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Interview with Anouch Seydtaghia of Le Temps regarding the Galaxy S4

This interview took place on the eve of the launch of the Galaxy S4. Anouch Seydtaghia is Deputy Head of the Economic & Finance Section chez Le Temps Geneva, Switzerland.

Q: How can you explain that Samsung organizes such a huge event in NY for the S4?

A: The S4 is a very important product as it’s probably the second most profitable mobile phone in the world. Samsung is trying to position it as a premium product and is using every means available to do so.

What are your thoughts about the huge marketing budget of Samsung?

Samsung’s marketing budget has been a constant percent of their sales (approximately). As sales have risen, the budget has risen. This is not considered a normal situation if sales grow very rapidly but Samsung seems to consider x% of sales to be appropriate spending level. Note that Apple’s marketing has fallen as a percent of sales while its sales have grown dramatically.

If we read the media, we see a lot of speculation about the features of the future S4. Can we now compare that to the expectations before a new iPhone?

There are speculations about all phones, from Nokia to HTC and BlackBerry. I don’t see the speculation to be different between all the major companies.

Can Apple regain the lead in the smartphone market? If yes, how?

Apple had leadership in the phone market for two quarters (see graphic below.)

Screen Shot 2013-03-14 at 3-14-6.09.03 PM

It’s a myth to think that Apple was dominant for any extended period of time. The top spot is very difficult to obtain unless a company has a large portfolio of products which are sold in all markets. Apple has less than half the operator distribution of Samsung and keeps only one new product in the market each year.

Apple also has a very high price due to the distribution model it uses for the iPhone. The primary buyers are operators who made large volume purchase commitments a few years ago. The iPhone strategy can be summarized as “skimming” where they pick the most profitable customers rather than “penetration” where there is a focus on market share. It’s therefore very surprising that Apple was able to ship as many phones as it did.

Is there a difference between what Samsung and Apple invest in R&D?

Of course, but we don’t have details. Samsung Electronics has to develop semiconductor processes and build large fabrication plants. Apple has a vast software engineering operation. Apple has iTunes and web services while Samsung has appliances and TVs. The two R&D efforts are vastly different.

What could be the new features in the next smartphone?

The most important innovation in smartphones will be a product that is not a smartphone. The category will be eliminated through a disruptive approach just like all other technologies that have come before it. My expectation is that when it comes it won’t be recognized as important or relevant.

As a follow-up:

– Thank you very much! So do you mean that for Apple, marketing is just 1% of sales?

It’s difficult to compare the two exactly.

We don’t have specific data on Apple’s marketing. We have either Advertising or SG&A (which includes marketing.) Samsung reports “Marketing Expenses” every quarter but these figures appear to be the sum of Ad spending, Sales Promotions, Public Relations and a portion of “other” expenses as a part of SG&A.

You can see a comparison here:

What seems to be happening is that Samsung increases its spending in proportion to sales while Apple grows marketing a bit more slowly.

Basically, Samsung is treating SG&A as a “variable” expense which is tied to sales whereas Apple is managing it as organic growth.

The difference might be that Marketing at Apple is mostly an internal effort and thus depending on headcount while Samsung might be spending mostly externally. If costs are internal then it would be hard to pare them down if sales slow whereas if they are external then they can easily be made variable.

I’ve received comments suggesting that Samsung’s approach is unorthodox and that the quality of marketing cannot be maintained if it grows as quickly as Samsung has grown it. This is a matter of speculation however.