With a specification list and build quality that rivals Apple’s iPhone; and a software layer that makes the most of Android and its own enhancements in the form of ‘Sense,’ unanimous opinion in the market is that HTC’s smartphones are great.
But, as its financial performance has shown over the past couple of years, near-perfect products aren’t enough to ensure success in the hotly contested smartphone space.
Factors such as big marketing budgets, innovative supporting services (like warranties, content deals and free, high-value apps) and of course excellent logistics are as important, if not more important, because those are the things that operators care about and the things that customers come into contact with once they’ve owned a device for a couple of months.
So, to resurrect its brand and profile in the South African market, that’s exactly what HTC’s newly appointed local team will be concentrating on. Where does it think that will get them?
Well, Douglas Jewson, the brand’s newly appointed country manager says HTC has ambitions of getting to 5% of the local smartphone space in the next 24 months.
It’s probably worth noting that the total smartphone market is currently between 16 and 18 million devices. That’s what we get if we add Vodacom’s smartphone numbers to MTN’s smartphone numbers and add some fat in for Cell C and Telkom Mobile.
Jewson hasn’t been explicit about whether that 5% target applies to only new smartphones sold in the next two years or the total number of smartphones in the market. But, if were the latter, it would mean HTC has designs on selling about one million devices in the next two years.
It’s a big ask. Made even bigger if you consider that HTC’s been in a bad place for the longest time.
First there was the rather tumultuous relationship with Leaf Wireless that ended quite badly. Then there was the very mediocre job the locally appointed HTC team did managing the brand following the break-up with Leaf. And then most recently there was the decision of pulling all of its direct representation out of South Africa, last year and appointing Ingram Micro to manage the operation.
It looks like the company has come to its senses again though.
Not only has it appointed a new country manager in mobile market veteran, Jewson, it has a broader local team consisting of a marketing manager, a manager for the commercial side of this business and is in the process of hiring a more extensive on-the-ground staff that will work with operators and its new fulfilment partner in South Africa: Brightstar.
Jewson says HTC’s approach to getting its mojo back in the South African market will be “simple and straightforward”.
As such, it will partner with operators to bring new products to market, be consistent in its management of its relationships and products, and target marketing activities that allow for it to show off its value proposition in a more focused way.
That means it will be present in all operator media (it’s taken quite a bit of flack from operators over the past couple of years for not investing as heavily in their broadsheets, magazines and other print-and-online channels) and all of other forms of retail fundamentals.
One of the biggest issues in doing that before now was marketing budget. But, Jewson explains that his team has been given enough funding for this and outside of the operator media, it’s looking at a lot of print activity (since this is critical in creating brand awareness) and online campaigns.
The vast majority of those activities will have a call to action attached, so when a product is brought to market with an operator partner, the specific deal or value proposition will be made clear in a banner along the bottom of the advert.
When it comes to in-store promotions, he says HTC will again be a little different. Where larger brands with much bigger budgets will generally take the centre court of a mall over and do a massive promotion, HTC will target the two or three highest value stores in that mall and make sure they’re doing in store promotional activity there.
One place where HTC’s competitors have built a strong value proposition however, is in the provision of really appealing warranties for their products, such as Samsung’s Accidental Damage from Handling (ADH).
In the US, HTC offers customers a free screen repair if the incident happens in the first six months of owning a ‘One’ M8. In South Africa, that doesn’t apply – all we get is a standard 24-month warranty.
Jewson says that there are some additional developments around better warranties being taken into consideration internationally, and that those are under consideration on a local basis right now.
If HTC is going to succeed however, it will have to do some work on this front and at least match what’s in the international market.
My opinion is similar to most right now.
HTC makes great products and on that basis, it would be a pity to not see it succeed at making a comeback. There’s also the fact that the more competition the big guys face from strong competitors the better, as it makes everyone work harder for the customer.
The problem is, HTC has tried to make another go of it a couple of times now. And that means it will have to regain the market’s trust, before things will be sunshine and roses.
So, while I’m hopeful. I remain somewhat skeptical.