“When on earth are they going to stop saying that they are the number one smartphone company in the country? It is getting to be a bit too much!”
So observed one of our colleagues in the media. And he is not alone when it comes to this sentiment. 2018 has for the most part seen Xiaomi go into overdrive stressing how it is now the leading smartphone company in one of the world’s largest smartphone markets, India. It has been infuriating at some level (our resident gossip, Tech Auntyji, was even moved to write about it) and at times, it has seemed as if the company is almost way too much celebration mode – with “No.1” being splattered on ads, press releases, billboards and yes, even t-shirts.
However, as the company goes into product launch overdrive – the past few weeks have seen televisions, phones, bags, headphones and weighing scales hit the Indian market – the repeated stress on being the new number one seems to be making some communication sense. Yes, it can grate a little as it is very self-congratulatory in nature and seems contradictory to the initially grounded approach followed by the company. But speak to people on the ground – and not the media – and you begin to understand the rationale behind the approach.
For, even though Xiaomi has statistically beaten Samsung in the race to sell the most smartphones in India in recent times, in public perception, the Korean brand still seems to be well ahead of Xiaomi. And it is not just Samsung, there remains a significant section of users that seem to still bank on the perceived brand value of older or “traditional” brands if you will – Motorola, Sony, LG, Nokia, and so on. “These brands – with the exception of Motorola – are not really strong in the budget smartphone segment, which is Xiaomi’s forte, so they do not come into contention. But move up the price ladder, and consumers start looking at them. There is a premium attached to them,” a friend in retail told us.
And it is this premium that we think Xiaomi is trying to get a slice off with its constant stress on being the number one smartphone brand in the country. For great quantities of sales do not always guarantee a perception of great quality. It was a lesson that Indian brands, in particular, have learned the hard way, with Micromax, Karbonn, Intel and others being saddled with a low-quality perception in spite of selling significant numbers. In rosy retrospect (and retrospective is always 2020 vision), Micromax perhaps missed a chance to talk more about being number one when they had, as per some reports, gone past Samsung in smartphone sales in India.
“The bigger product portfolio, the multiple launches, the multiple phones…Xiaomi is trying to give the same perception as Samsung and LG. Of being a big company and not just a small player who got lucky because of a low price,” our retailer friend told us. “It is more reassuring to the consumer. And in the long run, will also allow it to move up the price ladder. Look at it this way – someone who spends Rs 35,000 on a Mi TV and has a good experience will not feel so hesitant about spending the same amount on a slightly more expensive phone from the same company.” (Incidentally, the need to move up the price ladder is something we had highlighted in an earlier article)
It certainly throws a different perspective on Xiaomi’s constant reiteration of being number one and multiple product launches in different categories. It might be confusing and infuriating on the surface. And might even be seen as premature gloating and celebration by some cynics. But beneath it all seems to be a strategy to occupy the number one spot not just in the market. But in the mind of the consumer as well. And well, as I keep saying, no one quite communicates as Xiaomi does – believe Mi. Pun so intended.