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What's stopping HTC from taking the digital plunge?

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What's stopping HTC from taking the digital plunge?

As HTC launched two new versions of its flagship smartphone range, it is gearing up to face Gen Next challenges. Can the brand make a bigger dent in Samsung and others’ area of mobile device dominance? With back-to-back launches, it is aiming at the already crowded youth segment to make the difference.

HTC has managed to hold on to a certain set of loyal customers who think it makes the best devices in the market. The One, released in 2013, earned the “Smartphone of the Year” title at the Mobile World Congress, and was only the third phone to win a five-star review from TechRadar. A critic at the site said the phone “is closing in on flawless.” 

However, a cutting-edge device is not the only thing the youth wants now. They want what’s popular and easily available. If the uniqueness of the device is HTC’s USP, its very negligible digital presence doesn’t really make a strong case for it. Where many tech experts find HTC devices “Quietly Brilliant”, the brand needs to up its ante in terms of its digital footprint.

The only effort in that space is its Facebook campaigns. The page has 4,921,972 likes and their innovative hashtags like HTChange and “as recommended by” have captured the eyes of many of the brand followers. However, when compared with competitors like Samsung (11,521,520) and Nokia (11,627,730), the brand still has a long way to go.

On the company being less aggressive with its marketing push, Chia-Lin Chang, Chief Financial Officer and Global Sales Head of HTC, said “HTC is learning from its mistakes and that a large percentage of its global marketing budget is dedicated to India. However, more than spending money, the company wants to strengthen its brand presence both offline and online.”

When asked about the brand’s marketing strategy in India, Manu Seth, Marketing Head, HTC India said, “Our focus is on enhancing the consumer experience. We have spent large sums on creating the most elaborate retail experience for our consumers. That is our base, and we plan to move up this ladder, and move to the digital space. We are planning an innovative digital experience for our consumers. HTC is looking at brand evangelists to promote the brand. The devices speak for themselves, and with that at the centre, we are banking on the loyal brand consumers to speak for the brand, and help build a stronger digital base for HTC.”

Considering the consumers that HTC is targeting are young or “young-at-heart”, it seems the brand is waiting too long to make a full-fledged plunge into the digital space. Also, with the likes of Motorola not even spending a penny on the “retail experience” in its comeback, one is forced to ponder over the relevance of spending a larger chunk of marketing spends on the “retail experience”. At a time when the young consumer is too lazy to step out of his or her home to experience a device, how relevant will the retail experience remain in the near future?

Faisal Siddiqui, Country Head, HTC India said, “We are engaging with our consumers at the retail level. Our campaigns, at present, are mostly ATL, and we believe that the base of loyal consumers is only increasing in India.”

“Our products are our forte and the push on the retail experience has paid off. What has worked for HTC is its localised campaigns, and influencer programmes to establish a loyal database, which it aims to expand with a focus on youth,” he added.

However, over the past five years, companies like BlackBerry, Nokia and Motorola have gone from market leaders to takeover bait. Startups in India, China, and Brazil are grabbing mid and low-end sales, and the high-end market is increasingly dominated by Samsung and Micromax.

According to research firm IDC, Samsung maintained its leadership in the smartphone market with 35 per cent market share in Q1 2014, followed by Micromax (15 per cent), Karbonn (10 per cent), LAVA (6 per cent) and Nokia (4 per cent).  India witnessed the highest rate of growth - over 18 per cent - in smartphone sales in Asia Pacific region during January-March 2014, outshining countries like China.

HTC, however, looks undeterred by these numbers. “The first thing that you notice when you look at our phones is that we have better design, better form. We put our heart, mind and soul into it. We can compete on pure hardware specs but it will hurt our brand in the long term,” said Chang.

The Taiwanese handset major launched HTC One (E8), the affordable, plastic bodied version of One (M8) and Desire 616, its first octa-core processor equipped budget phone in the Indian market On Friday. The HTC One E8 is priced at Rs 34,900, the Desire 616 is priced at Rs 16,900.


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