Criando e mantendo uma marca

Começo mostrando um vídeo curto, que resume um evento ocorrido há poucos dias na escola de gestão da Stanford University:

Passemos, agora, para uma reportagem da The Economist (íntegra AQUI), tratando da Samsung:

For many South Korean consumers, the chaebol, family-owned conglomerates that are into everything from electronics to amusement parks, are a source of pride. For investors, they can be a headache. Shareholders were reminded of this in May when Samsung proposed to merge two of its affiliates: Cheil Industries, the group’s de facto holding company, and Samsung C&T, the country’s biggest construction firm (it put up the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai).

When the deal was announced, Cheil’s share price was around its highest since its IPO in December, and that of C&T was near a five-year low. CLSA, a stockbroker, said the deal would give Cheil the core operations of C&T “effectively for free”, after subtracting the value of its stakes in other group companies. That would suit Lee Jae- yong, the only son of Samsung’s chairman, Lee Kun-hee. The elder Mr Lee has been in hospital for over a year since a heart attack; his son is preparing to pay about $5 billion in inheritance tax while keeping family control of the group, through small stakes in a hairball of cross-shareholdings. The merger allows Mr Lee to consolidate that structure, and to gain more than $12 billion in stakes in other Samsung companies, including a further 4.1% stake in Samsung Electronics, its flagship firm.

Not so fast, said Elliott Management. The American hedge fund (widely known as a “vulture” fund for its investments in distressed debt) boosted its C&T stake after the merger was announced, becoming its third-largest investor, and filed a lawsuit to block the deal. Elliott argues that the merger is unfair for C&T shareholders, who it says will lose $7 billion due to the huge disparity in the two firms’ valuations: when the merger was announced, Cheil’s stock was trading at over 130 times forecast earnings, whereas C&T’s ratio had slipped to around 20. (Firms in South Korea’s KOSPI index on average have a forward price-earnings ratio of about 11.)
A court in Seoul has rejected two injunctions filed by Elliott to try to halt the deal; it ruled that the ratio by which shares in C&T will be swapped for Cheil shares did not indicate any price manipulation. South Korean law says that the ratio must be based on average stock prices over the previous month, a formula that Samsung used. Samsung contends that the deal will “ultimately increase shareholder value” by fusing the global network of its construction arm with Cheil’s food and fashion businesses, though it is vague on how bringing together outfits from such different industries will save much money.

The conflict will come to a head on July 17th, when C&T’s shareholders vote on the deal. Two influential investor-advisory firms, ISS and Glass Lewis, have urged them to reject it. Each side is lobbying other shareholders, made up of foreign investors (who hold about a third of C&T shares), domestic private investors (who have just over a third) and South Korea’s National Pension Service (NPS), which has a stake of almost 12% and could be the swing voter. In November an attempt to merge two other group companies, Samsung Heavy Industries and (loss-making) Samsung Engineering, was blocked by the NPS, which threatened to exercise an option to sell its shares in both firms rather than end up with a stake in the merged entity.

Shin Jang-sup, an economist at the National University of Singapore, says Elliott has already benefited handsomely from its investment in C&T, with gains he estimates at more than 100 billion won ($100m). In Mr Shin’s view, South Korea has strict trading regulations and a crippling tax on inherited management rights: it is because the chaebol are under such strict regulation, he says, that they have looked for ways around them.

Sweeping reforms after the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98 boosted shareholders’ rights and required large listed companies to bring in more outside directors, for a time placing South Korea ahead of Japan in the strength of its corporate-governance laws. But lobbying by the chaebol has since undone much of the good work, says Kim Woo-chan, an economist at Korea University in Seoul. Only one big chaebol, LG, has swapped its cross-shareholdings for a transparent holding-company structure. South Korea now ranks at the bottom of Asian corporate-governance league tables, with Indonesia and the Philippines.
The low valuation of South Korean firms relative to their developed-country peers, known as the “Korea discount”, is blamed on corporate-governance worries. Last year Hyundai Motors caused investor concern when it bought land in Seoul for 10.6 trillion won, triple its assessed value, for a glitzy new headquarters. The heads of four chaebol—Samsung, Hanwha, Hyundai Motors and SK Telecoms—have been convicted of crimes in the past decade.

