Xiaomi on going from cult smartphone brand to mainstream player

Xiaomi is not a brand many in the UK might have heard of, but the Chinese smartphone manufacturer made headlines in July for unseating Apple as the second-highest shipping smartphone brand globally, the first time in its history.

The smartphone market has grown as economies globally have opened up post-lockdown, with Xiaomi boasting the highest rate of growth during the second quarter, up 82% compared to the same period last year.

Founded in 2010, Xiaomi has operated differently to rivals such as Samsung and Apple. Known as the ‘Apple of China’, the brand has worked to razor-thin margins, pricing its models lower than the competition. Xiaomi brought its offering to Europe in 2017 and the UK a year later.

“What’s interesting is there were hardcore Xiaomi fans [before we launched], and they already have a perfect understanding of our business model and philosophy,” says Xiaomi head of marketing for Western Europe, Doris Pan.

“After we officially entered the market, they were really willing to collaborate with us.” 

The ‘Mi Community’ is made up of dedicated brand fans who discovered Xiaomi devices on ecommerce platforms, social media and YouTube, attracted by the fact these smartphones did not charge a premium price, but possessed all the essential features such as screen quality, speed and camera.

Pan highlights Xiaomi’s engagement with fans as a key differentiator for the brand.

“We respect the activities they’re [rivals] are doing, but we have a different marketing philosophy, because we originated from a different business model, and especially with the community base. This is a really important marketing pillar for us internally. We have a saying ‘Make friends with our users’,” Pan explains.

We are never afraid of being the first person to try [something] on social media and in marketing.

Doris Pan, Xiaomi

The Mi Community is not just a “marketing tactic” she stresses, as the brand listens to fan feedback to deliver products they want. Xiaomi also invites fans to its offices and stores for product previews before they are unveiled.

The business has relied heavily on ecommerce to sell smartphones since it was founded 11 years ago, which in turn has meant a reliance on digital marketing.

Pan notes Xiaomi’s target audience at the time were young, digitally-minded people, which encouraged the brand to add gaming platform Twitch and messaging app Telegram to its marketing mix.

But the brand has started aiming for a mainstream audience since focusing more on the premium end of the market, which requires more ‘traditional’ marketing in the smartphone space, including working closer with telecoms companies.

The brand currently has retail deals with Vodafone and Three, both of which are currently stocking Xiaomi’s latest 11T Pro smartphone line.

“We cover more price segmentation now and this means not only using ecommerce, which we are already really strong in. But if we want to tap into higher price segments we have to work with carriers and telecom operators,” explains Pan.

Push for awareness

The portfolio becoming more diversified has encouraged Xiaomi to experiment with out-of-home billboards and TV to tap into a different target market.

Pan admits the brand still has plenty to learn about the UK market and the “strategic focus” will be on growing Xiaomi to a similar position as in France, Spain and Italy where its marketing mix is more varied.

The brand’s main measures for success is awareness, consideration and loyalty. Xiaomi intended to boost all three by launching its own bricks-and-mortar store in the Westfield White City shopping centre in 2018.

Smartphone brand Honor on using marketing to fuel growth targets

The space is used as a meet and greet place for current fans, as well as to showcase the brand’s ecosystem of products to new consumers, ranging from earphones to electric scooters and toothbrushes. Pan claims the store opening has elevated Xiaomi’s awareness in the UK.

“If you have an offline presence definitely it will attract new consumers and gets them to know about you, and this will also attract interest from a wider target audience,” she explains.

Despite expanding its marketing mix Xiaomi did not forget its strength in digital, particularly under lockdown. Pan points to the brand linking livestreams with its ecommerce platforms to continue selling smartphones even when stores were forced to shutter.

“We are never afraid of being the first person to try [something] on social media and in marketing. We always to try be more innovative,” says Pan.

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