Brand creation: Brand failure

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htc 1 32 gb
My new cellphone the HTC 1 32 GB, unlocked

Yesterday evening, I ordered a (to most people) unknown brand smartphone from an unknown Montreal-based web dealer, preparing to consign my IPhone IV to the garbage bin. Apple lost its branding power and effectiveness to HTC (what is HTC, I don’t know. . .?) and an outfit called PDA Plaza, again a place I didn’t know existed less than three weeks ago.

In other words, Apple’s massive product, retail and distribution brand power has been knocked off by a couple of unknowns. How could this happen? Can we learn some lessons from this, either as incumbents seeking to preserve our brand or outsiders trying to break into areas previously thought to be the strongholds of “can’t be beat” incumbents?

These individuals and qualities influenced my decision.

My wife

I didn’t know she wanted a new smartphone replacing her five year old cheap cellphone until about a month ago, when she declared her choice, the HTC One 32GB silver, LTE Canada. Now, I know my wife deliberates carefully — much more than me — when purchasing consumer products. She spent hours making her choices, and visited several retailers, who all tried to push her away from the HTC to other phones in the stores. But this is not the way to deal with her. She has achieved a degree of affluence by carefully choosing her investments. She (like me) resents marketing gimmicks and ploys to tie us down. She didn’t want a “plan” operated by a cellular carrier, where fees and lock-ins restrict freedom to change and choose. And she sensed the other phones were all tied in with these plans which would force her into a multi-year contract.

In any case, she did the heavy lifting for me. I trust her. I respect her decisions. In our family, she can make — or break — a brand.

Google

The HTC phone, like several others, operates on Google’s Android system. I didn’t even know about Android until Sept. 2011, when I wandered around the Google campus in a combination of pride, awe, and amazement. Google had paid for my plane, hotel and meals to attend a three-day conference there, and threw in a nifty swag bag as well. I learned stuff I cannot share under non-disclosure agreements. But my respect for this massive company had received a powerful experiential boost. Google is giving me another trip in late September this year. I’ll be joining about 500 Google help forum Top Contributors (moderators) in San Jose, CA, with a bit of time in the Googleplex. Google isn’t bringing us to northern California out of the generosity of its heart — but experience shapes perceptions, and the ability to hang out with real people from around the globe at Google’s expense means any brand associated with Google wins, hands down, for me. The HTC phone operates on the Android operating system.

Zagg phone repairMy (bad) Apple IPhone experiences

I drop things. My phone cracked. Why didn’t the phone come with a secure case when I bought it? Why did I have to find about repair services and availability of secure covers when it failed. Why, when my first IPhone experienced software glitches, did the replacement phone have even more severe glitches, coupled with the faulty and cracked screen? Last week, these flaws created havoc when I faced my own client-service crisis while at Build Business. I don’t think I’m a genius having to make an appointment at the “Genius Bar” to have this sorted out (and I know a whole lot of real geniuses personally — I belong to an invitation-only Facebook group with 700 individuals with IQs in the stratosphere. No I’m not a genius, but I like to hang out with really bright people.)

Media

I have read stories about Apple peaking, about problems with the Apple Stores (of all places, just a few days ago, in the Wall Street Journal), and about the rise of competing phones with the same features and quality — in fact better features and quality — than the heavily branded IPhone. Apple doesn’t own total love from the media now.

PDA Plaza delivered

My wife said she thought she would like to buy her phone from an outfit I never knew existed, PDA Plaza. She said all the retailers were pushing her to buy other phones, but she sensed the sales reps were receiving commissions for this push. She didn’t want to deal with salespeople, she didn’t want a “plan”, she wanted the cheapest HTC One 32GB silver, LTE Canada, phone she could find. And PDA Plaza seemed to have the phone.

I wasn’t overly impressed with PDA Plaza’s website. And I know that Montreal is the home of plenty of web scams, boiler room operations and other scuzzy stuff. I also grew a bit wary when Vivian said she called the company, and a Russian-sounding guy answered. But she simply couldn’t find a local retailer in a big city like Ottawa who would sell the phone without a locked-in cellular plan.

So we bit the bullet, and ordered. I used my personal credit card but asked for it to be delivered to the company office. The order bounced. So I phoned, and a Russian-sounding woman answered. She explained that the credit card authorization would not go through because of the different card and delivery address, because of fraud risk. I replaced the order with the correct card number, and hoped for the best. I ordered the phone on Friday afternoon.

On Monday at 1 p.m. the Canada Post delivery person had a package needing signature. “What could this be?” I wondered. It was the phone.

My wife started using it, and I went to the Build Business conference in Florida.

Physical inspection

After my unpleasant experience at Build Business with my IPhone IV, I decided I needed to replace it, now. I, like my wife, am not locked into any cellular plans, so I can switch when I wish. My wife showed me her phone. I held it in my hand and liked the feel. I enjoyed the feature. Secure cases are available — we’ll go to a retailer today to purchase them. I checked at PDA Plaza and discovered the phone had dropped in price by $15.00 in the last few weeks. I ordered it.

Now, this story obviously won’t replicate in your situation. However, note how I made my decision to break the bonds of a powerful and well-established brand for a couple of effective market unknowns.

First, the big brand lost its trust and respect. The faulty phone in a crisis did it for me. Less-than-enthusiastic media coverage helps to validate the changed perspectives.

Then I needed an alternative which I could trust. Obviously (and thankfully, I trust my wife.) I saw how PDA Plaza delivered the goods. And I could see the phone itself combined all the features I sought.

Lessons learned

  • Never take your branding success for granted.
  • Deliver on your promises.
  • Remember that major decisions are made often through a multiplicity of elements; one could be a tipping point, but there are many others.
  • Strike alliances with brands in ascendency but avoid lock-ins linking you to ones in decline.
  • Remember and respect your influencers.
  • Don’t be afraid to change.
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