HTC's struggles over the past year and a bit remain hard to believe for a lot of people. In part, that's because when you look at them individually, the smartphones HTC has come up with in that time haven't been all that bad.
But it's also because HTC has been telling us pretty much for the same length of time that it's identified what's wrong and is making changes to make sure it'll be better from now on. And then nothing seems to actually happen.
Take boss man Peter Chou's comments to the WSJ this week: “The worst for HTC has probably passed. 2013 will not be too bad.”
And why is that? Simple: “Our competitors were too strong and very resourceful, pouring in lots of money into marketing. We haven't done enough on the marketing front... although we don't have as much money to counter [Samsung and Apple], the most important thing is to have unique products that appeal to consumers.”
So to sum up, HTC's rivals are spending money HTC doesn't have marketing the products that are making that cash in the first place. HTC knows it has to increase its marketing, but doesn't have the money to do so. But actually the most important thing isn't marketing, it's having unique products.
Now keep that last point in mind as we point you to an HTC statement issued barely six weeks ago. In proudly embarking on a “Marketing 2.0” project, HTC said it was focusing on “holistic marketing and mass-market brand outreach”. So mass-market brand outreach, but with unique products? Ah, so that's the answer.
Going further back, there was an internal email from Chou, entitled “we are coming back”, which told staff: “don’t let the processes, rules and norms impact our important goals. Of course we have to follow certain rules and criteria but don’t let small things kill the major goals.”
The problem for HTC, as demonstrated by Chou's comments to the WSJ this week, seems to be the same as it always was: it genuinely doesn't seem to know what the major goals are.
From promises to restructure its product line that never seem to amount to anything (is it more devices or less devices this year?) to a naming strategy bordering on the absurd (when you consider that six out of the 10 phones featured on the main smartphones page of the HTC site are called “One”), how different is HTC's situation now to 12 months ago? And how different are the promises being made?
Who knows, maybe this time really is the start of a turnaround. Or maybe HTC is spent so long trying to turn things around it's just getting dizzy. When it comes to innovation, and that includes innovation in marketing (which is what Chou seems to be driving at), you can't achieve it through “from now on”-style memos.
Like most courses of action based around the notion of creativity, and surely creativity is the life force of innovation, the harder you push the more you end up with ideas that may seem innovative, but are actually just slight variations on the same tired ideas. Like a whole range of supposedly different smartphones that all share the name “One”.