It came into the Indian market slightly more than three years and today finds itself number two in the smartphone segment, behind Samsung. And this is in spite of a journey that has not been without its bumps and upsets, including the departure of one of its most iconic spokespersons. So what has made Xiaomi the force it is in India, where it started out as an online player but is now slowly and steadily making inroads into the offline segment as well?
A simple answer would be: great specced products at relatively affordable prices. But that is way too simplistic. If a low price tag blended with decent specs were all that mattered, a number of companies – many of whom have spent far more on conventional advertising and distribution channels – would have been where the Chinese brand is today.
No, the “affordable price” theory is only a small part of the Xiaomi success equation. A larger part of it is actually communication, a part that too many of its competitors take for granted. It is one thing to have a great product at a great price, quite another to communicate about it effectively. And Xiaomi has done the latter with telling effect time and again in India, in spite of sticking mainly to online channels. We think competitors would do well to learn these seven lessons in particular from the company:
1. Use social media effectively, frequently
Perhaps no tech company in India has leveraged social media (Facebook, Twitter and the like) as effectively as Xiaomi has. Unlike other companies that seem content with “trending on Twitter” for a certain period of time (generally during a launch), Xiaomi uses both Facebook and Twitter frequently and with telling effect. A number of announcements are made through the social networks, and the company makes it a point to respond frequently to comments and posts by readers about its products and services. While others focus on collecting large numbers of followers and ‘likes,’ Xiaomi focuses on encouraging interaction consistently. A lot of its social network posts are of a very informal nature – different team members dancing or having a meal or just sitting and preparing for work. As a consequence, the company is seen as being more approachable than many others, who seem to come to life only when a launch or an event nears.
2. Build and nurture a fan base
Unlike other companies that seem to keep their consumers at a distance, Xiaomi communicates with them frequently (using social networks to very good effect), and has thus been able to build up a formidable following. The near-fanatical devotion of the Mi Fan brigade seen at different events is a consequence of consistent and timely interaction. It is not unusual to see Manu Jain, Jai Mani or Donovan Sung (and Hugo Barra, in the past) responding to remarks by Mi users on Facebook and Twitter – you are unlikely to catch senior executives of other companies doing so with the same frequency. The result? Other brands have followers, Xiaomi has fans. It is a VERY significant difference – the difference between acquaintance and friendship.
3. Respond quickly to a crisis
Whenever Xiaomi has been confronted by a controversy – be it of phones catching fire, the Ericsson suit or the Air Force memo – it has reacted with incredible speed. “No comment” is not something we hear from the Chinese company, which has generally been quick in its responses. And there has always been a positive air about the responses too, rather than the blame game that is played by other brands. Country head, Manu Jain, deserves a lot of credit for giving the company a very positive spin – the man is unflappable and always brimming with good cheer, without ever seeming frivolous.
4. Prepare heavily for events…and deliver!
It does not use conventional advertising as much as its rivals, but Xiaomi certainly goes the extra mile when it comes to its launches and other events. The result: sleeker events in which fewer things go wrong as compared to launches from most other tech companies, where executives read out presentations to the audience and often forget the script. Xiaomi clearly takes its events very seriously indeed, taking them to the level of theatre. It is about getting the message out. And the company has been doing that with lethal efficiency, notwithstanding the departure of the talismanic Hugo Barra.
5. Compare yourself with your rivals…all the time
Prior to Xiaomi’s arrival in India, most companies did compare their products with similar ones from their rivals, but for the most part, they stuck to targeting high-profile ones – the iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy S range were the most common bull’s eyes. However, Xiaomi has generally made it a point to compare its product with a much wider range of competitors, and does not do so scornfully, but by quoting numbers – the spreadsheet with specs and prices of competing products has now become a staple of Xiaomi’s presentations. That one slide is perhaps the most photographed and reproduced of all and has played a key role in Xiaomi’s high-quality product perception – critical when you think that most people associate a low price with low quality as well. Interestingly, many Xiaomi spokespersons are very respectful of the competition. Hugo Barra professed his admiration of the iPhone, and Manu Jain keeps insisting that the company has much to learn from its competitors. This humility and respect (which some might claim is fake or put on) actually make many Xiaomi spokespersons appear more “fair” and “open minded” than some of their competitors that tend to ceaselessly criticise and poke fun at other brands.
6. Get visible, accessible spokespersons
Be it Hugo Barra in the past, Manu Jain or Jai Mani, Xiaomi’s spokespersons in India, have been both accessible and very visible. Interview requests are accepted more often than rejected, and the rejections are seldom summary. The company’s spokespersons seem to adhere to the “over-communicate rather than be silent” philosophy. The accusation of being publicity hungry has been leveled at them, but the fact is that the constant media exposure has given the company not only some visible spokespersons but has also kept it in the public eye. The fact that all their spokespersons adhere to a broad company line, without ever appearing straitjacketed by “policy,” only helps the company’s cause.
7. Stay in touch – with your fans and the media
I have been writing about technology since 1999 and have seen my share of company executives and spokespersons. And very few of them have tried to keep in touch with me the way in which Xiaomi’s have. Unlike most other tech companies that seem to discover the existence of the media and their support base only when they have something to announce, Xiaomi seems to believe the communication channels humming, even when there is nothing formal to announce. There are fan meet ups, and it is not unusual for a Xiaomi executive to look up a fan or a media person when in town for an informal cup of coffee where technology and the company are discussed as much as are cricket, films, food and just about any other shared point of interest. There is indeed a genuine air of informality about the company – I have yet to see a Xiaomi executive in a suit at a media or fan interaction. Former Googler, Jai Mani, is often seen sitting on the floor, working on a computer, even as he talks with bloggers, and Manu Jain himself spends a lot of time chatting with Mi Fans. The result is not just a fanatical fan following, but also very good relations with the media.