’ handsets almost once a month.
The feature-rich Satio has a full touch-screen and a 12-megapixel camera,
which is in line with Sony Ericsson’s new strategy to focus on communication and entertainment.
But most people will already associate the company with these two elements, due to the Cyber-shot and Walkman brands taken from parent Sony. Sony Ericsson UK & Ireland MD Nathan Vautier tells Mobile: ‘We come from a strong position in music, imaging and gaming, and we are now fusing them together because there is an increasingly grey area between communications
He adds: ‘We have some very strong and unique selling points in that space and will be working with the leverage we have with Walkman and Cyber-shot.’
Despite his explanation, it is still hard to distinguish what is actually new about the products. But Vautier is keen to dispel those thoughts: ‘The Satio is more than a 12-megapixel camera; it is a large touch-screen product and a very powerful device.
‘It has evolved from the W995, which had BBC iPlayer, Facebook and Twitter. We are taking what we do very well – imaging capability – and pushing it to the next level.’
He is also keen to emphasise the value of having a ‘strong touch-screen product’ – something that Sony Ericsson decided it wanted to bring into the ‘consumer space’ at the time the Satio was under development.
Through continual research and development in key user areas across the world, the manufacturer has been able to develop the new portfolio, which includes the Satio, Aino and the X2, out later this year.
Vautier says that within the UK, around 30% of the market is touch-screen. He adds: ‘We want to play to a greater level. The Aino has a touch-screen for media and 12 normal keys, so there is still a choice.’
As the handset is not significantly different from rival offerings, the manufacturer will use its new branding to achieve the desired impact. Vautier describes the new marketing move as an ‘evolution’, and adds that Sony Ericsson has made a ‘considerable investment’ in the activity.
He says: ‘It is very important we have a strong and unique brand that stands out. We are integrating the colours with the marketing and now have a liquid life force. We want to bring the brand alive and draw users in.’
As well as attracting new customers, the manufacturer is keen to retain current users. Vautier says: ‘We’ve had issues, but we need to take
our customers with us by understanding and managing any problems
‘We need to manage our existing customer base and look to grow and take a stronger market position.’
But despite its confidence, Sony Ericsson faces a tough challenge against its competitors; especially when it goes head to head with the iPhone, which will soon be available on three networks.
But Vautier remains optimistic about the opportunities available, saying: ‘There are a number of things happening in the market. The iPhone will be going across a number of channels, but some customers want alternatives.
There is a lot of positive stimulation in the market and we feel we
are playing into the area we are moving towards.’
Sony Ericsson’s fate will ultimately be decided by consumers, who the manufacturer is aiming to capture by focusing on content – as are many of its competitors. Vautier explains: ‘Users want to have as much content as they can and we want to provide bigger, better, faster access to content. They [consumers] are moving forward and we really want to move with them.’
He adds: ‘We are definitely looking into how to become stronger in various segments of the market, and how to do well in the heartland of the consumer market.’
The manufacturer will be hoping to stand out from the crowd in the coming months with new handsets and an engaging marketing campaign, but it will face stiff competition.
New and established manufacturers are offering smartphones targeted directly at consumers, and Sony Ericsson is still playing catch up. It is yet to launch an Android device, while it is placing its hopes for Q4 on three major handsets and several other releases.
The company now needs to make sure quality issues are truly ironed out, and must prove it with actions rather than just words.