Apr 2018

In marketing strategy, first-mover advantage, also commonly referred to as technological leadership is the advantage gained by the initial significant occupant of a market segment.

Traditional wisdom tells us that among other things, being the first generally enables a company to establish strong brand recognition and customer loyalty before the competitors can enter the market; giving the incumbent the chance to perfect its product or services. However, in today’s business landscape, does this still hold true for marketers?

iPhone X vs Android Meme With the recent launch of the iPhone X and the Samsung S9+, Android supporters have refreshed this meme in an attempt to “convince” Apple users to switch camps.

While most may argue that the facial recognition software developed by Apple is an entirely different product as compared to the version released with the ill-fated Galaxy Note 7, the fact was that Samsung was the first to release a flagship phone with advance facial recognition software.

As we go down the list, while there may be room for debate on the definition and impact for each of the features mentioned, the claims by the android user in this meme is technically correct.

If the claims are true and the concept of first-mover’s advantage is true, then how did Apple pass Samsung to capture the top position in the worldwide smartphone market by 0.2% as of Q4 in 2016 and can the S9+ help to break off away from the pack once and for all?

Before I dive into why I feel that the S9+ may be Samsung’s Waterloo, let’s look at why Apple was so successful. There were half a dozen theories of why the brand was able to succeed. These usually range from having the late Steve Jobs as its founder to the brand’s insistence that its product must be easy to use, but to me, its success is due to 1 simple factor. Apple would rather be the best rather than to be the first, even if this means giving up the first-mover advantage.

What this means is that, Apple, does not usually invent products, it prefers to take an existing product and reinvent it.

Before I get stoned to death or start receiving hate-mails from Apple supporters, yes, Apple did invent the first commercial PC, came up with a graphical user interface and how to have a mouse input. However, if you think about it carefully, while its iPod was popular, it did not invent the MP3 player, the same is true for the iPhone and the iPad. All of Apple’s other products were essentially the reinvention of an existing product.

In fact, in a 2012 interview, Apple designer, Jonathan Ive, said that “Our goals are very simple — to design and make better products. If we can’t make something that is better, we won’t do it.”

This approach has allowed Apple to achieve its success in the last decade and would serve it well for the next couple of years but what about its largest competitor Samsung?

When Samsung posted its Q4 earning in 2016, it announced that its strategy to grow the smartphone business through innovation. What this meant was that it would be focusing on its AI-powered smart voice assistance, Bixby, and differentiating its premium designs by adopting a unique design.

A quick Google search for the word “Bixby” would result in a list of tutorials and work arounds on how to disable the Bixby feature or to reprogram the dedicated button for another application. In the short 1 year since it was launch on 29 March 2017, what was supposed to be a crown jewel for the South Korean company has become the joke of users worldwide.

With 1 part of its mobile strategy literally in the recycle bin, one can only assume that responsibility of growing the mobile business would fall on the “unique design” promised.

However, since the S6 Edge+ was released, there has been no major changed to the overall design of Samsung’s smartphone even with the introduction of the dual aperture camera which allows for photos in super low light conditions.

While the quality of the photos taken are great, it is my opinion that the focus on technical improvements alone would not be sufficient for Samsung to retain its position in the years to come.

Most consumers would not have heard of the brand Huawei as recently as 2012, however in the last few year, this Chinese brand has transformed into a giant in the mobile industry and is globally recognized as the world’s 3rd smartphone maker.

Traditionally, Chinese companies, such as XiaoMi, focused their efforts of producing lower-cost products to target the low-end of the market. However, Huawei decided to penetrate the smartphone market by focusing on the fundamentals of marketing, brand building and customer service, something many established brands have forgotten.

It understands that just the brand name and product functionality alone is no longer sufficient in the crowded and price sensitive android market. It understands that what consumers require is a quality customer service experience and a personalized digital experience which allows them to choose a product that fits their needs at the correct price point.

Besides accumulating over 49 million followers on Facebook, Huawei has created strategic campaigns which are localized to increase its brand awareness. In 2016, the brand launched the Huawei Best Wei Campaign in Malaysia which went on to win 2 bronze and 1 gold at the Marketing Excellence Awards 2016.

Not only was the campaign’s name a play on the local slang of Malaysians, the brand partnered with Media Prima Television Network to bring together creative content and local talents that would leave a mark on Malaysian audiences.

This form of localization is not just limited to ASEAN. In consideration of the privacy concerns of consumers in Europe, Huawei engaged in a very high-profile advertising blitz using traditional media such as billboards, street and TV ads. This campaign which included sponsorship of popular football teams such as AC Milan and Arsenal has resulted in a huge increase in the brand among Europeans.

While Samsung may retain its position as the top 3 smartphone companies for a few more years, it is becoming increasingly clear that the South Korean brand is buying into its own marketing messaging and does not have a clear plan of how to do course corrections. It is high time for it to go back to the basics like what Apple and Huawei have done or risk following in the footsteps of Nokia.

Terrence Quah