It’s time for HTC to start fighting dirty

HTC One Marketing

HTC (2498) has been on quite a journey in its short history as a company. HTC was founded in 1997 as a notebook computer vendor and then began developing Widows Mobile handsets in the early 2000s and launched one of the first touchscreen smartphones in the world. As the mobile industry continued to evolve, so did HTC. The company would later be among the earliest Android adopters and it produced the first Google (GOOG)-powered smartphone, the HTC Dream. HTC’s EVO 4G was the first 4G smartphone to be released in the U.S. and the Thunderbolt was the country’s first LTE phone. HTC peaked as shares of the company’s stock rose to all time highs in the spring of 2011, however things took a turn toward the end of 2011 and the company still hasn’t recovered.

Android’s growing popularity attracted a number of new vendors that began eating away at HTC’s once dominant market share. Despite launching a number of great phones like the HTC One and DROID DNA, the first smartphone with a full HD display, the company continued to struggle — HTC reported its lowest quarterly profit in nearly a decade for the fourth quarter last year. It was also the fifth consecutive quarter that HTC’s revenue declined.

The problem isn’t HTC’s smartphones, which have all received acclaim from critics — it’s the company’s lack of brand recognition among consumers. HTC is still a relatively new company compared to Apple (AAPL), Samsung (005930) and LG (066570), and it hasn’t done a good job of building its brand to set it apart from competitors.

HTC announced the addition of Benjamin Ho last November to head the company’s marketing department. Chief executive Peter Chou admitted that HTC wasn’t reaching out to consumers in the right way and vowed to win them back in 2013.

We may have seen HTC turn a corner this year. The company unveiled a gorgeous new high-end smartphone in February called the HTC One, and it has been aggressively targeting Samsung and the Galaxy S 4. HTC even showed up at Samsung’s press conference earlier this month to show off its flagship device while attendees waited out in the cold.

I respect moves like these and believe HTC is on the right track, but this is only the beginning.

First of all, HTC’s new brand direction is awkward. Apple has its “i” branding and Samsung’s “Galaxy” brand is instantly recognizable. “One” was a curious direction for HTC to take. It’s not terribly memorable and there is nothing appealing about saying “I have a One” when asked what type of smartphone you carry.

Next is the company’s advertising, which has been somewhat misguided in the past. Rather than showing us how a skydiver might use an HTC phone, hopefully the company will focus on how its One can perform key functions better than market leaders like the iPhone 5 and Samsung’s Galaxy phones.

The HTC One has some incredible features that might be advantages over the competition, but it needs to make sure that its TV ads do a good job of conveying the right messages. The company debuted a commercial on Wednesday highlighting the HTC One’s new Blinkfeed feature, but rather than comparing it to other flagship devices and offering a clear message that highlights the service’s various advantages, the commercial is fairly dull and it does a poor job of showing us why Blinkfeed is better than the social features found on rival phones.

This kind of commercial isn’t doing HTC any favors. HTC is not afraid to hit below the belt — as we saw in its recent bout with Samsung — and it shouldn’t start pulling its punches now if it wants to have a fighting chance against behemoths like Apple and Samsung.

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