Apple’s Marketing Does the Job; Samsung’s is Less Than Galactic

Local monthly searches for “iPhone” (Rise Interactive): 550,000
iPhone 5 units sold over launch weekend: 5 milllion

Local monthly searches for “Galaxy” (Rise Interactive): 165,000
Galaxy s4 units sold over launch weekend: 4 million

The biggest rivalries are born of great passions: Red Sox versus Yankees, Coca-Cola versus Pepsi. This year the prevailing matchup is between Apple’s iPhone 5 and Samsung’s Galaxy S4.

“iPhone versus Android [the Google-designed mobile operating system that runs on the Galaxy S4] is a huge battle in all of our lives— from a user standpoint to a marketing standpoint, [and] in terms of dollars being spent,” says Francis Skipper, EVP of public relations, social media, and search marketing agency 451 Marketing.

The biggest difference between Samsung and Apple is each company’s approach to marketing. While Apple plays up the human connection and lifestyle components of its brand, Samsung focuses on product features and humor (usually at Apple’s expense), Skipper says. The dissimilar styles make sense since Apple and Samsung attract different audiences. iPhone owners have a reputation for elitism, that “only the cool people have these,” says iPhone-turned-Galaxy owner Skipper. However, as millennials flock to Samsung devices, the brand is using that to its advantage, implying that the iPhone is outdated. It’s a message that Samsung began exploiting even before the advent of the Galaxy S4—recall a 2012 commercial in which a young Galaxy S3 owner saves a spot in line for his parents, who are waiting to buy the iPhone 5.

In commercials for its 2013 Galaxy S4, Samsung touts its technical superiority. However, Garrett Nantz, chief creative officer and cofounder of creative digital agency Luxurious Animals, criticizes Samsung’s execution. Recent Galaxy S4 commercials, such as one in which airline passengers ask a Galaxy S4 owner about his phone’s features and another in which two baseball players edit a video of a sleeping teammate, feel a bit “bro,” he says. And while he learned more about the advertised device in the Samasung spots versus Apple’s, Nantz related more to Apple’s commercials—such as one featuring various iPhone owners taking pictures and videos of different life events to background music.

“With the Apple [ads], I identified more with the lifestyle of being on the go, having a smile with a friend, it raining for a moment and taking a picture,” he says. “It [reminded me of] tons of different things that I’ve felt happen in my life.”

Nantz also likes that, for most of the Apple commercials’ duration, there’s no speech. “There is no actor in my face trying to influence me,” he says. Skipper adds that Apple’s focus on simplicity and design aesthetic, rather than on product features, creates a sense of nostalgia. He warns, however, that nostalgia might also seem to consumers like a lack of innovation.

“If I were Apple, I would be looking at the differences from a feature standpoint because that’s where Galaxy is going,” Skipper says. Apple’s sense of nostalgia also continues onto the brand’s website. While Skipper says the “old-school Apple” feel makes the brand familiar, he says it’s also the same look the brand has had for the past decade. Yet, Nantz isn’t bothered by this. He says the brand’s clean and simple website is well organized and easy to navigate: “My eyes know where to look on these pages. There’s a clear hierarchy of information.”

He can’t say the same for the “Guide to the Galaxy” section on Samsung’s website, where the range of products—including the Galaxy Note 2 and the Galaxy S3—makes it difficult for him to understand the differences between the products and home in on the S4. He says that focusing more on product-specific microsites would make the navigation easier.

While the Samsung Galaxy S4 has a microsite, it disappoints. Nantz says the Galaxy S4 site is more informative and cleaner than the main Samsung site, but he admits it looks old. Skipper agrees that the Samsung Galaxy S4 microsite is visually appealing but its performance is underwhelming. For example, he says the microsite doesn’t use Flash—most likely because Flash is bad for SEO—but that it has compelling images. And while there appears to be a lot of SEO tagging in place, he says, this also makes the site seem a bit “keyword stuffed” to visitors.

“It looks like it’s basically a ‘brochureware’ site with limited functionality, so it’s not very impressive,” Skipper says. In addition, Nantz struggles to find the purpose of the tweets, likes, and Google+ shares featured on the “Guide to Galaxy” page on Samsung’s website.

“There are only 15 tweets,” he points out. “You’re not breaking any records [and] you’re not winning any people over with offering social media options on the site. So why offer them?”

Additionally, Liz Bartek, senior Internet marketing consultant at Rise Interactive, notes that Samsung Mobile’s Twitter and Facebook content is “almost identical.” She also points out that Apple has a company Facebook page and an iPhone fan page on Facebook (with 9.7 million and 3.4 million likes, respectively); however, neither of these pages is marked as official pages. But Nantz argues that social doesn’t play a big role for Apple in terms of marketing. However, Apple shuttered its iTunes-centered social network Ping last year, replacing it with Facebook and Twitter integrations, Nantz points out.

Bartek adds that Apple’s brand advocacy is strong, and supporting customers’ preferred ways to advocate (like the social integrations) makes it even stronger. “Just look at how people are lining up days in advance for the release of the new iPhone,” she says. Hence, Apple’s marketing relies more on fans and earned media, while Samsung takes a more integrated approach to its marketing, perhaps due to its diverse product line, Bartek says. Plus, keeping a low social profile has worked in Apple’s favor.

“Social buzz seems to explode with chatter and rumors of the next big thing for Apple,” she says.

And marketers don’t have to ask Siri how much consumers like the iPhone 5—it’s clear in Apple’s search marketing. When it comes to title tags and meta descriptions, Apple focuses on its brand: “‘Apple’ or ‘Apple-iPhone,’” says Arianna Solimene, senior interactive marketing consultant at Rise Interactive. By contrast, Samsung focuses on both branded and non-branded keywords.

Solimene used a metric called Domain Authority, which indicates how high a domain name will appear in Google search results, to determine the brands’ focus. Both and have similar scores, though Samsung’s is slightly lower. However, Apple has significantly more external links (links from other websites that point toward various pages within a domain) than Samsung. Because Apple has 101 million, compared to Samsung’s 3.3 million, the pages within Apple’s site have a greater chance of ranking higher by Google.

Ultimately, marketing for the Galaxy S4 is feature-focused, while the iPhone 5′ s marketing assets reflect its legacy as a premiere device. Will this message resonate over the long term? Time will tell. But for now, it’s Apple all the way.

Brand Champion

The smartphone scrimmage was a close one, but Apple’s iPhone 5 pulled ahead in the end. The brand’s focus on simplicity and design is carried out seamlessly in all of its channels, which enables Apple advocates to easily recognize the brand anywhere. Samsung has an uphill climb. It doesn’t have the legacy that Apple has, which means its messaging actually has to sell the product. This is all well and good, but that means Apple can create more emotional appeals than its rival. 

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