Abid Hussain Barlaskar
Points of View

Can OnePlus’ ‘premium’ image co-exist with its new ‘affordable’ identity?

OnePlus is about to launch its affordable variant, the OnePlus Nord. A similar move was attempted by its arch-rival Apple by launching iPhone SE in 2016.

From launching a sub $300 ‘flagship killer’ (OnePlus One) in 2014, to launching a $900 flagship (OnePlus 8 Pro) in 2020, OnePlus has had quite a journey in the smartphone market. A few weeks back, the company announced that it would be launching OnePlus Nord, an ‘affordable’ line of smartphones, in India and Europe on July 21.

The move is a major shift in OnePlus’ strategy. The brand had positioned itself in the ‘premium’ space over the last few years, even grabbing the top spot (in the segment) in the Indian smartphone market in 2019. In May 2019, OnePlus signed up Hollywood star Robert Downey Jr. to endorse its smartphone, replacing its previous brand ambassador and Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan.

Like Apple’s iPhone, OnePlus’ product portfolio has been lean, and has always targeted consumers at the top of the pyramid. Launching Nord separately as a brand offshoot could help OnePlus build a separate identity, without disrupting its core ‘premium’ image. The brand has also tweaked its logo, changing the colour from the original red to teal.

Can OnePlus’ ‘premium’ image co-exist with its new ‘affordable’ identity?

Apple, too, released an affordable iPhone in 2016. The first generation iPhone SE was launched then at a price (around Rs 42,000) much below that of a newly launched iPhone. The brand launched the second generation of the device this year. OnePlus Nord is reportedly priced below $500 (Rs 37,500).

With an affordable product line, OnePlus could be looking at grabbing share from players like Xiaomi, Oppo, realme, and Vivo. This could also help the brand move beyond its Tier I geographies and target audience.

However, this isn’t the first time that OnePlus is trying to tap into the mass market. After tasting success with OnePlus One and OnePlus 2, the brand launched OnePlus X, a cheaper variant with not-so-recent features in 2015.

The move backfired and the brand had to resort to its original ‘flagship killer’ proposition with OnePlus 3 in 2016. While Nord retains some flagship features, like camera and display, it also cuts down on others, like the processor.

Can OnePlus’s ‘premium’ image co-exist with its new ‘affordable’ identity?

Experts speak:

Faisal Kawoosa, founder and chief analyst, techARC

Apple also tried it a long time back, with its ‘C’ series, which had a plastic casing. OnePlus’ proposition, until now, has been ‘premiumness’, coupled with a great Android experience.

As a brand, OnePlus has a two key challenges here. One is, it has been talking about its premiumness, which will now get diluted with the affordable variant. And then, what remains is the experience, which is something that all the brands have been trying to create.

Faisal Kawoosa
Faisal Kawoosa

How will the brand now position itself in a way that it is all about experience across its price ranges and segments? What different will the existing OnePlus users, who bought into the premiumness, get in terms of experience that they will continue to stick around?

Unlike brands like Xiaomi, which go bottom-up of the consumer pyramid, OnePlus has established (itself) in the higher segment. Now when the brand promises the same experience to a lower segment, it has a great impact on consumers.

It is also about the ability of possessing the previously inaccessible brand. ‘What was so far accessible to the section of premium users is now accessible to me.’ This is one of the things that could work in the favour of OnePlus, in comparison to Xiaomi, etc.

It makes sense because the Rs 50,000-plus segment is dominated by the likes of Apple and Samsung. No one has been really able to break into that segment. You also need deeper pockets to be able to sustain there.

Also, the Rs 30,000 to Rs 50,000 segment is getting really competitive, with a lot of OEMs entering the space. OnePlus has already had a good share there, but it needs to find other growth opportunities.

Sanjay Tripathi, co-founder and CEO, Agilio Labs, and advisor, IAMAI

OnePlus is bringing in ‘a more affordable smartphone product line’ OnePlus Nord. The company aims to offer a premium and top-end experience on a budget with OnePlus Nord. A mid-priced phone with the right specifications, when sold to customers, could not only increase smartphone sales as it reaches a new segment, but also expand the brand’s reach. It is similar to the iPhone SE strategy.

Sanjay Tripathi
Sanjay Tripathi

It is a smart strategy for a big price conscious market to pull someone early into the brand fold, and expect them to upgrade to other higher end phones under the OnePlus umbrella. It looks like a long-term strategy.

OnePlus also has the ambition to build on its TV and other products range, like Xiaomi. So, more reach will help. But will it work in short or medium term? Only time will tell. By entering mid-range, you will also have new competitors.

Sandeep Budki, founder and editor, The Mobile Indian

OnePlus started out by saying that flagship products need not be costly, but later on, it started climbing the price ladder. The brand eventually crossed the Rs 40,000 and Rs 50,000 marks.

Sandeep Budki
Sandeep Budki

So, OnePlus consumers, who were previously getting a top-end phone at a budget price, could be looking at other options. It is possible that the increasing prices have affected the brand’s market share.

Also, the brand hasn’t really stayed true to the original idea of one device a year. It launches multiple variants at a time. When a certain high price threshold is crossed, why would a consumer not go for an iPhone, which is an aspirational brand?

Also, iPhones have been made accessible now, with the launch of the iPhone SE, which is not only feature rich, but also affordable. OnePlus’ talking about ‘going back to the roots’ clearly means its returning to the original promise of providing a feature rich device at an affordable price.

It is not OnePlus alone, but brands like Apple and Samsung, which sell in the Rs 50,000-plus price range, are also trying this. Like iPhone SE and Samsung’s S10 Lite. A lot of brands are trying to plug the Rs 20,000 to Rs 35,000 gap, which was earlier the stronghold of OnePlus.