Here is what smartphone brands must do in 2020

As the year 2020 sets in, here is what some of the popular Smartphone brands must resolve for one of the critical years for the industry in India.

The year 2020, will sell 165 million smartphones, up 13% from 2019. However, the shipments will not see similar growth as brands will attempt to clear the inventories piled up after 3Q’19 in which some brands got completely wrong with the sales expectations.

While brands will continue in 2020 as well to jig their product and channel strategy and try to find out sweet spots that they should focus around, here is one big thing that each one of them needs to address.

Xiaomi: The brand has risen like none in the past 5 years or so. In this short span, 1 out of every 4 smartphones sold in India comes from Xiaomi and it tops the leaderboard as the year 2019 comes to an end. However, despite this success, the brand still has not been able to earn the image of an enduring brand.

Talking randomly to Xiaomi Smartphone users over these years and taking their feedback about the product, the general observation is that in 6 to 9 months, the Smartphone does start significantly losing on its performance. Common complaints include the phone getting slow and also hangs during operations. In look and feel, the Smartphone also appears to age faster than others.

Xiaomi needs to work on this perception of its users who range from energetic gen Z to experienced millennials. As going forward, the users are going to hold their Smartphones for longer periods, the brand has to ensure that they get the same experience throughout the tenure. This could also make the brand successfully mark an entry in the mid to premium segment, especially in the price band of Rs 15,000 to Rs 50,000.

Samsung: The brand tried to fill in the gaps in 2018 and 2019. Significant among them was strengthening the premium segment portfolio and launching a series for the online channel. However, all these critical implementations have not yielded success beyond a point.

Samsung is a mass brand that has Smartphones for all segments. But somewhere one does observe it not being able to manage all the segments with equal attention. In 2019, the brand appeared confused about what it wanted to achieve. With A series it wanted to break into the premium segment, and at the same time with the M series, it wanted to sell online. Amidst this, it also wanted to evangelize the Luxe segment with Note 10/10+ and Galaxy Fold launches.

For a brand like Samsung, it's absolutely sensible to focus on all the segments, but somewhere in the game it is losing connection with the massy (volume) segments and aligning more towards value proposition. However, it has to realize that it will be a very slow journey for India to mature to the level where the volumes will align with the value markets which means it risks losing the installed base.

Samsung has to overcome brand ‘fatigue’ and re-energize the buyers to explore it. It has to be seen as an aggressive brand, be humble in connect with the market, and shed off its brand ‘arrogance’. It may be absolutely right as per the policy of the brand not to bleed in marketing, or go for crazy marketing, but as they say, “Do in Rome what Romans do.” Else it could bleed somewhere else which could be more damaging.

Vivo: There is a lot to cheer for the brand in its 5th year of presence in India. In 2019, the brand went up the ladder and its innovations were recognized by consumers. It also shifted its orientation from a traditionally offline brand to an omnichannel brand as well.

Vivo is, however, undergoing a paradox. While its sales and market stature are growing, it still isn’t a brand close to the hearts of consumers. No doubt, it endorses games like cricket and kabaddi, for which Indians are emotionally bonded and builds a strong brand recall and recognition.

There is still a lot to be done by the brand to have strong emotional equity among users who could feel proud in using Vivo Smartphones. Leave asides, brands like Xiaomi, OnePlus, and Realme, which enjoy strong emotional equity among their users, even OPPO, its sister brand enjoys stronger equity among its users.

Smartphones have commoditized and unless brands are able to create emotional equity among their users, they are not going to see sustainable growth in a highly competitive market like India. Apple has been the trendsetter and still continues to be the benchmark for others to follow.

Realme: One of the most successful brands in 2019 has been Realme. The dividends of foraying in the bastion of the market leader, Xiaomi are paying off for Realme.

The brand has also been able to earn emotional equity among users.
It's time for Realme to work on becoming a real brand and stop the Cut, Copy, Paste approach. Indeed, the attempt of this brand has been to create a substitute for Xiaomi, but that does not mean it has to be a carbon copy of the brand and do exactly what the brand does.

For instance, the recent foraying in the financial services following Xiaomi. In 2020, Realme must attempt to evolve as a distinct brand on its own values and philosophy, as well as the technology elements. Leveraging on Color OS, VooC, and other technologies to specifically get into the segment mirroring Xiaomi might not always work. Start building your own ‘real’ stack and show the world the ‘Realme’ in 2020. Show up something original which isn’t there to follow the leader.

