As performances go, it was a distinctly odd one. After a sabbatical of sorts, Micromax India’s co-founder, Rahul Sharma, took to social media to tell the world that the Micromax brand was coming back to the market with a new range of phones, called “In.”
Now, what do brands do when they make a comeback with a product? Well, in most cases, we have seen them talk of their comeback product, who it is targeted at, and what they expect it to achieve. Sharma, who is an excellent communicator and is seen by many as the first high profile CEO of an Indian tech company, instead chose to speak of his own humble roots, how he had borrowed Rs 3,00,000 (about USD 4000) from his father and then with his partners started Micromax. He then talked about how the brand had gone on to become the No.1 smartphone brand in the country and one of the top ten of the world. However, he then claimed that the brand was beaten back by Chinese brands and that when this happened, he had decided to step away from the business, deciding he had had enough.
However, when Indian and Chinese troops clashed a few months ago, he thought about it and inspired by the Indian Prime Minister’s call to the nation to be “self-reliant” (aatmanirbhar, in Hindi) and the requests of Indian consumers, he decided to bring Micromax back into the phone market. And the comeback vehicle for the brand would be devices under the brand name “In,” which stands for “India,” and that the brand would henceforth do everything for India.
That was it. We were told nothing about the device or what the brand was planning to do. And it is this that it is a little disconcerting at some level. For, the irony is that if there ever was an Indian brand that went international with a vengeance, it was Micromax. It was the brand that made a name for itself in other markets and used Hugh Jackman in a distinctly high-profile international ad campaign. To see a company with such a proud track record be so silent about its comeback product was very odd. Indeed, there was so much more talk of China and its adverse effect on Micromax and India that many have seen it as an attempt to leverage anti-China sentiment rather than talk of the brand’s own comeback.
In retrospect, this does represent a missed chance for Micromax. An opportunity where the new product could have been showcased to its target audience. Instead, what one saw was a performance that some cynics likened to a political campaign speech. The irony is that when Micromax was at the top of the market, it seldom ever tried to leverage its Indian descent. If anything, the brand tried to let its products do the talking, aided by a very aggressive and in your face marketing strategy that often got it attention – who can forget the “i (can afford this)phone” ad that poked fun at the mighty iPhone even while highlighting the Micromax A70. Micromax did not say that its product was Indian at any stage, but instead always did its best to highlight what it delivered to the consumer. It was a strategy that annoyed its rivals no end. Many pundits accused Micromax of just rebranding (oh the irony) Chinese phones, but for most of the consumers, the brand represented that most basic need – value for money.
Which is why it felt so odd to hear no reference at all to the product in Rahul Sharma’s comeback message. This is a person known to have phone parts scattered all over his desk. A product person. One of the few tech CEOs who was as capable of opening up a phone as giving a presentation to the media. It would have made sense for a person with no track record in products to have talked of his personal experience and leaned on the India-China dispute, but for someone who launched the first Indian phone with a Qualcomm flagship chip, it was decidedly strange. And it is also well nigh impossible that he knew nothing of the product on which his brand was going to ride back into the Indian market.
We can only hope that the Micromax co-founder’s future messaging would be more product-centric because make no mistake about it, that is really what the brand’s comeback is going to depend on. As a retailer told us “If the anti-China sentiment was as strong as everyone believes it is, we would have been back in 2011, with Nokia and Samsung at number one and two.” Of course, there is no rule against invoking patriotism to push one’s brand, but it would be of little use if not backed up by a strong product. After all, there are other Indian brands in the market and for all their efforts, consumers have not really flocked to them following the incidents with China at the border. As per our sources, the main reason for this is the perception of Indian brands not having the same quality of products as those offered by brands from other nations.
That indeed is where the real battle lies – on the product front. And Micromax has shown in the past that it is capable of matching the big names in this regard. After all, it did see off the likes of Nokia, Motorola, Sony, HTC, and LG, and it did so by relying on good old value for money rather than waving the flag and invoking sentimentality. When Micromax threw the A70 at the iPhone, it did not say “Indian brand” or “Foreign brand” at even one place but simply outlined how its product was better.
This is why we think while Rahul Sharma’s concern for the nation is to be applauded as is his decision to bring back India’s most famous smartphone brand into the market, we do wish he would talk a bit more about the product henceforth. Micromax does not need to beat China to become great. It just needs good old value for money products, of the sort that the consumer loved. Of course, it won’t be easy, but then it has the brand and the spokesperson to pull it off.
Welcome back, folks. And thanks for the emoting. Now can we get into product promoting?