Chinese brands are becoming more global in nature: Vikas Agarwal, GM, OnePlus India

Vikas Agarwal, General Manager of OnePlus India, discusses about their unique marketing strategies and how Chinese brands are competing with global smartphone players

e4m by Dolly Mahayan
Updated: Aug 8, 2017 7:58 AM

OnePlus, a Chinese phone manufacturing company, was founded only in 2013 but it is one of the most popular brands in India today. In a chat with exchange4media, Vikas Agarwal, General Manager, OnePlus India, tells us how the smartphone market of India is different from China, their strategy behind launching one phone every year and how they deal with all the tough competition from global giants Apple and Samsung. Excerpts:

How is the smartphone market in India different from China?

It is not fair to compare the Indian market with China because both are comparatively at different stages of evolution. If you look at global stages of the smartphone market, US is a market where mobile penetration is nearly 100% and primarily dominated by premium brand such as Apple and Samsung. However, the China market is maturing into a developed world where they have a really high mobile penetration, and it will take a few years for them to reach where India is. 

Smartphones have almost become a commodity in China and people look their phones as an extension of themselves. People are upgrading from local brands to more global brand like Apple and the Chinese brands are becoming more global in nature as these local Chinese brands are competing with the global smartphone market.  The Indian market seems to have both Indian and global brands like Samsung and Apple. Today India is a very cost conscious market where the average spend seems far lower than the Chinese and the global market but overtime we feel the market will start maturing and the dynamics will eventually change as well

Could you tell us something about OnePlus star community?

The OnePlus star community is a concept we thought of sometime back when we realised a lot of celebrities are also using OnePlus and we thought this to be an interesting trend because we are like a start-up community. So, we thought of highlighting these celebrities among our own community. These celebrities are highly influential in their own domain. So we started the community with Amitabh Bachchan who is one of the biggest celebrities in the country today. Later we highlighted other noted celebrities like Sania Mirza and designer Sabyasachi, making a total of 10 such influencers who are actually OnePlus users and we showcase it on our digital channels and create highly engaging and exciting content on social media channels.

Post the launch of the OnePlus 5, we again highlighted a series on digital and social media influencers and we ran campaigns around unboxing their new OnePlus 5 device. So, the whole idea here was to highlight the product and to create some sort of word-of-mouth marketing because all of these influencers have a very large fan following. A transparent and open communication is what we like. Secondly these people have huge following on social media channels. As a brand we take digital communication very seriously and we look at different ways of creating some sort of distinctive experience for our community. So then the content of these people helps us in mapping the social media engagement and virality around this content.

One Plus always believed in word-of-mouth publicity but in March you got Amitabh Bachchan as your brand ambassador for India. This will ultimately lead to an increase in cost so why this change in strategy?

Initially I would say that this campaign was also word of mouth. If you see the core message of this campaign was: which is the best rated smartphone in India? We noted that One Plus 3T had the highest rating on Amazon which is a testament of how satisfied One Plus users were. We took that as a core of the campaign and then we decided to communicate to our users about one of the core achievements that we have accomplished on Amazon and we thought outside the One Plus community, that this could be the key message and that we can create a campaign around this. Hence, we created an integrated campaign which we promoted on TV, out of home, print and digital channels and there was a pick of the draw component wherein one of the users actually won Rs 1 crore. To make sure that the content reaches out to maximum users we got Amitabh Bachchan also on board.

I would say there are certain intervening costs, we used to rely totally on social media. We don’t go overboard with multiple campaigns in short bursts, essentially we look at fewer campaigns with a bigger impact. So we have done only two campaigns this year one was with Amitabh Bachchan and another was around the One Plus 5 launch. The budget we are allocating for these campaigns is really a reflection of how the business has grown. We have a certain percentage allocation for marketing and we therefore invest that money for selected campaigns.

You seem to be following the footsteps of Apple by launching one phone every year. Any reason behind it?

These are two different things. We both operate in the same industry and that makes all other brands our competition. The smartphone segment is dominated by Samsung and Apple and makes them our direct competitors. But launching one smartphone a year is our business strategy whereas the other brands really focus on the premium segment but it takes a lot of research and efforts to actually create a cutting edge competitive product in this segment. So you see one year as a launch period because it’s not easy to create a highly competitive product every year. And we really don’t want to compromise on our product hence we focus all our resources on one launch every year.

Do you believe Apple is one of the main competitors? How do you convince the consumer you are better than them?

We don’t really look outward to who our competition is - we are our biggest competitor. Probably we are building our business differently than other brands. Our main focus is to build our business model and where we spend our resources for eg: unlike other brands our products are exclusively available online.  And even in the online channels we are only working with Amazon. It is a very unique approach to the market and hence our challenges are different than those of other brands. Most of the other brands do enjoy a huge mass awareness and that is a challenge we are facing - to make sure everyone knows what One Plus is and also be aware of the product we are offering. So our basic promise is a high-quality Android smartphone and that is what we want to be known for.

What are your plans for India?

One Plus is currently present in over 35 countries and we are based in US, Europe, India, China and out of all these markets India is the topmost priority and the reason for this is that India as a market is still not mature, the premium segment is still very small and in a very short time One Plus has become a dominating player in this segment and that shows how big the potential is in India. Unlike other regions here we actually have a potential and looking at the demography and the tax saving nature of the audience the acceptance of our product is much higher than any other region. And these are some of the reasons that India is really a market to focus on. We have big investment through partnerships and influencer campaigns. In fact we did a OnePlus 5 TVC during the India-Pakistan World Cup match. That was a big campaign which gave us visibility across almost the entire nation. The focus for us is really on building awareness.                                                                                                                                          

You recently launched OnePlus 5. How’s the response from market?

OnePlus is the best ever phone you will get… the response we got even before the launch was phenomenal. We got over 1 million registrations on Amazon, which is a record and when we launched, it was top selling product in the launch week on the site. This is great for us because we are operating in a niche segment and are competing with brands at a much lower price that too on a platform which is highly competitive. In such a competitive environment, becoming the highest selling smartphone during the launch is an achievement for us that shows how popular the OnePlus 5 is in India.


What are your future plans?

From a company perspective, 2017 has been a landmark year. We have done a number of things starting with the launch of the Experience Store in Bangalore which is the first store in the world. We also have offline experience centre in Delhi and we are looking at expanding our offline presence. We now have close to 10 centres. We have almost 100% in-house solutions for OnePlus 5 in India. Local manufacturing has become a big focus for us. Now we are looking to create more engaging properties to engage with our community.

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