Q&A: Samsung Exec Sees Bright Future in LCD, HD TVs

Samsung’s swagger in the LCD TV category could not be more pronounced. Samsung delivered four of the five top-selling LCD TV models in 2007, per the company. Then last month, it unveiled four new LCD lines and a new plasma line, all using the Touch of Color styling, which are colored accent stripes in glossy black bezel frames. Also last month another big development happened: Samsung appointed David Steel to take over as svp-marketing for Samsung Electronics America. Steel is a veteran of the company, beginning with his role as a consultant in 1997, and as vp-business development four years later. Within 18 months of Steel’s work to develop international alliances, Samsung’s global sales grew 42%, as Samsung gained on Sony and claimed it held 20% of the worldwide plasma market share. The two companies have gone back and forth ever since.

Steel has watched Samsung expand and move from a relatively insular player to a global electronics giant, despite some rote advertising and an uninspired tagline: “Imagination Lives.” Samsung scored major marketing presence during this year’s Olympics, and like other LCD TV makers, its upcoming fall/winter campaign, via Leo Burnett, New York, revolves around the National Football League. Samsung’s latest effort kicked off this week, where consumers are able to arrange a prerecorded phone call from celebrities, including Alice Cooper and Regis Philbin, to convince their spouse or friend to agree to a purchase of an HD TV. Brandweek reporter Steve Miller recently chatted with Steel about his future direction for Samsung, as he settles into his new role.

Brandweek: Prices of LCD TVs have been dropping steadily. Where does Samsung aim to go in that regard?
David Steel: It looks like prices will keep moving down and that’s just the reality we have to deal with. That means we have to keep moving our costs down so we can hit these price points. But at the same time, consumers are seeing that the quality of the product is so much better than it was just a few years ago, so we have more people buying than ever before.

BW: Are the larger screens for LCD TVs still the most desired?
DS: We still have demand for the 53-inch screens, but one of the reasons that we’ve been successful so far is the broad range of products: the sizes and the prices. One place that we are seeing growth is at the smaller size, where people have already purchased a large screen and are now on to their second or third flat-screen. We have every intention of keeping a broad offering to address that.

BW: What kind of marketing opportunity do you see in the digital conversion? You’ve already announced the kiosks at 2,000 retailers that will explain hi-def technology.
DS: The in-store display is really key because being able to see the quality of the picture and the benefit of having it connected to a source is very convincing. But we’re not really beefing up our marketing spending for the conversion. What it is accomplishing is an understanding of what’s available, which is a very valuable thing for us.

BW: Is there a product category that consumer electronics companies are overlooking?
DS: If I knew I would not tell you until I could tap it. But I actually think that digital TVs will continue to be the growth category, as well as cell phones. More and more people are seeing [cell phones] as media devices, and the demand for higher end cell phones will continue to increase.

BW: How about something that may be fading?
DS: The digital music. MP3 players were very strong a few years ago and we’re seeing a maturing of the market. People are turning to their phones for music, so things are shifting there. The MP3 player market is not going to go away, but it is seeing some changes. At the same time, we keep asking if demand for phone and music players will shift to a single device. So what we want to do is make sure we are there for that kind of thing