OnePlus: Striking a balance between premium & affordable

OnePlus is launching its second affordable smartphone OnePlus Nord on 21 July

NEW DELHI: Leading mobile brand OnePlus will be launching its new smartphone lineup in India 'OnePlus Nord' this week. The company also launched its flagship phone, OnePlus 8 Pro, a few months back. So, what's unique about the upcoming product? The company has hinted that the new smartphone will be affordable for price-conscious young buyers.

At present, the new handset will be launching only in India and Europe. This is the company's second attempt in the mid-range smartphone segment after the OnePlus X, which was launched in 2015 and discontinued in 2016 after a poor response from the market. That time, the company emphasised its commitment to premium products over affordable ones. Four years later, in a strategy shift, OnePlus will return to its low-cost roots, while expanding into new product categories. The decision to add a mid-range product in its kitty is to provide more offerings and to fill another need in the market.

How difficult it is for a premium brand like OnePlus to launch a budget device without hurting the brand value? Makani Creatives MD and co-founder Sameer Makani shares, “Offering products at a lower range can help increase the reach of the brand. The brand value can be fixed if the products are marketed with a focused approach of reaching two different sets of the audience with the pricing model. However, targeting the right bunch of audiences while offering products collectively provide a choice to the audience and this can impact the positioning of the brand. If the same experiences are applied across product lines, then it may hamper the premium product positioning.”

He also adds, “Many brands are working towards creating variations in their product line to touch-base audiences globally and locally and expand the TG. This can be done effectively with a clearly distinct marketing approach for the different product lines.”

Strikingly, the announcement has come at a time when there’s already a backlash against Chinese products and Indian companies such as Micromax and Lava also announced their return in the smartphone market.

Fulco founder and MD Sabyasachi Mitter says that the new strategy of OnePlus is nothing but a return to its roots. “The brand dominates the premium segment but it is not seen anymore in the mid-range segment and getting into that category again is a part of the long-term game. The idea is to convince consumers to buy a low-cost alternative to OnePlus 8 and to get them into the ecosystem. The announcement was made amidst the boycott Chinese brand movement so it can be a backup strategy to attract more customers into its community.”

Last year, the brand roped in highly popular and expensive Hollywood star Robert Downey as the brand ambassador. In the past, it has collaborated with Amitabh Bachchan also. So, while entering into an all-new segment, will it be the right move for the brand to opt for a fresh face?

TRA Research CEO N Chandramouli feels, “In my opinion, the brand ambassador and the brand must have overlapping ‘personalities’, such that they are synchronous in their walk and talk, and so it would be strange if OnePlus used the same ambassador for both. With a few budget phone failures as experience, OnePlus must now think of a radically different approach and take the risk of launching a sub-brand with a clear distinction and without OnePlus attached. Similarly, even the brand ambassador, if they choose to use one, should also be different and aligned to the budget brand.”

Mitter asserts, “With a strategic shift, I believe the brand will just have this line up without any brand ambassador in the initial phase and then, if needed, it might get a personality onboard but at the same time it can’t be Robert Downey Junior as that might create a huge disturbance in its brand-loving community.”

There has been a void in the mid-tier smartphone segments. Brands like Xiaomi, Vivo and RealMe dominate the budget segment whereas Apple, Samsung and OnePlus are generating good sales in the higher price bracket. However, Micromax and Lava recently announced that both the brands will focus on the mid-range and entry-level segments upon their return.

The original OnePlus One was a ground-breaking phone, selling for an approximate price range of $300 at a time when unlocked iPhones cost more than twice as much. Since then, the price factor of OnePlus phones has risen exponentially. A few years back, Apple also came up with the same strategy when it launched iPhone SE in 2016. OnePlus has always tried to copy what Apple does by launching one phone every year and giving a mid-cycle upgrade to previous products.

Meanwhile, the strategy predicts OnePlus eagerly wants to grab the market share of both segments and if it promises to offer similar experience across its product line up, how it is going to impact the premium products at large?

Chandramouli asserts, “Similar experiences across the premium and budget brand leave the premium customers feel cheated and the mistrust in the brand rises.”

Mitter says, “The brand will follow Apple’s brand strategy and make the new line up more like the SE segment for OnePlus ensuring that it doesn’t affect its core community of flagship owners, they can’t afford to disappoint them in any way with this massive change in strategy.”

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