The official statistics might not be out yet, but if general perceptions are anything to go by, the OnePlus 5 and OnePlus 5T are doing some very good business in India, while the two devices expected to have given it some competition in the Indian market, Xiaomi’s Mi Mix 2 and the Nokia 8 have had slightly more modest success. Both these devices have also had price cuts since their launch – the Mi Mix 2 came in at Rs. 37,999 And the Nokia 8 at Rs 36,999 but these are now available for Rs 32,999 and Rs 28,999, respectively.
On paper, both these devices had a lot going for them to take on OnePlus’ flagship killers. Both came with Snapdragon 835 processors, plenty of RAM and storage, decent (if not exceptional cameras), good design (exceptional in the case of the Mi Mix 2, with its ceramic back and 18:9 aspect ration display), good software (MIUI and stock Android) all the connectivity options you could have asked for. Both had prices that were in the vicinity of the OnePlus 5 and 5T. Most importantly, both came with good brand equity as well (Xiaomi is tops in the smartphone market in India and Nokia’s place in the Indian mindset is set in stone!).
And yet neither was able to evidently even lay siege to, leave alone overrun the OnePlus fortress.
The reasons for this are not very clear. Every person you ask inevitably offers his or her take on the situation. But the essence is this: ridiculous though it may seem to many, OnePlus has better brand equity than Nokia and Xiaomi.
On the surface, this might seem a daft notion. After all, OnePlus has fewer devices than these two companies in the market, and in terms of sheer numbers of sales is also well behind them by all accounts. But then there is one little point to be noted here: OnePlus’ equity lies in the premium segment whereas both Nokia and Xiaomi’s goodwill seems to begin in the lower echelons and end somewhere around the Rs 15,000 mark.
And that perhaps is the beauty of the strategy followed by OnePlus. Barring one significant aberration (the OnePlus X), it has, for the most part, stayed in the “budget flagship” segment, offering the latest flagship level processor and RAM combinations at relatively low prices, even though these prices have themselves been steadily going up. So for most consumers, according to the dealers we spoke to, the OnePlus is solidly identified with “flagship performance at an affordable price” while the perceptions about Nokia and Xiaomi are more scattered.
Ironically, in spite of starting out with perhaps the most affordable flagship level device of its time (the Mi 3), Xiaomi is increasingly being seen as a player in the low and mid segments of the smartphone market – the success of the Redmi Note 4 and Redmi 4 has been a double-edged sword.
Nokia, on the other hand, many feel, still has an image that is rooted in being “solid and reliable” rather than being a flagship level performer. This is perhaps the reason why the excellent value for money Lenovo Z2 Plus too came a relative cropper in the market in 2016-17 – the perception of the brand was too rooted in being a low price/ budget player, which undercut people’s perception about its ability to produce a high-quality product.
So what can these two worthies – and many others – do to rattle the OnePlus cage? Convention wisdom would say that they simply need to have comparative products at compelling prices, but judging by what we have seen so far, this is not going to be enough. OnePlus has got a lead in the premium perception stakes, thanks to a very tight, if seemingly limited, product portfolio. It might not get them the sort of overall numbers that its competitors have, but in that premium segment, it seems to have built a place for itself. In one of the most important areas of any market.