Cutting Room: ‘Different animal’, familiar noises

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LG insists it’s on the road to recovery, but we’ve heard that before. Paul Withers says there are many hurdles to overcome before the manufacturer can reclaim past glories

LG will be a “different animal” next year. So says new head of mobile for the UK and Ireland Andrew Coughlin. We have, of course, heard it all before.

At Mobile World Congress last year, then head of mobile Jim Michel rejected suggestions that LG had lost its edge. He admitted LG had lost its way “slightly” but 2011 was looking “very good and very different”.

Michel said that while the focus in 2010 was on producing feature phones, 2011 would be all about making an impact in the premium smartphone market.

That this never materialised was acknowledged by Coughlin. He said that LG was late to the smartphone party and that retailers and network partners abandoned it for vendors with stronger model portfolios.

The Optimus 3D announced at MWC 2011 is only now available at Three. Of three L Series smartphones, only the L3 is widely available. The L7 is only available on contract through one online retailer, Buymobilephones.net.

Coughlin admits LG made several mistakes but insists it is on the road to recovery and that we’ll see a completely different company next year.

The L Series is going to be refreshed. The sales and marketing team will be strengthened. And LG has a head start when 4G is introduced as it owns a quarter of the world’s patents on LTE technology.

The problem for LG is putting all this into action, re-establishing its brand and convincing consumers to return to the LG fold.

LG has a strong global brand and is very strong in the television and home entertainment sector. It can leverage this brand awareness to its mobile offerings.

Coughlin says convergence of entertainment technologies into mobile handsets is being worked on. He knows the brand message to the customer has been lacking.

Yet LG is just one manufacturer looking to reclaim past glories along with Nokia and Sony. It needs a product that is revolutionary and groundbreaking – there are doubts it has such secret weapons in its armoury.

LG doesn’t have an operating system or platform to exploit. Its Android handsets compete against devices manufactured by Samsung, Sony Mobile, HTC, ZTE and Huawei.

Android and Windows Phone 8 will be the only realistic challengers to iOS in the operating stakes next year. Other manufacturers will be chasing the latter of these two. So LG hasn’t got much space to play in.

The imminent launch of the next iPhone will not help either. LG’s attempts at getting a message to consumers will likely be overshadowed by the madness surrounding Apple.

And how much freedom will Coughlin get? HQ in Korea is known to control local markets. Coughlin admits he doesn’t have total control but insists he needs the “brilliance and technology that HQ sends”, because “one cannot exist without the other”. His boss, Brian Na, is now president of the UK operation and had been global head of sales and marketing for mobile.

LG’s brand is the key. Its credibility in mobile must be rebuilt effectively and quickly, and LG must convince retailers and operators it has the portfolio to compete. Coughlin says he is laying the foundations and says LG can reverse its fortunes. Which, of course, he would do.

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