Abid Hussain Barlaskar
Interviews

“Lockdown didn't really impact our engagement”: Anuj Sharma, Xiaomi India

While most brands are postponing new launches and promotions, Xiaomi is marching ahead at full pace. Xiaomi launched five products during the lockdown and is now entering the laptops category in India.

Despite the national lockdown, Xiaomi has been having a gala time. The ‘internet company’ has launched at least five products in less than a month and is launching its sixth new entry today. The new Mi Robot Vacuum-Mop P, Xiaomi’s alternative for a roomba, was launched on April 17 under its ‘Smart Homes’ category. This was followed by the launches of Xiaomi’s flagship smartphone Mi 10 5G, along with Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 and Mi Box 4K on May 8. Then, on May 26, the brand announced the launch of Redmi Earbuds S, a first under the Redmi sub-brand.

New Xiaomi Launches
New Xiaomi Launches

The company is now entering the laptop PC space in India, with the launch of Mi Notebook. Like the other Xiaomi launches in the recent past, this one, too, will be an online-only event, and will be streamed on Xiaomi’s social media profiles. Xiaomi’s products are sold via channels, like mi.com, Mi homes, Mi Studios, Mi Stores, Mi Commerce and Amazon.

Mi Box and Redmi Earbuds S
Mi Box and Redmi Earbuds S

While sales dipped due to a break in the supply chain, smartphone usage in India rose by 25-30 per cent during lockdown. To set its distribution right, Xiaomi launched Mi Commerce, the company’s O2O (offline to online) initiative to bring its offline outlets online. In the Mi Commerce model, consumers are connected to the nearest Xiaomi stores via GPS. Post ordering, the store owner facilitates delivery.

The company saw a setback in Q2, and expects the market to rebound in the coming months. Xiaomi will also proceed with its plan to expand its offline base of 3,000 exclusive stores to 5,000 by the end of the year. It also expects a spike in the share of e-commerce from the current 35-40 per cent of overall sales.

We spoke to Anuj Sharma, chief marketing officer, Xiaomi India, to delve further into the brand’s lockdown journey.

Edited excerpts.

Walk us through the new launches during lockdown. How were they executed? Did you prioritise certain products over others?

We were constantly monitoring the situation, and took a couple of hard decisions with the objective of launching the products once we were better placed to meet the consumer demand. The launches were planned in line with the easing of lockdown restrictions as per zone division. Online launches gave us more visibility, with more than a lakh ‘Mi Fans’ and consumers joining us for the Mi 10 launch vis-a-vis over 2,000 people attending the physical launch event.

We prioritised launching the Mi Robot Vacuum-Mop P understanding the need of the hour. This month, we also prioritised the launch of Mi Notebooks, which will be available in the country post June 11. Keeping customer demand in view, we unveiled the Redmi Note 9 Pro and Redmi Note 9 Pro Max, thereby offering a perfect amalgamation of design, cameras and performance to ‘Mi Fans’.

We launched Redmi Creator Academy, a series of virtual masterclasses, allowing our fans and consumers to learn new skills across various disciplines. We recently also launched the Redmi Earbuds S and sold 100K units in just a week. The imposed restrictions led us to revisit our launch timelines and re-align our go-to-market strategy as per the market development.

“We aim to demystify the cluttered laptop segment”

What is the TG for the new laptop series? What is the opportunity like, especially because the laptop segment has seen a ‘degrowth’, and existing players are looking at gaming, etc., for growth?

We started evaluating the laptop category back in 2019 after requests from ‘Mi Fans’... We observed the market booming, especially for notebook PCs. As per IDC, the ultra-slim notebooks category contributed to a 25.3 per cent share of the market, taking a Y-O-Y growth of 86.5 per cent.

Given the current situation due to COVID-19, work-from-home and learn-from-home is becoming the new normal, and we see this as the best opportunity. With Mi Notebook, we aim to disrupt the market with the best-in-class specs, premium experience and minimalist design for our consumers.

We are confident about making our space in this category. With the introduction of this category, we also aim to demystify the cluttered laptop segment. Our target audience are users aged between 16 and 35 years. The machines have been created keeping in mind power users, who want to drive productivity and have powerful machines for daily drivers.

With this, we are targeting those consumers who are looking for a perfect device for entertainment, education, as well as productivity. The notebook price and specifications are customised for the Indian market, as well.

