Motorola needs to sharpen up its branding and distribution channels if it is to achieve the phenomenal success of its RAZR handset in 2005.
With some calling it the iPhone of its time, the manufacturer’s RAZR V3 was the most popular clamshell in the world.
But Motorola was to fall hard from its perch and by 2009, the long-established US manufacturer had effectively pulled out of Europe.
Now the company has planned a comeback, based on Android, with two phones already launched and two more poised for release. It is also producing Google’s next branded handset, dubbed the Nexus Two.
In 2010, Motorola plans to launch at least 20 smartphones across the globe. A number of key products will receive a major marketing spend in the UK and Europe, including the imminent Backflip and Quench handsets.
Sources say that although Motorola’s plans look promising, it will need to grab consumer mindsets again, as well as making sure it is in the right channels.
Yet the manufacturer is confident it has the structure in place. Motorola’s VP of marketing for EMEA and Asia, Andrew Morley, says: ‘We are going to release 20 Android handsets in 2010. We just launched the ninth Android product and have launched the Moto Roi in Korea – which is the first Android device in that country from any manufacturer. We also have three Android devices in China.’
And the UK is key. Morley says Motorola is ‘looking forward to great things in the UK’. He adds: ‘The first market for the Dext was the UK, as it is a great market for testing. The UK is key for us – it’s one of the top 10 global markets.’
Motorola pulled back last year because it was focusing on Android, Morley explains, and the manufacturer wanted to launch later to ensure there were no quality issues.
Morley says: ‘We have Android as a standalone and we have Android with MotoBLUR, which does for social networking what BlackBerry did for messaging. We are the only people that do that.’
He says the manufacturer is trying ‘to bring the best experience for Android’, with its Backflip and Quench models launching in the UK ‘soon’. Morley adds: ‘The reality is, we have products that are very competitive in Europe. The clear picture for us is to launch strong devices.’
In terms of RAZR competitors, says Morley, Motorola has new flagships the Dext – the first device with MotoBLUR – and the Milestone. He adds: ‘The Dext has captured both store staff and consumers.’
But Motorola has a distribution challenge ahead. It has worked closely with Carphone Warehouse in the past, and has recently secured an exclusive deal with the retailer in the UK for its Milestone smartphone. While the US is a largely carrier led market for devices, Europe is a 50:50 split between carriers and retailers, so Motorola is talking to both channels.
Motorola is not necessarily following an exclusives-only model, and will instead look at individual handsets, according to Morley. ‘In terms of distribution, there are categories. We announced that the Milestone, an Android device, would be at Carphone. The Milestone was one of the biggest releases in the US and to get that into Carphone is especially great.’
Meanwhile, the Dext is available at Orange, Phones 4u and JAG, and is exclusive to Orange.
The manufacturer also has an entry level WX series – ‘they tend to be broad distribution,’ says Morley. There is also Motorola’s most expensive phone at around £2,000 – the Aura – which is available in Harrods and Selfridges.
But if it is going to recapture the public imagination as a desirable brand it needs to enthuse retail staff for them to push its products.
Motorola trainers are going into stores to train staff on its new handsets. Motorola has started this with Carphone, plus the other stores it has deals with so far. Morley says: ‘We’ve hired a field force. They are young, and new to the industry – we call them “digital natives” because they have only known digital.’
As Motorola announces relationships with new retailers it will bring in more people. ‘We need to train up store staff,’ says Morley.
Online marketing will also be a key area for promoting awareness of Motorola brands, through blogs, reviews, retailer and manufacturer websites.
Motorola’s drive back into the UK and Europe coincides with some major changes within the parent company, with the handset business suddenly becoming more important to the soon-to-split company. A plan devised in 2008 had focused on separating Motorola’s devices business after it recorded an annual loss of $1.2bn.
However, on 11 February 2010, in a turnaround from its previous plans, Motorola announced that it had set a target on the first quarter of 2011 to split into two distinct, publicly traded entities: one will be the mobile devices and home business, led by Sanjay Jha, and the other will focus on enterprise mobility solutions and networks. The move will see more importance placed on the mobile arm as a complement to the company’s home devices business.
Although the economic climate remains uncertain, the timings of the announcement and revised target date are unsurprising, says CCS Insight analyst Geoff Blaber, after a steady improvement in the performance of the devices division.
In Q4 2009, the handset arm’s loss fell to $132m, from $183m in the previous quarter and $595m in 2008.
‘Although handset sales continued to decline year on year in the wake of portfolio restructuring, shipments of Android products exceeded two million units in Q4 2009,’ says Blaber, adding that the devices business aims to return to profitability by the end of 2010.
Blaber says that Motorola’s new focus on high-tier Android devices seems to have fuelled a change in strategy.
With the inclusion of the home business, which focuses on TV set-top boxes, Motorola could be making long-term Android plans, where the two parts of the business could work together.
Blaber says: ‘It is feasible that Motorola sees synergies beyond the movement of content between different devices.’
Morley confirms that Motorola is looking into such a strategy, adding: ‘People talk about “three screens”. Having us work together means we can look at ways to work across these. The Milestone going into Carphone shows our commitment to them. Entertainment is huge, and sharing content is a big desire.’
Meanwhile, Blaber highlights that Android is a platform used for many hardware categories, including set-top boxes. He adds: ‘Motorola could use its Android expertise to offer connected boxes, capable of accessing the web and running applications. This would also enable Motorola to extend its MotoBLUR infrastructure beyond mobile phones.’
After a turbulent year, Motorola’s comeback is reliant on Android. If it can utilise the operating system and combine it with compelling content that is easy to access, it could once again become a force to be reckoned with.