OPPO: OPPO also tried to overcome some of its weaknesses in 2019. Prominent among them being online channel presence, strengthening portfolio in the premium segment, etc. The brand also was able to successfully showcase its technology capabilities including software. Be it enhancements in Color OS or the fast charging VooC technology, OPPO has started contributing to the overall Smartphone ecosystem.

Unfortunately, despite almost equally focusing on technology, marketing, and other essential ingredients, OPPO has not been able to gain proportionately. OPPO, like many technology brands, not just in the Smartphone periphery, is not able to manage between evangelizing about the future and skimming the present opportunity.

Many technology companies while attempting to showcase their technology supremacy and maturity get into the habit of evangelizing the technology where it detaches itself from the present consumers. The consumers do recognize its roadmap and future view of technology but do not select it for the present opportunities. OPPO needs to strike a balance between the two.

OnePlus: It is undoubtedly a trendsetter brand that created a new segment and made it such a success that every brand has now started focusing on it. The brand has been highlighting its recognition among tech-savvy users, which is fairly correct. However, as the opportunities with Smartphones are flattening, it also started attempting other adjacencies like Smart TV.

The Smart TV story of OnePlus has not been able to pick up at all. It is a failure for the brand which has been able to create an aura of its own, charge premium from users and make competition think. OnePlus has not been able to convert all this beyond Smartphones.

The brand has also started evolving as a brand beyond hardware where it has already showcased its plans of OnePlus Pay and OnePlus Cloud. However, looking at the user profile and the abundant availability of such services to users, OnePlus may not be able to remarkably show up something innovative and succeed.

OnePlus is a brand preferred by students, professionals among others who have or are just starting their career. The brand which has been a frontrunner of innovation should look at purposeful innovations which go well with the image of the brand and are not seen adding to the crowd. One of the definite services that OnePlus could explore is career progression for its users.

OnePlus users are among the ones who are working and aspire to have their careers in data science, deep tech, and other such opportunities where continuous learning and certification are required. OnePlus could take a niche within the overall e-learning space for its users to advance their career progression. This should definitely be one of its service areas for 2020.

Nokia: Despite maddening competition around, Nokia has been able to hold its feet onto the ground. It’s the only brand that is attempting to sell on logical imperatives of a Smartphone than just creating an emotional hype. This is not an easy route and needs the patience to build on.

Nokia has to consider itself a niche player not fighting against the mass brands. This will not change things for the brand but it will have contentment in what it achieves. It has to understand it's not in the race with Xiaomi, Realme, OPPO, Vivo, and other such brands.

Nokia has come up with a disruptive proposition but will take time to convince the market of what it stands for. Security is paramount to everyone. But it’s not acted upon proactively. Users have some idea about the vulnerabilities that the present Smartphones and the ecosystem comes around has. But, unless they see these impacting them, it's not going to make a difference.

Nokia has to anchor this education and awareness and start convincing a greater number of users why they should believe in what the brand stands for.

Lenovo-Motorola: This brand though focusing more on profitability and did start off well in the beginning of 2019, had the best of two to synergize. It had the strong brand equity of Motorola and the financial and other strengths of Lenovo which could have been leveraged to the best.

It’s the only brand after Apple, which has a Laptop, Tablet as well as a Smartphone to offer which could very well be combined to give a ubiquitous experience. However, somehow it has not seen the market like this and never focused on something to work on.

The company has to clearly and distinctively position both brands. In fact, it should perhaps pursue only one, which could be Motorola, and end Lenovo as a Smartphone brand in 2020. With Motorola as a single identity, the brand should focus on the mid-tier offering a pure stock android experience to the segment which is predominantly ruled by UI driven brands.

Smartphone brands by now have enough of insights about their users and know whom they are catering to. There is no doubt that these brands have to move beyond hardware within Smartphones and at the same time start building up in the adjacencies.

In the year 2020, brands have to be bold enough in deciding what not to focus on rather than what else to try. This may decrease their zone of influence and confine their focus. But that would give them precision in their strategies and operations. The brands need not be after everything, rather identify their real spaces and connect deep within these spaces with the users.

On this note, Santa wishes all Smartphone brands a Happy Christmas and a wonderful year 2020!

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