Shreyas Kulkarni
Marketing

"Smartphones have become 'essential'; buyers can't wait": Nipun Marya, Vivo

The company’s director of brand strategy says that in the below 30k segment, Vivo is number one in the offline sector, whereas in the offline plus online mix, it is number two in India.

"I am optimistic and hopeful that the smartphone industry will bounce back sooner rather than later," says Nipun Marya, director of brand strategy, Vivo.

It's the kind of statement we can expect from Marya. During our conversation, he mentioned 'keeping the spirits high' twice, or thrice, and why shouldn't he? According to the India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), India is expected to have 829 million smartphone users by 2022.

But, the Coronavirus, and the subsequent lockdown to halt its spread, has dented a lot of these aspirations. Manufacturing has halted, there are distribution hassles, the economy has shrunk and, thus, (human) spirit has dropped.

The government has promoted 'Make in India' for a while and because of it, we have committed to invest Rs 7,500 crore to increase manufacturing in India...

India is right now in its fourth lockdown phase and the country is divided into Green, Orange and Red zones (the restrictions increase with the colour code). The government has announced that it will ease restrictions to give a boost to the economy, while also ensuring all precautionary norms are maintained.

Edited Excerpts:

Has the lockdown made the Indian consumer conservative in nature, or is he looking forward to spending his money after all these months?

It all comes down to the type of person you're looking at. There are two main factors that drive smartphone buying.

The first one is an 'I am changing my model' buyer. He is bored with his phone, but is in no hurry to buy a new model right away. The second one is a buyer who has to buy a new phone because his present model has conked off.

Both are sizeable chunks. The only difference is that the 'I have to buy a new phone' buyer won't wait because smartphones have become an 'essential' commodity during these times.

On the economic front, some people have faced salary cuts, and some haven't. So, which end of the economic spectrum you fall into, also affects your decision.

The government has permitted delivery of non-essential items across all zones. It will boost online smartphone sales. But, will it impact the sales of offline retailers?

Around 65 per cent of India's smartphone market is offline. The fact that so many people trust offline means, they will be able to speak to their nearest retailer and get a phone.

We have a 'Smart Retail Program', where people can ask about a Vivo phone via a text (or social media), and we will connect him to his nearest retailer. People will go for (something like) this, because it means that they don't have to step out of their homes.

What's your marketing strategy in a post-COVID world? Will you go for a discount-heavy strategy to lure potential buyers?

As far as discount-heavy marketing or other things are concerned, it's still a couple of months away.

If you're authentic and real, it will show in your actions, and even consumers will pick up those actions, even if you don't tell them. Brands don't really get built by advertising. They get built by authenticity.

If the consumer finds value in your product, then he will buy it. That value is a combination of features, experience, product, trust and imagery of the brand. One can only take action basis business realities and consumer requirements at that time.

The over 30k segment is considered premium, but over 60k is considered ultra-premium for the Indian consumer. As far as the over 30k segment is concerned, Vivo hasn't been too aggressive. In the below 30k segment, we've become number one in the offline sector, whereas in the offline plus online mix, we're number two in India. Going forward, we will launch phones in the premium segment.

Will you choose TV-led advertising because (TV) viewership has spiked after reruns of classic shows, or digital because its users are increasing daily?

The lockdown has slightly precipitated the rise of digital. I don't think anybody could have guessed how important OTTs were before the lockdown. People are watching at home, and the moment they return to work, they will still be watching during the commute.

Earlier, TV and digital shared a healthy relationship, and marketers had both in their strategy. And no one would say I am doing only one, and not the other. If your consumer is on both TV and digital, then yes, you would like to be on both. The same thing will continue, and I don't think consumers will only be on one platform.

Can you tell us about the distribution hassles you have faced?

One of the most striking issues brands across industries have faced is the delays in distribution, which has resulted in the unavailability of products at retail outlets. All the Vivo phones are made at the Greater Noida factory, which employs 10,000 people. Right now, the government norms state that only 30 per cent of the employees can go to, or work from, office.

How does Vivo view a smartphone from the lens of an executive working from home?

A lockdown without smartphones would have been hard. Smartphones have become a quintessential device that helps us get our work done, stay in touch with friends, access news... Our brand has always led to marketing innovation (pop-up camera), and we will continue to do so, as this trend of WFH continues.

Tell us about the 'Make in India' logo contest.

Last year, to celebrate its five years in India, Vivo launched a 'Make in India' logo contest.

The brief was that it (the logo) should depict the rich culture and heritage of India, and that it is a young country. The winning logo encompasses all these things. Whether it's through the Taj Mahal, or even the young boy jumping in the air showing how young and vibrant India is.

The announcement of the winner coincided with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's speech...

It was just by chance because this logo was supposed to appear on the V19 model that was to launch around the same time as the PM's speech. It was a happy coincidence.

The government has promoted 'Make in India' for a while and because of it, we have committed to invest Rs 7,500 crore to increase manufacturing in India...

What are your marketing learnings in 2020?

The biggest learning for us, as a brand, was how to keep the communication going internally because it's tough as an organisation. But, it's important to keep the morale of the employees high. So, regular communication was an important learning.

Second, as a company, we realise our responsibility to work for society at large. From our side, we wanted to do whatever little was in our capacity, and when we did that, we were surprised at how consumers noticed, and came out in appreciation. Consumers are as much invested in a brand as brands are in them. If you're authentic and real, it will show in your actions, and even consumers will pick up those actions, even if you don't tell them. Brands don't really get built by advertising. They get built by authenticity.

Last, we have realised that these are tough times and they shall pass. So, from tough times, everybody emerges stronger and wiser. It's about keeping the spirits high.