The smartphone industry is easily one of the most competitive in the modern market, if not, the most. Apple and Samsung continue to dominate with huge marketing budgets and ever increasing customer loyalty. Factor in concepts like Apple’s leasing programme and it’s now more difficult than ever for the little guy to make it. The most public examples are HTC, who have now stopped posting financial projections, and BlackBerry, a platform with a smaller user-base than Samsung Tizen.
One small manufacturer looking to shift this paradigm and carve out its place in the marketplace, is OnePlus, a Chinese manufacturer based on a team from Oppo. OnePlus have taken the approach of low-price, high feature, aiming at the savvy mid-range consumer.With almost no budget, they have deployed guerrilla tactics to grow a fanbase of early adopters and savvy consumers, not unlike Apple in the buzz they generate, even if at a smaller scale.
OnePlus clearly understand that going toe-to-toe with Apple and Samsung in a marketing war is futile, as many have tried and failed to reach the mass market (HTC for example, whose ads seem content to bounce between weird and bizarre). So OnePlus haven’t bothered. Through social media and an approach to sales which defies standard practice, OnePlus have managed to make headlines across the web. Coupled with a buying system that favours a select percentage, the short supply and high demand has gotten people talking with their famous ‘Invite-only’ approach.
What’s most interesting about OnePlus’s social media campaigns is that they’re entirely organic and driven towards invites; relying on user-generated content and stirring up demand to drive awareness among like-minded people. Example social campaigns have gone from destroying your own phone on YouTube in order to obtain a OnePlusOne invite, to their current campaign of a reflective Instagram-selfie for the OnePlusX.
OnePlus have a huge benefit to play with: they’re brand new. Less than two years old, they’re a company which can afford to take a few calculated risks. With no marketing budget, and no real profit for a company still in it’s early stages, their approach is much more engaging, much more fun and has a specific focus; get people to want an invite.
The biggest challenge for OnePlus, is that it might not be a drop in the ocean forever. Currently, they’re doing all the right things. Their stall at the Dublin Web Summit had people lining up for invites, even though they weren’t quite sure what exactly the phone was, or who OnePlus were. The invite-only list added to the intrigue and people started sharing their OnePlus selfies. It’s a clever strategy to generate awareness, and it’s paying off.
Unfortunately, when you’re no longer a drop in the ocean, Samsung and Apple begin to pay attention, shareholders begin to look for profit (which currently OnePlus reinvests into its devices) and you need to change your marketing approach. Mass market devices can’t be sold via invite-only and online shopping for smartphones is still relatively uncommon globally.
OnePlus is beginning to think about this and how they can keep up newsworthy and engaging campaigns, which create ‘Fear of Missing out’. There are signs of a shift, albeit a slow one. OnePlus is now opening its online store for general sale for one hour per week. It might not sound like much, but it’s a step towards mass purchase that the company needs to consider.
The strategy behind their approach towards moving into the mainstream is fairly clear; as the company grows, all content should encourage invites and create exclusivity. All the while, they can perfect their next generation of phones, which move closer to the real mid-range of the mass handset market. At what point the strategy moves from upstart to traditional will be the real test for OnePlus.