The government has begun to push firms to redistribute their huge piles of cash in increased wages or dividends. The president, Park Geun-hye, initially championed “economic democratisation”—passing a law to give the country’s Fair Trade Commission greater powers in levying fines on illegal transactions benefiting chaebol family members, and another preventing new cross-shareholdings. But she has since focused on reviving a sluggish economy that is dependent on the chaebol: last year two of her ministers suggested that convicted tycoons be pardoned if they could contribute to boosting economic growth.

Bruce Lee, head of Zebra Investments, one of South Korea’s few funds focused on corporate governance, says that even if Elliott’s bid fails, it is only “the start of growing pains”: its challenge comes at a time when succession issues loom at other chaebol—and as South Koreans become increasingly frustrated with the families’ sense of entitlement. In a rare show of solidarity, a group of small C&T shareholders have delegated their voting rights to Elliott. Some have even bought their first shares in C&T, simply to vote against the merger.

A Samsung atingiu se ápice há alguns anos: muitos acreditavam que ela seria capaz de derrubar a Apple. Felizmente para a empresa da maçã, não foi isso o que aconteceu – aliás, pelo contrário.

Há pelo menos 2 anos a Samsung vem enfrentando queda nas vendas, e seus celulares estão ameaçados de perder posições importantes nos rankings mundiais. Há diversificadas razões para os problemas da Samsung – e há peculiaridades locais para alguns deles, inclusive.

Um destes problemas, e que não tem atraído a atenção devida, é o envelhecimento da marca e a perda da capacidade de impressionar (no momento dos lançamentos, geralmente anualmente, dos novos modelos).

O Galaxy, produto top de linha da divisão de celulares da Samsung, costumava ser um concorrente bastante difícil para o iPhone da Apple – e, no início, a proposta da Samsung era oferecer um celular capaz de fazer tudo o que o iPhone fazia, mas com preço menor. Deu certo a princípio.

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Mas a Apple, claro, não ficou parada.

O problema, porém, nem foi a resposta da Apple, mas a perda de foco da própria Samsung. A aparência frágil e barata do Galaxy – que tinha muito plástico de qualidade duvidosa, em detrimento do vidro do iPhone 4/4S ou do aço/alumínio do iPhone 5/5S/6 – não combinava com um aparelho top de linha. No começo, isso não incomodava – mas, com o passar do tempo, a Samsung não melhorou, não mudou nada, não inovou.
Começou a ser gerada uma dissonância cognitiva: o celular top de linha com tanto plástico? Não deve ser tão bom…

A Apple, ainda que haja diversas críticas pertinentes ao iPhone, fez mudanças: o vidro do 4/4S deu lugar ao plástico de boa qualidade do 5C (modelo destinado a países sub-desenvolvidos, ou seja, modelo mais barato) e ao aço escovado do 5/5S – que, depois, sofreu mudanças na versão 6.
Ou seja, a Apple mudou seu produto, modernizou a imagem do produto que ela mais vende. Esta mudança tinha como objetivo mostrar que as marcas Apple e iPhone continuavam imbatíveis no quesito celular top de linha – assumidamente caro, mas que oferece mais do que a concorrência.

E a Samsung? Mudou a composição e as cores dos plásticos, mas continuou colocando muito plástico no seu modelo top de linha. O pior: foi alvo de piadas, justamente quando lançou uma nova linha do seu aparelho top de linha.
Em paralelo, a Samsung adotou uma comunicação que pretendia confrontar diretamente a Apple. Não deu certo.
A Apple manteve sua fleuma. Isso, em comunicação, tem um significado claro: se a Apple respondesse as provocações da Samsung, ela se rebaixaria – ao invés disso, ignorou, o que o líder de mercado geralmente faz quando um desafiante o provoca.

A Apple manteve sua linha de comunicação inalterada, inclusive reforçando a aparência superior do seu iPhone – sem precisar citar o Galaxy ou qualquer outro modelo.

Isto, senhoras e senhores, demostra qua a estratégia de criação e manutenção de uma marca (branding) dá um trabalho danado!

Especulo aqui a possibilidade de que os problemas retratados na matéria da Economist podem ter afetado as decisões da Samsung no que tange à gestão do seu branding – repito: isso é especulação minha.
Mas o fato concreto é que a Samsung – por quaisquer razões – está num momento ruim, descendente. Pode ser revertido? Claro que sim!

Será?
Não tenho bola de cristal para adivinhar.

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