A Motorola comeback will take more than talking the talk

P8_motorolaHandset manufacturer Motorola is beefing up its marketing team with up to 15 new roles as it attempts to reverse its fortunes with a “product-led recovery”.

But some question whether Motorola, which in July 2005 claimed its Razr V3 was the world’s most popular clamshell, is leaving it too late to improve in an already slowing market. Just last week Nokia, the world’s biggest mobile phone maker, admitted it was being undercut by rivals, such as Samsung, in a weak global market.

Motorola has appointed Former BT vision sales director Simon Collinson as director of marketing strategy for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (MW last week). It has also poached back former head of marketing James King from Samsung to be its European marketing director (MW August 28). King’s decision to return to the handset maker came just one month after he left for Samsung Mobile.

Andrew Morley, Motorola vice-president for marketing for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, says King was “instrumental” in taking the brand to the number one position it once held in the handset market. King was behind Motorola’s “Are You Pink or Purple?” campaign for its U9 model, which was extended globally. Now, it lies behind both Nokia and Samsung.

The web and mobile internet is believed to be central to Motorola’s future plans. It has several new handsets in the pipeline, for what Morley calls a “product-led recovery”. Morley says it is “all about the experience” rather than specific features such as a camera. The new handsets include a fashion-led ZN5 model.

Against the trendAt a time when many businesses are culling layers of management, Motorola is introducing more roles at country and regional level. It now has posts that encompass Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and tiers below them to represent each individual county. As part of this, it has also promoted Rachel Ward to marketing director for the UK. The changes come ahead of the mobile business being spun off in the coming months.

But such moves also follow an unsettled period for the handset manufacturer. European handset chief Vik Patel left the company a month ago, while top marketer Casey Keller and global president for mobile devices Stu Reed left the company in March. Reed had only been in the post for eight months.

Signs of an upturnAnd, after ceding its market-leading position, Motorola has struggled financially. Its profits for the last quarter of 2007 were down 84%, while phone sales were down 38%. Its market share had also plummeted to 13% from 26% in 2006. But Morley insists that Motorola’s second quarter results are “very positive”. “We’ve beaten all of our targets for June,” he adds.

Yet as Strategy Analytics director Neil Mawston warns, upping marketing activity alone is not enough and cautions that Motorola may well find itself “overstaffed”. He says of the turnaround plan: “It looks like a Nokia-type approach.”

He says the handset maker’s supply chain management is “lacking in key skills”, adding: “If they are focusing on marketing they need to look further. The real issues are in supply.”

Mawston believes Motorola can recover only if its products are of the highest quality – and consistently so. “If it presses the right buttons with a killer device it could have a Razr-type recovery. It needs a pattern of good devices rather than one good, then bad – it needs to be more like Nokia and LG.”

Motorola’s bolstered marketing team will need substance to save the brand ahead of its split next year: the strengths of its devices must match the marketing might behind them if its product-led recovery has a chance of working.

Kate O’Flaherty

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