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The secret to Samsung's success: marketing exec speaks out

Samsung's marketing boss has spoken out about the secret to Samsung's transformation from a mundane engineering company to a vibrant lifestyle brand.
June 14, 2016
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“Understand what customers want and need” – this is the mantra at the heart of Samsung’s marketing powerhouse, according to executive vice president of marketing, Younghee Lee. It was Lee that, over the last decade, transformed Samsung’s marketing from a monotonous and overly-technical affair into the fun and engaging image we know it for now.

Samsung Galaxy S7 Active review

Admittedly taking cues from Apple’s catchy marketing campaigns, Samsung’s advertising under Lee slowly switched from showcasing a “tech-driven engineering company to a consumer-centric lifestyle brand”. The shift of focus worked: Samsung’s advertising efforts last year were recently rewarded with the Creative Marketer of the Year award at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

Speaking about her vision for Samsung’s marketing, Lee is clear about what is most important: “Our mission should be for the everyday users, not technology for the sake of technology. All the great technology we have had to be translated to consumer language. We’ve done a lot of research to understand what consumers want and need. That is at the core of our marketing.”

Unpacking Virtual Reality with Mark Zuckerberg at #Samsung #GalaxyS7 #Unpacked.
— Samsung Deutschland (@SamsungDE) February 23, 2016

An example of Samsung’s marketing creativity can be seen in the appearance of Mark Zuckerberg at the Unpacked event for the Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge at this year’s Mobile World Congress. Zuckerberg’s involvement added a lot of weight and fanfare to an otherwise standard smartphone launch and put the spotlight on the mutual interest in virtual reality that both Samsung and Facebook share. Since then, Gear VR really seems to have hit the mainstream.

“This was the first time a mass experience of 5,000 Gear VR headsets had been done and a great example of how we can create excitement with our advanced technology,” Lee says. It’s true too, nobody in the audience expected Zuck to stroll up to the stage while the attendees were busy experiencing an S7 promo in VR. It was a clever move and is indicative of the kind of risks Samsung is willing to take to create a buzz.

The phone is a gateway to new experiences.

Samsung may still be focused on pushing the boundaries of technology but it is also interested in appealing to as many people as possible, for as many reasons as possible. It’s not just about the technology any more, according to Lee, because “the phone is a gateway to new experiences.” This is perhaps the ideology Samsung’s marketing appeal for millenials: by showing what Samsung products make possible rather than just focusing on the products themselves.

Samsung may be the most trusted brand for millenials in the U.S. but Lee hasn’t scratched up a victory yet. “My biggest challenge is to obtain more share of mind from millennials. It’s crucial for us to keep our Samsung Galaxy brand as a young and fresh mindset,” Lee says. “Another focus is to tell the story of how the smartphone is a gateway to a bigger world and galaxy of experiences. You will see a lot of efforts on these priorities going forward.”

We're committed to constantly looking for ways to intersect technology, content and services to enable consumers to do more and get more out of them.

Wearables are another area of increasing emphasis: “Wearables are a key area that we are focusing on, not just for sales but also as a great communications and experience tool,” Lee says. “We’re committed to constantly looking for ways to intersect technology, content and services to enable consumers to do more and get more out of them.”

With several high-profile hires in the marketing department – headhunted from the likes of Unilever and Proctor and Gamble – Samsung’s marketing juggernaut is only just getting started. If Samsung’s efforts in recent times are anything to go by, we’re only going to see more innovative, bold and catchy lifestyle marketing from Samsung in the years to come. But even Samsung’s marketing chief knows the company can’t rest on its laurels.

Lee acknowledges the increasing threat from low-cost Chinese manufacturers but remains stoic in the face of increasing competition. “Being a leader now does not mean that you can sustain that leadership forever. Samsung knows that very well….We will focus on providing better value to our consumers, the way we have always been … successful. We are always ready and very confident to win.”

What is your favorite Samsung marketing campaign? Which company do you think has the best advertising?