Jessica Goodfellow
Jul 19, 2021

Examining Samsung's decade as Asia's top brand

ASIA's TOP 1000 BRANDS: South Korean giant continues to gain share in new categories ranging from connected experience to insurance, but slips behind Apple in mobile phones.

Samsung debuted its second foldable phone, the Galaxy Z Fold2, in September 2020.
Samsung debuted its second foldable phone, the Galaxy Z Fold2, in September 2020.

Samsung has been the number one brand in Campaign Asia-Pacific and NielsenIQ's Asia's Top 1000 Brands report for 10 years straight.

The technology chaebol, which is South Korea's largest company by market capitilisation, is the poster child of Asian innovation. Samsung Electronics, its largest affliate, was an early pioneer of 5G and designed the world's first foldable phone and 8K QLED TV. It has invested heavily in internet-of-things (IoT) technologies and is developing an autonomous driving chip. It is the world's biggest smartphone marker and second-largest semiconductor vendor by revenue, and looks set to dethrone Intel this year.

But its journey has not been without its bumps. It has weathered several crises over the past decade in its race to innovate. From the disastrous Galaxy Note 7 release, which cost the company US$5.3 billion in recall costs after the phones began exploding in 2016, to the embarrassing delays to its first foldable phone after tech reviewers complained about its fragility.

There's also the ongoing political and corporate trouble among its top executives. Samsung is currently being led from behind bars, after heir and de facto leader Lee Jae Yong was sentenced to two years and six months in prison in January over bribery charges. It is not the first time Samsung's leadership has been embroiled in legal troubles—former chairman Lee Kun-hee received suspended sentences in 1996 and 2008 for crimes including bribery and tax evasion.

Yet Samsung's standing remains. It shrugged off the exploding phones crisis remarkably quickly, posting a record $50 billion in profit in 2017, the year after its release. Despite concerns in Korea over the impact of Lee's imprisonment on the business, the company posted a near 50% jump in operating profit in the first quarter of the year, as its business has continued to be buoyed by stay-at-home demand.

Samsung has been described by business experts as a "Teflon" brand, in reference to the nonstick-pan material, for its ability to withstand catastrophes that would send most businesses into a nosedive. This power and reputation was not built overnight. Asian brand expert Martin Roll, who has written a report on Samsung's business empire, tells Campaign Asia-Pacific its untouchable position today is the result of years of dedicated marketing and communications efforts.

"Samsung has used all possible communication channels to convey its brand’s positioning and personality globally. From mass media advertising, public relations, event sponsorship, sports sponsorships, product placements, to the Samsung experience gallery and Samsung experience retail stores," Roll says.

According to Roll, the brand has focused on two main objectives: Position itself as a premium, world-class brand offering quality, credibility and design; and become the top consumer electronics brand globally. 

The core of its success in the competitive consumer electronics category has come from its investments in technology, innovation, design and user experience, Roll believes. But as an Asian brand seeking global market share, Samsung has had to overcome "challenging country-of-origin misperceptions related to South Korea".

"Global consumers had less trust in South Korean brands, mainly due to lack of detailed knowledge and a lack of companies with global footprints. Samsung changed that over the last 20 years, just like the Japanese brands had to overcome the same challenges after WWII, and comparable to China’s current efforts to build iconic global consumer brands with the made-in-China background," says Roll, who is author of 'Asian Brand Strategy' and a senior advisor to Fortune 100 companies.

Its origins have now become its differentiator. Now, Samsung benefits from the "underlying coolness of South Korea" and the growing interest in K-culture, Roll suggests. It tapped into exceedingly popular K-pop group BTS last year with a special purple edition of its Galaxy S20+ and Galaxy Buds+, which sold out in just one hour.

Samsung has also built strength by diversifying its portfolio. Samsung Electronics manufactures electronic components such as lithium-ion batteries, semiconductors, image sensors, camera modules and displays; mobile phones and smartphones; tablet computers; televisions; monitors; memory chips; cameras; speakers; and home appliances such as refrigerators, air conditioners, air purifiers, washing machines, microwave ovens and vacuum cleaners. Samsung Group also has subsidiaries in shipbuilding, construction, insurance, theme parks and advertising, owning agency Cheil Worldwide.

"Portfolios of less related products and services under one corporate brand structure can be challenging," says Roll. "Brands needs razor-sharp and distinct positions, and Samsung has succeeded in navigating this due to a holistic, structured and integrated brand philosophy."

Samsung ranked high in 15 product categories in Top 1000 Brands this year, up from 12 last year.

Its aggressive entry in the premium smartphones’ category blew Sony out of the race by 2012, and it has since been head-to-head with Apple in the high-growth categories of smartphones, tablets and smart wearables.

In this year's Top 1000 Brands report, it slipped behind Apple in the flagship mobile phone category, despite being the number one mobile phone brand in 10 out of a possible 14 markets. This is likely due to a reweighting of data* in China, where it ranks fourth in mobile phones. Apple tops the mobile phone category in Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Apple also beats Samsung in the computer/tablets category.

Onto other categories, Samsung ranks as the top brand in TV, cleaning appliances and smart home technology.

It is second in kitchen appliances, behind Panasonic. It is third in both home audio/headphones, behind Sony and Bose, and watches/wearables, behind Rolex and Apple. It is fourth in cameras and drones (behind Canon, Sony and Nikon), in air conditioners/purifiers (behind Daikin, Panasonic and LG), and printers (behind Canon, Epson and Hewlett-Packard). it is sixth in gaming consoles/hardware.

Samsung Pay is ninth in the e-payment provider category and 10th in credit cards, while the brand also features seventh in insurance, via its subsidiary Samsung Life Insurance.

Elsewhere, Samsung also ranks top in best connected experience, a new question we asked this year, and is the second strongest local brand, behind Huawei.

Samsung is the number one brand in 11 of the 14 markets measured in the Top 1000 Brands report. In China and Taiwan, it ranks in fifth and eighth place, respectively, below other international electronics brands Apple and Sony. In Japan, where it has just 7% mobile market share, it ranks 43rd.

*We adjusted the weighting of responses from China, India and Japan in 2021 to more accurately reflect the importance of these markets. This has resulted in a general rise in the rankings, especially for China-based companies and those that are popular among Chinese consumers.


Campaign Asia

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