Abid Hussain Barlaskar

realme woos with 'tech lifestyle' gadgets; smartphone segment in re-boot mode?

Toothbrush, door locks, air purifiers, weighing scales, digital payments – brands like Xiaomi, realme and OnePlus offer all.

Why does a refrigerator need a speaker? And, why does it need a phone-like operating system? Even better, why does a smartphone brand need to sell a toothbrush?

These changes in the way we interact with the amenities around us (which we’ve been using in a rather traditional manner for years) are pretty telling about the way we live. In the brand marketing world, the buzzword is ‘tech lifestyle’. We are morphing from using technology to living technology.

Madhav Sheth, CEO of realme, recently tweeted that his company is no longer just a smartphone brand, but an ‘emerging tech-lifestyle brand’. The best example of this trend of repositioning among smartphone brands is probably Xiaomi.

realme woos with 'tech lifestyle' gadgets; smartphone segment in re-boot mode?

Xiaomi is a major smartphone player that decided to sell shoes and air purifiers, apart from just selling phones to tech-hungry consumers. Eventually, other brands and new entrants like realme and OnePlus boarded the lifestyle train. While Xiaomi already sells electric scooters, realme is about to introduce smart door locks and weighing scales. OnePlus is working on a digital payments platform.

Xiaomi e scooter
Xiaomi e scooter

We got in touch with the realme team to better understand the trend, and why it is important for the brand to widen the focus area. A brand spokesperson says that the consumers today seek products that help them stay connected, provide convenience and are aesthetically appealing.

“It is very important for a consumer-centric brand like realme to meet these expectations.”

It is apparent that at an age when one can keep an eye on one’s house while sipping coffee in a different continent, brands can’t just cater to one aspect of the tech network, or the ‘ecosystem’, if we may say so.

“The brand repositioning has helped us align ourselves with the changes and capture the attention of consumers. It has helped us highlight that we are listening. It also boosts visibility and top-of-mind recall for target groups, and helps stay ahead of the competition.”

The spokesperson mentions that the move helps the brand explore new consumer segments (lifestyle), beyond the usual smartphone customer. And, with this one swift twist, the brand gains access to a very wide range of product categories.

The brand won’t be selling Android refrigerators for now, but it won’t be a surprise if it unveils such a product in the near future.

The spokesperson mentions that the brand-building is the first and (a very) important stepping stone that helps establish a connection with the consumers and build trust over a period of time.

Ever since its launch in May 2018, realme has been building its smartphone business on the back of key factors, like design, price and features. The brand now plans to expand this equity to its non-smartphone products.

“Once the relations are strengthened between the brand and the consumers, it gives the confidence to aim at, and diversify into, various product segments. That way, the consumers are more receptive to buying the diverse products as well as voicing feedback. And, as a brand, we have a fair idea of what they would like to see in our product portfolio,” adds the spokesperson.

Business strategist and angel investor Lloyd Mathias considers the repositioning a move in the right direction, as smartphones have moved much beyond their core functionality of a communication device.

“Today, it is the focal point for a wide range of services and is an extension of personalities. Most people won’t even move within their own homes without having their smartphones...”

Mathias mentions that that the ‘tech lifestyle’ trend actually started quite a while ago. “Way back in the early 2000s, Motorola had transformed its phones with the branding of the MotoRAZR (design and style-based) the MotoROKR (the music phone) and the MotoSLVR (the slimmest phone).”

Lloyd Mathias
Lloyd Mathias

“In the current time, this shift will be an attempt to reflect on people’s increasing need for personalisation and customisation - that apps offer. Also, given the primacy that smartphones enjoy with consumers - with the new lifestyle positioning - they can now effectively move to adjacent spaces, like televisions, computers, and other home electronics,” he adds.

Karthik Nagendra, CEO of marketing consultancy ThoughtStarters (and author of ‘The Thought Leader Way - Leading business with thought leadership in an altered world’), says that, this year (especially with the pandemic) has brought along a lot of focus on digital. Apart from the content consumption trends, we will see a lot of extensions, like IOT and voice-based searches.

Karthik Nagendra
Karthik Nagendra

Nagendra explains that a smartphone brand’s repositioning and expanding makes better sense, since tech exposure and the usage today starts with a smartphone and then extends to other devices.

“That way, the brands end up becoming an overall ecosystem player. Apart from just smartphones, a brand like realme would be creating a brand aura, more like an experience and a lifestyle. Once they expand, the design language and the overall experience of the ecosystem will be a key differentiator for the brand,” Nagendra signs off.