80 Years of Ideas

Motorola's Longevity Lies in Its Simple Approach

Brand's Unique Ability to Produce Wide Range of Products Is Secret to Success

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Given it's been around for 80 years, sells to businesses, governments and consumers and has also historically been best-known for many products it no longer makes, Motorola's brand continues to offer a surprisingly simple -- and enduringly effective -- proposition.

HELLO, MOTO: Product quality has played a big part in the Motorola brand's longevity.
HELLO, MOTO: Product quality has played a big part in the Motorola brand's longevity.
Motorola started off producing car radios for consumers and quickly wound up making police scanners, TVs, and, ultimately, cellular phones. It's the rare brand that can produce sturdy products for public-safety professionals and also spark consumer fervor for an "it gadget" of the moment such as 2004's Razr.

Motorola radios were used to transmit the first words said by man on the moon and virtually every professional football play call during the last decade. "It's really always stood for solutions," said Eduardo Conrado, chief marketing officer for broadband mobility solutions at the Schaumburg-based engineering firm.

The Motorola brand was born in 1930, created by the Galvin Manufacturing Corp. for its new line of consumer car radios. Founder Paul Galvin -- who started out two years earlier producing what was by then an already outdated "battery eliminator" which let household radios run on household electricity -- knew he needed a distinct-sounding brand name, according to the company's corporate archivist, Sue Topp, so "he sent everybody home to think about a brand name, and they wound up liking his suggestion the best."

The name was simple enough: "Motor" implied motion and "ola" referred to sound. "Sound in motion," said Mr. Conrado.

And it was from the beginning.

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By 1947, the brand was so well-known that Galvin Manufacturing renamed itself Motorola, and took the brand into TV-set production. It sold 100,000 units in its first year. (It's credited with producing the first "truly rectangular" color TV, which became an industry standard. It sold its TV business to Panasonic in 1974.)

In 1955, the company adopted the batlike, "em-signia" logo it still uses today. Mr. Conrado said the logo, with its "aspiring peaks that emphasize a progressive and leadership-minded company," is one of the company's great marketing achievements.

By the 1990s, as cellphones were becoming a larger part of the company's business, its designs were clunky and they had names that were, too, like V300.

Motorola set about changing that, beginning with hiring Geoffrey Frost as its marketing chief in 1999. Mr. Frost championed a still-in-production ultraslim phone through the organization, dubbing it the "Razr" after its internal code name. When the device launched in 2004, it was a blockbuster hit; Razr has sold more than 120 million units since its introduction and is in many ways a forerunner to today's must-have iPhones and iPads.

Mr. Frost died in 2005 and the company has been struggling to find a follow-up hit. Its best shot may be the Droid, released in partnership with Google last year.

That product -- which has garnered positive buzz -- hits as Motorola prepares to split itself into two companies next year: one focusing on cellphones and set-top boxes, and the other on enterprise networks. Both new companies will use the Motorola brand.

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