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Only one man can save Motorola

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Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications

Column Whose fault is it Motorola is in the mess it is in now? In some ways it is impossible to point a finger, but if you want a name it's Geoffrey Frost.

Frost was the marketing man who moved from Nike to Motorola. With him he took the glory and success of being a top brand. At Motorola he built the Hello Moto campaign. He was singularly responsible for a marketing approach to design. While Nokia phones all look like simple rectangles, and Samsung phones look like toilet seats, Motorola phones in 2001 looked like a bit of everything. There was no design language. You couldn’t go into a shop and recognise a Motorola phone.

It was with Frost the insistence of common design was born. It led to the two styles of phone – the Razor and the Pebble. The Razor was never supposed to be any more than a "halo product". Just as Ford lost money on building the Ford GT, the Razor was expected to sell fewer than a million phones. Its job was to reflect glory on the rest of Motorola.

It might even have been OK if just a few hundred were made to be gifts for important customers and to be handed out in the Oscar award goodie bags. Motorola has tight rules on what is allowed in a phone design. It needs to be fairly risk free in terms of engineering, it needs to have established demand, and parts need to be plentiful. Razor broke these rules and many more. It didn't even have a conventional codename – Motorola uses place names – Razor was the name all through development, but it stuck.

The rules were broken because Geoffrey was Geoffrey and he was allowed his indulgence of one, unimportant, phone as a marketing tool. He argued it didn't have to make a profit all it had to do was break even, like the V70 before it and it was free publicity.

Geoffrey put Motorola on the road to success. Over 100m Razrs have been sold. It lost the 'o' not through clever marketing but through a threat of litigation. If you find early announcement material it will have the O in there. The four letter thing then stuck and went on to Pebl and other products.

Geoffrey proved that by working against the system and the rules you could build a hit. He was the friend of the maverick engineer. Not a role you usually find in a marketeer. He did many of the big deals, he identified music as being key to success well ahead of the market. He was popular with the big networks who bought tens of millions of phones.

So why is Motorola's failure his fault?

It’s because he died.

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