The launch process starts way before the actual launch date. Seeded or unseeded organic chatter (earned media) starts months ahead, with topics like expectations, probable comparisons, leaks, etc. All of this peak with the launch. Was there a pressure to make the most of it?

Of course, there was pressure to make it work. The need of the hour for us was to keep our consumers engaged through an innovative launch. For example, our #NoStringsAttached campaign for Redmi Earbuds S.

The preheat videos of the campaign on social media spoke about the challenges with wired earphones. This was followed by rap video by Xiaomi employees, showcasing key selling points of the product. We were able to identify the consumer needs, and then come up with a format that connected well with the TG.

Smartphone brands usually have strong user communities, and offline fan engagement. With a lockdown in place, it was set to get affected. How was the brand dealing with it?

At an organic level, our engagements with fans, communities and consumers are on. Throughout the lockdown, we maintained engagement with ‘Mi Fans’, mobile users’ community, influencers, as well other partners.

Being a ‘social first’ company, we are constantly communicating digitally with our user base. The sudden shift due to the lockdown didn't really impact our engagement. We continued communicating across all our platforms, sharing latest updates on launches and services.

Further, we communicated continuously through Mi Community, our ultimate online playground where we interact with our fans. The regular offline fan meet model has been made virtual. There are no boundaries in a virtual fan meet, any number of people can join.

“Online launches reduced spends on mass media”

What were the key shifts in advertising and marketing strategies? Were there any key changes in the choice of mediums, allocation of marketing pie, etc.? Did you defer/postpone campaigns?

We brought our product launches online, thus reducing spends on mass media. All these launches and campaigns were already planned for when Lockdown 1.0 rolled in. Seeing that consumers have been anticipating their release, we didn't see the necessity to postpone any of our campaigns, or launches. We, instead, changed the context of our marketing strategy to make it more relatable.

Once the lockdown is completely lifted (and things return to normal, eventually), what will be your top 3 big priorities?

While the medium and way of marketing, especially launch events has, to a certain extent, changed, the priorities have not. We will keep exploring different ways and strategies of marketing, ensuring maximum malleability across different functions.

A key learning from this global situation has been around formulating unconventional campaigns. Our top three priorities will be physical fan meetups, optimum manufacturing and distribution of products, and introduction of more products.

What were the factors that led to the launch of Mi Commerce? And how were you dealing with distribution troubles?

During the second phase of the lockdown, we held a virtual meeting with 10,000-plus offline retail partners. We noticed that the demand for products was still there. Mi Commerce was launched to offer a shopping experience, while regulating crowds, maintaining social distancing, and ensuring the safety of the consumer and the retailer at Xiaomi stores. It is designed in a way that the retailer will be handling the logistics of the transaction.

Now with ‘Unlock 1.0’, multiple guidelines have opened up intra and interstate transport. So, we have been able to move the finished goods from our factories to our warehouses, and wherever required, from our warehouses to our partner warehouses, both online and offline.

We have also begun shipping products purchased on Mi.com. We are functioning at a lower capacity right now, but will keep ramping it up as and when the government sanctions. Hopefully, as we progress through Q3, our manufacturing should come back to normalcy, functioning at full capacity.

Are you already seeing the initial signs of recovery? And, how are the plans/projections for this year’s festive season looking (like)?

We are seeing initial signs of recovery, but the worry is still intact. Since the lockdown relaxations began in May, business has slowly, and steadily, started recovering. Availability in online channels has enabled those who need to replace a broken, or lost phone. We are expecting the market to bounce back in Q3 and Q4, and we estimate that attractive launches and offers will further propel demand during that time, along with the festive season.

The pandemic isn’t gone, but the situation is still unpredictable. We will have to see how the entire manpower availability plays out as well. We, as a brand, have taken relevant measures to ensure that all our offline stores are ‘Suraksha’ certified.

Our manufacturing facilities across smartphones, TVs, power banks, etc., have been ramping up as planned, while ensuring safety and hygiene, including but not limited to testing and mandatory quarantine for manpower moving across districts/states. We are working with local authorities, as well, to secure approvals for scaling up manpower and production to meet the growing demand, while ensuring social distancing on the factory floor, along with a host of safety and hygiene measures.