Through a new understanding of high-end design, Samsung was able to renew the product design of its TVs and double market share in the TV segment in just a few years.
In 2005, Samsung, one of the world’s biggest producers of consumer electronics, was nervous about one if its best selling categories: flat screen TVs. Despite technological innovations and a rich R&D pipeline, their TVs were languishing in the market and competitive pressure was increasing.
They needed a strategy for how to stay ahead in this market. To do this, they needed a way to prioritize what latest technologies they should bet on. At the same time, Samsung also had a growing sense from consumers that they were dissatisfied with and apathetic to the ongoing parade of technological breakthroughs that formed the center of their marketing message.
Samsung decided a way to start tackling these challenges was to better understand the design-conscious consumers, hypothesizing that by capturing this market would help increase sales in the large segment of upper mid-range TVs. But as they realized they were neither perceived as an outstanding quality brand, nor seen as a brand delivering products with a distinct design profile, top management knew that their normal innovation process wouldn’t be sufficient. A bigger shift in how Samsung approached product design was needed.
Together with a team of strategists from ReD Associates, Samsung began an exploration of the world of the design-conscious consumers, looking to understand questions such as: What is a high-end design object? What is the role of a TV in home life? And what, for these customers, makes a "great TV"?
ReD’s team immersed themselves in the homes of design-conscious consumers in Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Netherlands and met with dozens of designers, architects, and other experts. They observed the everyday life of people, to see how TV habits fit into daily life, and the practices and aspirations around making a good home. Senior management from Samsung went on an intense executive study trip for to Northern Europe – a region with one of the most design conscious populations in the world. Slowly, over time, the team started uncovering the role of design in Scandinavian culture and the relationship it had on the home and TVs.
Key finding: The TV is a piece of furniture
Drawing on analysis of consumers, experts, and traditional market data, a key insight emerged: To a design conscious consumer the TV is not a piece of electronics – it’s a piece of furniture. While seemingly obvious in hindsight, the definition of a good TV for this group is one that seamlessly blends in to the aesthetics of the living room, like a prop on the stage that naturally fits in and supports the larger picture. A black piece of alien-looking technology is not what this group was after. Time and time again, the ReD team found people hiding their TV into furniture or developing workarounds to make it disappear in the room.
The idea of treating TVs as almost invisible objects was “a rude awakening” to Samsung. “At the beginning, when confronted with research findings describing for example how these Europeans are not particularly proud of their TVs, we were very surprised. ‘So, people really try to hide their TV? Unbelievable’ – was the reaction. This kind of consumer behaviour goes very much against what [our] designers were used to,” notes Solvej Lee, one of the leads in Samsung's project group.
Delivering a new perspective in the form of guiding design and marketing principles
This shift in perspective led to a new approach to product design. The ReD team gave Samsung a set of design principles to guide Samsung's designers, making it possible for Samsung to swiftly create a range of new products. “Nothing had to be drastically changed between the final insights, product recommendations, and Samsung design team’s final products going to market – that is, the introduction of the white flat screen TV, which was a result of the project,” reflects Solvej Lee.
Impact: doubling of the market share
The new TVs Samsung introduced were a commercial success. The warm, pristine aesthetics announced a sharp shift in product design that resonated with consumers - especially among women, a new target audience for Samsung at the time. It also allowed Samsung to access new sales and marketing channels like lifestyle magazines, fashion reports, trendy restaurants and clothing stores. "The TV started ‘popping up’ in places where Samsung products have not been seen before. It is as if people simply think that it ‘fits in’ much better than other TVs out there,” says Solvej Lee. These new channels provided Samsung with the needed stamp of approval, laying the grounds for a new perception of Samsung in the target audience.
By 2007, Samsung market share in TV doubled globally and has now reached 28%.