Sony Mobile targets top three smartphone status

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Sony has set itself the goal of being the world’s third biggest smartphone manufacturer by the end of 2013. Its president of North Western Europe, Pierre Perron, tells Paul Withers how cracking the UK market is key

With Samsung and Apple showing no signs of relinquishing their positions as the market’s number one and two smartphone manufacturers, the battle for third place will be the main objective for the chasing pack in 2013. Sony has put its hat in the ring early by launching its first handset of the year, the flagship Xperia Z.

The device was launched in January at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) event in Las Vegas – and with the majority of manufacturers saving their releases for Mobile World Congress, Sony stole the show.

Early reports about the device have been positive, and the firm’s president of North Western Europe Pierre Perron – speaking to Mobile News from CES – was in confident mood that Sony can and will secure a podium finish this year.

“We want to become the third biggest smartphone manufacturer in the world this year,” said a confident Perron. “We will achieve that through continued investment in Japan and Europe, particularly in the UK, and leveraging the Sony brand in the emerging markets.”

Building a brand

But it won’t be easy. Sony Mobile, like rivals Nokia, BlackBerry, HTC, Motorola and LG, was caught on the back foot by Samsung and Apple, who have made resounding successes of their respective Galaxy and iPhone ranges through a range of innovations.

And according to a quarterly report from research firm IDC, Sony failed to make its list of top five manufacturers in terms of market share and unit shipments for Q3, emphasising the task the company faces to get close to its past glories.

Samsung held almost a third of the market with 31.3 per cent, with Apple comfortably in second with a share of 15 per cent. RIM, ZTE and HTC were all close in the chasing pack, meaning Sony held less than four per cent of the overall smartphone market at that time.

But according to Perron, Sony is turning a corner in the wake of Sony Corporation’s £871 million buyout of Ericsson’s share of the Sony Ericsson joint venture last February.

Perron says: “The new brand was launched in March with the new Xperia handsets, which was the first achievement. We wanted to make Sony Mobile a credible smartphone player in the industry and that was helped by our increased marketing activity and spend. The next piece of the jigsaw is the Xperia Z.”

Perron’s main objective is the UK market. When I met him at the release of the Xperia S last March – the first handset to be released under the Sony Mobile brand – he identified this market as the one the firm was going to use as its platform for global success.

UK focus

He said the UK was one of the most competitive markets and also claimed consumers here have adopted a new entertainment experience using smartphones before other markets – downloading multimedia content and sharing it between the company’s devices.

Perron based this on studies conducted by Sony that showed around 80,000 applications were downloaded in the final week of 2011 by UK consumers. It also found that more than half of smartphone users had been using them primarily for entertainment activities, downloading apps and sharing content, leading him to describe the UK market as far more advanced than any other in this respect.

“If we can make it happen in the UK, it will work anywhere. This could take one, maybe two years, but it is an interesting platform to begin with,” he said.

The strategy appears to be paying off. In Q3 2012, Sony Mobile overtook HTC as the UK’s second biggest manufacturer of Android smartphones. Perron is now keen to tackle the rest of Europe to meet Sony’s target for this year.

He said: “Becoming the second most popular Android manufacturer in the UK showed the rest of Europe that, in the most competitive environment, anything is possible when you have the dedication and are able to maintain and improve key relationships with market partners.

“We will maintain our position as the second most popular Android manufacturer in the UK through the release of good products and a consistent brand message, as well as through large scale marketing investment.”

Brand recognition was key for the manufacturer last year. When we last met, Perron also said that regaining an emotional attachment with all consumers, not just those who had bought a Sony product in the past, was key.

Brand recognition

Sony Corporation has over 60 years of technological innovation behind it, encompassing televisions, audio systems, DVD players, MP3 players and PlayStation video game consoles. Perron said he is keen to exploit the notion that consumers will have bought at least one product from this range in the past, and he said he would be looking to leveraging that with the Sony Mobile brand.

He claimed the Sony Mobile brand is already making its way to the front of people’s minds, but said he still isn’t satisfied and is keen for the company to push on further.

He said: “The brand definitely has much more attraction. We track it through monthly consumer surveys we conduct, which also track the presence of key marketing around the brand, and since launching in March 2012, we have tripled our brand awareness in the UK.

“It shows we are on track in terms of marketing investment. We have managed that in a very competitive UK market, which is a great achievement.

“It’s about convincing the consumer to come to Sony because they have bought one of our products before. They love the brand, so getting a smartphone from us becomes an obvious choice. It won’t be because they can’t go anywhere else.”

The Xperia Z, an upgrade from the Xperia T from the end of last year, was unveiled at CES on January 8 and becomes Sony Mobile’s flagship device for 2013, leading its charge on the smartphone market. Apart from Huawei and ZTE, it was the only manufacturer to make handset announcements at the annual trade show.

Nokia, HTC, LG and Motorola all shied away from making announcements at CES and look increasingly likely to make their move at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona at the end of next month.

RIM launched its new BlackBerry 10 operating system along with another two products on January 30, while Samsung is rumoured to be unveiling the Galaxy S IV – the follow-up to its record-breaking Galaxy S III smartphone, in the next few months. Apple released the iPhone 5 last September and a smaller variant of the handset is rumoured to be in the pipeline for later this year.

It gives Sony Mobile the opportunity to make the first significant moves in the manufacturing space this year, possibly targeting customers due for upgrade towards the end of last year, a period notoriously quiet for new handset releases on contract due to the dominance of the prepay and gifting market over Christmas.

Carphone Warehouse made the Xperia Z available to pre-order from last week, with the device going on sale by March. Phones 4U will sell it from March 1, with consumers now able to pre-register their interest in the device. Vodafone and Three have also confirmed they will range it towards the end of Q1.

Full article in Mobile News issue 532 (February 11, 2013).

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