Brand Health Check: Motorola

The mobile-phone brand is flagging as it strives to repeat the success of its stylish Razr handset.

In a market where style often rules over substance, Motorola's recent failure to produce a sexy mobile phone is having a dire impact on its fortunes.

Last month, the company unveiled its second-quarter figures, and chairman and chief executive Ed Zander admitted they fell short of expectations.

Its handset sales were $4.3bn, down 40% compared with the same quarter last year and over the period it shipped 35.5m handsets, down from 45.4m in the previous quarter.

The downturn, which was attributed to lower unit-volume sales in the Asia and EMEA regions, means Motorola has also lost its status as the second-biggest mobile-phone manufacturer to Samsung, which shipped 37.4m handsets over the same period.

In the last three months of 2006, Motorola shipped 65.7m handsets, almost double the figure for the most recent quarter, so 2007 is becoming a year to forget for the company that caught consumers' attention with its Razr phone two years ago.

Motorola has also suffered from the departure of the design and marketing guru behind the Razr, Ron Garriques, the former head of its handset group, who has joined Dell as the president of its global consumer group. As a result, Motorola will have to find a new source of creativity.

The challenge for the brand is to find a way to take on its competitors, which have all introduced desirable products, with well-defined positionings. Research in Motion dominates the business side with its Blackberry, while Apple's touch-screen iPhone has raised the standards for design of consumer handsets. Sony Ericsson, meanwhile, is carving out a musically driven niche, while the market leader, Nokia, has made a name for itself in entertainment.

However, Motorola has begun to fight back. This month the Razr2, which unlike past models is a 3G handset, goes on sale in several major markets and the firm is hoping that further products due to launch later in the year will go some way to brighten what has been a dismal 2007 so far.

We asked Andy Nairn, planning director at MCBD, who worked on telecom firm SBC's account when he was at Goodby Silverstein & Partners, and Andrew Stephens, founding partner of GoodStuff Communications, which works with Virgin Mobile, how the brand can regain its stature.

DIAGNOSIS 1 - ANDY NAIRN PLANNING DIRECTOR, MCBD

Motorola's obvious problem lies in its product offer. This is a rapidly evolving market, with fickle consumers expecting great leaps forward, not sleight-of-hand brand extensions.

Once a brand is on top, it needs to stay firmly lodged there with a series of exciting products. While the Razr is the biggest-selling handset of all time, it was launched in 2004, and Motorola has not had a significant hit since.

Another real issue is the fact that Motorola feels empty. While a brand ultimately lives and dies by its products, and launches add momentum, the brand has failed to translate into a strong idea or personality, beyond a high-tech aesthetic and clam-shell heritage. Viewed against Nokia ads, 'Hello Moto' feels like an international technology corporation being forced to speak to its audience.

Unless this is rectified, Motorola will suffer from both directions: traditional handset brands such as Nokia have great touch-technology products and the brand strength of Apple and its iPhone will steal any PR for at least the next 12 months.

REMEDY

- Motorola redefined the visual language of mobiles with the Razr. It needs to understand how and why it did this and rediscover its core values.

- Stand for something motivating. Ads should concentrate on the benefit, rather than the technology.

- Energise the brand through product launches. This is a market led by flagship products and Motorola is currently lacking direction.

DIAGNOSIS 2 - ANDREW STEPHENS FOUNDING PARTNER, GOODSTUFF COMMUNICATIONS

Mobile-phone handsets are just as vulnerable to public taste as jeans, bands and hairstyles, and Motorola's recent history is testament to the sensitive market.

In 1996, when everyone was getting used to hipsters, asking their hairdresser for a 'Rachel from Friends' and singing along to the Spice Girls, Motorola's StarTAC was the phone to have.

The first clam-shell handset on the market, and one of the smallest around, it helped mobile phones make the leap from being chosen on a functional basis, to becoming a fashion statement.

Motorola maintained its reputation for designing desirable handsets to make an impression and, more recently, its tie-up with Red has provided positive PR if few sales. But it has failed to produce another hit fashion item - resulting in its first consecutive losses.

Meanwhile, with Sony Ericsson building strong music credentials and Apple's iPhone around the corner, life is not looking any easier for Motorola. However, fashion being fashion, chances are a revival is not far away.

REMEDY

- Develop a dual NPD strategy. Continue to look for big hits across multiple territories and develop exclusive products specifically for the UK.

- Refresh the brand image. It feels a bit too global, remote and cold.

- Improve the handset functionality. The brand is known for having clunky usability.

- Take back power from retailers to form own relationship with consumers. Give people a brand and product connection.

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