Geoffrey Frost, Motorola

Despite his job, or maybe because of it, Geoffrey Frost isn’t crazy about the word “phone.” Motorola’s chief marketing officer prefers to use terms like “the device formerly known as the phone,” “ability amplifier” and “intelligence enhancer” to describe the wireless gizmos that do much more than make and receive voice calls.

Frost’s penchant for euphemism extends to engineers at Motorola, whom he refers to as “people from the future who happen to be here now” and he describes upcoming offshoots from Motorola’s Razr and Pebl phones as “genetic mutations.” In short, Frost looks at things a little differently. One former colleague–a fan of Frost’s–went so far as to say that the marketer “cultivates a reputation for being odd,” noting that Frost has been traveling with a teddy bear for the last 20 years.

Frost laughed at the mention of the bear, a gift from his British wife’s vast collection, but wasn’t offended. “Maybe I am a little weird, I don’t know,” he said.

If that’s so, Motorola CEO Ed Zander may want to consider giving teddy bears to the rest of his staff’. Frost, who joined Motorola in 1999, deserves a good portion of the credit for getting Moto’s mojo back. Once known for unfashionable phones and clunky advertising, Motorola now has probably the hottest phone on the market (Razr), a deal with Apple’s iTunes and a hipper image thanks to its catchy “Moto” ads. One might say that Frost has done for Motorola what Quentin Tarantino did for John Travolta with Pulp Fiction.

Consider the numbers: After steadily losing share in the wireless market since 1996, Motorola gained 3-3 points in its most recent quarter, largely on the strength of Razr. As of the fourth quarter of 2004, Moto held a 16.4% share worldwide. Samsung had 10.9%, down 3% from the previous quarter, while LG was at 7.2%, per IDC, Framingham, Mass.

The gains awarded a slight boost to Motorola’s standing among Interbrand’s Top 100 Brands. Last year, Motorola was No. 76 on the list, which is based on projected earnings. This year it was No. 73, though Interbrand estimated its brand equity had jumped about 12%. “They pretty much owned the handset game at one time, but other handset makers tromped them,” said David Martin, president of Interbrand, New York. “But lo and behold, they turned themselves around.”

Making Motorola hip again was quite a feat. Formed in 1928 as Galvin Manufacturing, Motorola is one of those companies, like Hewlett-Packard or Xerox, that was traditionally run by engineers. Engineering breakthroughs determined much of its strategy and direction. Originally, Galvin made a battery eliminator, a device that let battery-powered radios run on a household electric current.

In the 1930s, the company started making car radios and, in the next decade, produced a two-way radio that was widely used by the U.S. forces in World War II. By the early ’80s, the company now known as Motorola was focused on two markets: semiconductors and wireless devices. In 1983, Motorola introduced DynaTAC, the first cellular telephone approved by the FCC. From then on, Motorola ruled the growing market and hit its apex in 1996, when it introduced StarTAC, the first flip phone.

Frost, then a marketer at Nike, recalled the reaction in the room when a colleague whipped out a StarTAC during a meeting: “Everyone in the room looked at each other and said, ‘I’ve gotta have one.'”

What happened next was a textbook case of a fat, complacent company being bested by an upstart competitor. In this case, the whippersnapper was Nokia, a Finnish firm that many thought (and still think) is Japanese. Nokia’s insight was as post-StarTAC phones became more portable, they also became fashion accessories. Nokia spent a lot of time deciding what colors its phones should be and was the first to offer changeable faceplates for those who couldn’t decide. By 2000, Nokia had captured a 27% worldwide market share (and Grand Marketer of the Year honors in this magazine) versus Motorola’s 17% share. Motorola now has 18% versus 33% for Nokia globally.