In some ways, 2014 could well go down as the year in which Chinese brands finally grabbed a share of the mobile phone limelight. Yes, they had been around for a while, but this is the year when they have actually occupied centrestage in a big way, with the likes of Xiaomi, Lenovo, Huawei, Gionee, Oppo, OnePlus, Vivo, and others coming out with devices that surprised the world. Yes, we do think that it is way too early to talk of the Chinese brands totally dominating the market (as some insist they will), but that could well be the case unless the established order takes a leaf or two out of the books of the leading Chinese phone players. In particular, we think the following six lessons are something all brands can borrow or learn from the better Chinese ones.
Note: These are based on our experience of leading Chinese brands in India. We are NOT stating that every single Chinese brand is worth learning from, but are focusing on the ones that are.
Stunning price-performance ratios
No, we don’t think the age of super priced flagships is over yet. More’s the pity, actually. But we do think the likes of Xiaomi and OnePlus have made other brands think about their price tags. And more importantly,have made consumers realise that one does not have to pay the price of a mid-segment notebook to acquire a flagship-level device.
Yes, we said “innovation” and we were referring to the Chinese. In fact, we wrote an entire article about how the Chinese had gone from being copycats to creativity masters. We have seen the likes of Xiaomi, Huawei, Gionee and Lenovo, make substantial changes to the designs of their flagships and add new features. They were also first off the base in the battle for slimness and in discovering the popularity of selfie or front-facing cameras (Gionee had an 8.0-megapixel camera on its Elife E7 well before the likes of HTC and Nokia joined the Selfie party). Right now, the thinnest phone in the world is a Chinese one, and some of the best value for money devices at the lower/mid-segment levels are Chinese too. We rest our case. And so should the critics who insist that Chinese brands are copycats.
Investing in the UIXiaomi has the MIUI, Gionee has Amigo, Lenovo has Vibe, Oppo has Color – most leading Chinese players have not been content to fall back on standard Android themes but have gone ahead and developed radically different UIs of their own, with a number of innovative features. So we even have relatively low priced devices which come with detailed camera apps and displays that lock the moment you place the device in your pocket and so on. Of course, brands from other countries also have developed their own interfaces (HTC has Sense, Samsung has TouchWiz) but none of them are updated and altered as often as those of the leading Chinese players, which takes us to the next point.
Frequent firmware updates
Most Chinese players we have seen, Xiaomi in particular, seem to be focused on rapidly updating the firmware on their devices. In essence, this means quashing bugs and adding features at regular intervals. This has two advantages – the user does not feel “outdated and excluded” and also the focus goes away from getting the latest version of Android and moves to a new version of the company’s own UI, which is always good for brand equity.
Using online channels
No, we are not massive fans of the “reserve your opportunity to get an invite to buy this phone” model, but we cannot argue with the speed at which some of these phones are being sold out online. No, they might not generate the total numbers that conventional offline retail would, but the very fact that they get people to log in and try to grab phones that sell out in hours and sometimes even seconds, tells you they are on to something.
Word of mouth marketing
They do not use conventional media as much as other brands do (although the likes of Gionee and Oppo do advertise significantly) but most Chinese brands seem to be able to generate significant buzz around thief products through sheer word of mouth. Be it carefully designed social marketing programmes, blogger meets or just interactions with key influencers, the Chinese seem to be a step ahead of older brands, who still tend to stick to conventional event based coverage.