Abid Hussain Barlaskar
Marketing

“Competition will come and go. They can do whatever they want”: Muralikrishnan B, Xiaomi India

India’s No. 1 smartphone and smart TV brand Xiaomi is navigating multiple crises in the Indian market, and its rivals are out to get a cut.

As part of its latest ‘Mi for India’ campaign, Xiaomi India has just announced a donation of 2,500 new smartphones for underprivileged children. The move is specifically aimed at those students who don’t have a smartphone in this COVID era trend of online classes. It also comes on the eve of the 74th Independence Day.

While Xiaomi's being a leader in the Indian smartphone market makes it a good fit for the initiative, it is also the brand’s latest major public move since the recent spell of the anti-China outrage in India. It was triggered by the clashes at the India-China border.

Xiaomi was among several Chinese brands that faced severe backlash and trolling on social media, with users calling for its ban and prohibition. A couple of key Xiaomi mobile apps figured in the list of apps banned by the Indian government, citing national security.

The smartphone category itself nearly halved in the last quarter, owing to the COVID-induced lockdowns, shutting down of factories and supply disruption. Xiaomi, however retained its leadership position.

The latest campaign is only an addition to the brand’s recent philanthropic activities. Apart from its support contribution during the COVID crisis, the brand also lent a helping hand during the Amphan cyclone in West Bengal.

The 'smartphone' initiative is being executed in partnership with Teach For India, an Indian non-profit organisation in the field of education.

In a conversation with afaqs!, Muralikrishnan B, chief operating officer, Mi India, says that as the real impact of the lockdown emerged, what really stood out was the way education had changed.

“Learning had become super difficult for children. They now need some piece of technology to get it done. Of the large number of kids Teach For India educates, over 30 per cent don’t have access to smartphones. There are many families who don’t have a smartphone, and even if they do, it’s limited to the parents. It was a meaningful problem to solve.”

Xiaomi has been building its position, along with its propositions, in a tech-hungry India. The country now accounts for about 30 per cent of Xiaomi’s global phone business and, as Muralikrishnan puts it, the South Asian market is “strategically very important”. The brand has just completed five years of its ‘Make in India’ initiative, its push for local manufacturing of products.

Apart from its key offering of updated technology at a competitive price point, he says that a lot of effort is being put into ensuring that products are designed to India’s requirements.

Muralikrishnan B
Muralikrishnan B

“All of our phones in India come with a splash-proof nano coating, considering the monsoons. We design and tweak our products for certain local conditions, say, India is a noisy country and Indians require higher volume levels for communication. Again, India has huge voltage fluctuations. We changed the design of the charger, considering the condition. In terms of software, a lot of the MI UI features are India-centric too,” Muralikrishnan elaborates.

"We design and tweak our products for local conditions"

The brand has been betting big on its offline retail presence. There’s the large retail experience store, called Mi Homes. Then, there’s Mi Preferred Partners, which are multi-brand outlets. Xiaomi has also introduced Mi Stores and Mi Studios, which are “shrinked out versions of Mi Homes” designed specifically for Tier-II cities.

The retail format exists only in India. This extended offline distribution under the Mi chain of command also came in handy to execute its offline to online distribution strategy during lockdown. The company’s 2,500-plus-strong exclusive retail network will come together to make the donation.

However, from a market leader’s position, Xiaomi as a brand is caught between its role as a source of affordable technology in a tech deficient market and then being faced with a strong negative consumer sentiment.

However, from a market leader’s position, Xiaomi as a brand is caught between its role as a source of affordable technology in a tech deficient market and then being faced with a strong negative consumer sentiment.

"The consumer is picky, but they appreciate effort. Our sales has not been impacted"

“We believe our proposition has resonated very well with the consumers. That is why, they have made us the market leader over the years in multiple segments. The consumer is picky, but they appreciate effort. Our sales has not been impacted,” he responds.

As Xiaomi was figuring out its strategy and the way forward in the middle of the crisis, several of its rivals, including Samsung, Nokia, among others, started making their moves. Some even chose to highlight their non-Chinese lineage. We asked Muralikrishnan about the pressure of defending the market leader’s turf.

"Competition will come and go. They can do whatever they want"

“Winning has to become a habit and it is important. After all, the effort when the consumer makes you win, is fulfilling. Regardless of what the situation is, as long as you continue to focus on the consumer and provide unmatched value, we will be on the right track. Competition will come and go. They can do whatever they want,” he signs off.