Henry Manampiring
Aug 4, 2014

Unseating the mobile king

Samsung has toppled Blackberry in a nation that once loved the former brand. Henry Manampiring, executive director of strategic planning for Leo Burnett Indonesia, discusses the role Samsung's communications played in hastening the change.

Henry Manampiring, executive director, strategic planning, Leo Burnett Indonesia
Henry Manampiring, executive director, strategic planning, Leo Burnett Indonesia

In 2011, Indonesia was still known as “The Blackberry Nation”. So many Indonesians were hooked on the brand, while other parts of the world were crazy for iPhones and Android. It’s Messenger service was vital, serving a nation hooked on sharing and maintaining large social circles. That was Blackberry’s strength but it has turned into a weakness.

Fast forward to present time, and you will only see the last remains of the BlackBerry nation. Within a mere two years, sales of new BlackBerry phones have plummeted from a 43% market share to 14% according to an article in WSJ Indonesia. (For more mobile metrics, please see research from On Device, also part of the Indonesia Country Report.)

The hands of early adopting middle-class that used to hold the famous “Bold” series have changed to holding Android-based smartphones. And the clear victor of the changing era is undisputedly Samsung.

How does one explain Samsung swift rise, toppling a brand once considered so formidable in the smartphone category? Many factors should be taken into account. The most obvious and often discussed is BlackBerry’s lack of innovation. But this cannot explain the whole picture, and also does not explain the speed at which Samsung overtook BlackBerry.

Aside from its massive product portfolio that fills in every available price slot, from US$70 to US$700, one cannot ignore the totality of Samsung’s communication. While the product portfolio flooded the phone seller’s shelves (Indonesia is not a contract market, almost all handsets are sold independently), it is the brand’s total presence that steals the share of mind. Samsung’s smartphone communication in Indonesia is an impressive all-out effort to dominate the market. This is in-line with Byron Sharp’s book, How Brands Grow, in which data evidence advocates for continuously reaching out to all buyers of a category.

Continuously reaching…

While many analysts might question Samsung’s never ending new product launches to an already extensive product range, from a communication perspective it does give continuous conversation with consumers. Hardly even a week passes without a launch event, blogger gathering, or consumer activation related to any of Samsung’s latest products. This gives the brand constant presence, which builds an image of a very active, alive, and vibrant brand. Even those who are not yet in “search mode” for a gadget cannot help being exposed to the brand, which later will help tip their preference.

…all buyers of the category

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Samsung’s wide product range enables it to engage with all levels of consumers in Indonesia. For the teen segment, there is a Facebook community called “ComMEnity”, which taps onto teen passions for a “digital fame”. The community isn’t a hard-sell, rather it works to unite teens with common interests. It gives tips from things like getting more fame online, to how to take their hobby to the next level.

Other forms of engagement connect to different communities and passion points. Travel in Indonesia is booming, thanks to the swelling ranks of middle-class and also the growth of low cost airlines. Samsung creates programs where it invites travel bloggers to experience how Galaxy smartphones enhance the travel experience:  Budding photographers were given opportunities to learn from masters using Samsung’s latest camera; those into visual arts and graphic design experienced the Note series’ creative features.

Running and exercise fever has also hit the country, and Samsung is also there to show its relevance with health trends. In short, whatever your passion is, Samsung will find a way to engage with you.

Conventional above-the-line communications are not the key to achieving this “total salience” effect. Instead, all the activities are mostly on-ground engagements that found amplification through social media. And in a young country of 240 million people that are crazy about social media, this approach proves to be as effective as blanketing the airwaves.

The ‘empathic offensive’

The effort to bring down BlackBerry from its mighty high position would not have succeeded by playing nicely. But rather than making an all-out assault without understanding the hurdles, Samsung was set to find the Achilles’ Heel. Many BlackBerry users already called their devices, in local lingo, “weak brain”, due to the “hourglass” freeze that plagues the device. But back to the experience issue, people also just began to realize that they were missing out on the action that only Android apps, such as Path or Instagram could provide.

Although users began to resent their BlackBerry, they still felt trapped because they were so dependent on its proprietary Messenger to connect with friends and relatives (this was before the BBM opened to iOS and Android). Recognizing the love /hate relationship many BlackBerry users had with their device, Samsung made a campaign that jabbed at BlackBerry owners, with a battle cry: “It’s time to switch to the REAL smartphone.”

The campaign showed empathy to BlackBerry owners’ plight and invited them to try a solution thatonly a ‘real’ smartphone could provide. The campaign showed that contrary to fears about losing social connections, entering Samsung’s Android world would actually expand connectivity with more social media apps.

Reaping the benefits

With communications that embrace all buyers of the category, continuous conversations, and targeted attacks based on empathy with customers—backed with a massive product portfolio - it is no wonder Samsung eventually managed to topple what was once the King of The Hill in such a short time. This has been an example of how total salience combined with total relevance results in brand growth.

The future challenge is how can Samsung, or any leading brand, maintain and grow the depth of its relationships with a wide customer base. People often question whether a mass brand can sustain and nurture a lasting relationship with large numbers of customers. This is for Samsung, or any brand interested in winning in the market, to prove to the Indonesian consumers.


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