Is Marketing More Important Than Tech for Tablets?

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What do Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) have in common?

All four companies have or will have a tablet. Each is more or less technologically competitive at any given price point, leaving most consumers to make a choice based on perplexing intangibles like taste, intuition, and brand loyalty. As a result, marketing is making an increasingly large impact on sales for these companies. It’s not just about who has the best product, but who can make people want their product, regardless.

Total advertising spending for smartphones and tablets has increased to about $650 million a year. Apple alone has spent about $1.5 billion to market the iPhone and iPad lines. The company had an advertising budget of $338 million in 2006, before it effectively took over the world, and that budget has only gone uphill. Apple’s efforts have largely paid off, breaking sales records left and right while developing an intensely loyal following. The company has even done other tech companies like Google a favor: it has carried much of the burden in convincing people that tablets are cool. Convincing people to adopt a new device is much more expensive than convincing people to buy a device that is already present in the culture.

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Microsoft has reportedly spent $400 million to advertise the launch of Windows Phone and the Nokia 900, which works out to about $1,666 per phone sold. The company has had a notoriously tough time breaking into mobile, but they face what amounts to “new device syndrome” in platforms. That is, everybody is used to Google and Apple being the big names, Windows is a desktop phenomenon. Nobody wants to use a Windows Phone device unless there is a critical mass of users. It takes customers to get customers. It might be fair to expect a similar story with the Surface.

Amazon is applying its marketing magic to the Kindle Fire line. CEO Jeff Bezos, who was caught telling a shareholder meeting a few years ago that “advertising is the price you pay for having an unremarkable product,” is now $34 million deep in television ads for the first half of the year.

Google even violated the typically minimalist sanctity of its search page to advertise the Nexus 7.

Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) just hit 1 billion users and has released a full-blown — highly dramatic — 90 second advertisement produced by Wieden & Kennedy. The company is not overtly competing with Google yet, but the day could come where users choose the social network’s human angle over Google’s algorithm.

A story — the brand — is becoming more and more important as the technology behind mobile devices and tablets evens out. Techies will always find one reason or another to tout a device as superior, but most sales are and will be driven by brand value.

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