Alcatel OneTouch doubles down on Canada with new product lineup

A new smartwatch may not, on its own, be a big deal, but Alcatel OneTouch is using one as a bellwether to determine brand recognition in parts of the world.

In Canada, the company says its push into the smartphone market has yielded numerous successes, including a number four spot in sales behind, presumably, Samsung, Apple and LG (though we haven’t been able to confirm those numbers independently, so take it with a grain of salt).

Alcatel OneTouch views Canada as one of its most important markets, and not just a test bed for American distribution. Dipping its toes in the water early in 2014 with the Idol X, it emerged in the fall with several followups, including the successful Idol Mini and competent Idol 2S.

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It’s easy enough to see why the phones sell: they’re high quality, with good specs and decent ergonomics, and undercut many of the competing Korean brands like LG and Samsung for a similar product. But once price is no longer a factor — and the proliferation of the $0 smartphone has made that an issue — customers usually choose a brand they know, namely those same Korean brands.

“The big brands have all the cache, and they’ll do something to make sure that the local store reps are focusing on their products,” says Steve Cistulli, Senior Vice President for North America. “We need to have something that pushes us to the right side, and we’re constantly pushing back against the big guys.”

Cistulli says that if you thought AOT was pushing into Canada in 2014, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” The company plans to build its brand by appealing to the very people that sell the phones: in-store sales reps. This, and other direct-to-consumer strategies, will see the company build up its presence across North America this year.

Working with an unnamed third party, the company will be appealing to potential customers in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto, its three biggest markets, and will be a mainline sponsor of The Color Run, happening in 13 cities across Canada later this year.

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“The Canadian market is an aggressive market,” says Cistulli, citing quick handset replacement times and a willingness to invest in new products. “Expectations on the network performance side are much higher; when your infrastructure is working, and you’re not dropping calls every 600 feet, your expectations are quite high on these products. It’s a much longer sales cycle in the United States [than Canada], because the Canadian market demands new technology much earlier.”

Cistulli is quick to point out that his company’s success in Canada is directly tied to what he sees as a network-first focus from the carriers, specifically TELUS and Bell. The company has yet to launch any handsets with Rogers, and without confirming anything he said that Alcatel’s products would be on four carriers by the end of the year.

“The Canadian carriers have put a significant amount of time into their networks to make sure that the speeds are there, and that the quality of service is there, and that the customer service associated with those networks are there. And living in the United States we get to see that whenever we visit.”

Alcatel OneTouch has big plans for Mobile World Congress this year, hinting that it plans to add to its Idol and Hero series with some inexpensive, powerful handsets that will surely make it to Canada. The company has also announced an e-commerce site powered by Amazon that will allow Americans and, soon, Canadians, to purchase unlocked handsets and accessories from a single place.

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And that accessory? The Alcatel OneTouch Watch? It supports iOS, too, making it accessible to a wide spectrum of users that likely wouldn’t have learned the AOT name otherwise.

“Now that we’ve put the carrier channels in place, it’s time to now focus on the brand. The products alone aren’t enough to compete. In 2015, we are going to do a 5x increase over our [marketing] budget in 2014; you’re going to see TV commercials, carrier programs and other big pushes from us.”

Alcatel OneTouch will never be Samsung, but the company is sitting comfortably in the low-to-midrange of the Canadian market, and the continued commoditization of high-end components will likely see them, like OnePlus, Oppo, Huawei, ZTE, Xiaomi and others, broach the North American market with optimistic caution.

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