Vocal For Local – Indian Smartphone Brands, Are You Ready?

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    Guest column by  Ajay Sharma

     

     

    The survey results are out. The right time is around the corner, only if the cards played are alright.

    Way back in February 2020, or for that matter early March, #CoronaVirus was just a local issue for most. No one anticipated the extent and the speed with which it would engulf the globe, impacting the lives and livelihood of people.

    The Indian smartphone industry too had to bear, rather still is bearing the hit. The impact of Corona on the smartphone industry became the most talked and written about the subject by everyone – be it the industry veterans, analysts, research agencies, or brand CXOs. Opinions on the subject were and still are being shared through articles, blogs, and webinars. Everyone has something to say on the subject.

    I have also been sharing my thoughts on it through my blogs and YouTube videos. But did anyone try to get feedback from the key stakeholders – company employees, distributors, retailers, and ISDs? No. All of us have been taking a top-down approach, sharing what we think will happen during and post #COVID-19. The reason for conducting this survey was to understand what do these key stakeholders think about the smartphone industry post-COVID-19.

    I was pleasantly surprised by the participation from all and would like to thank everybody who took out time to complete the survey.

    Now, over to the findings: 1. We have been seeing various reports on an Indian customer not being loyal to any brand. Well, the results are contradictory! Brand loyalty appears right at the top. Brand visibility which is normally rated as the most important came in second.

    1. Relationship with the retailers, which according to me gets the least attention, got highlighted as particularly important post-COVID-19. As highlighted in my blog and vlog earlier, retailers have been paying little attention to their customers and relying a lot on their teams and ISDs. This has to change NOW (offline to understand), a fact highlighted by me earlier as well.
    2. The survey shows a reducing role for ISDs which surprisingly is in-line with my forecast on the key changes post COVID-19, I’d talked about in one of my earlier vlogs. Astonishing!

    1. A low price: specification ratio is what Indians love and the survey findings confirm that too.
    2. The fact that Indians want to have the latest technology is also endorsed by the survey findings, with the parameter being no. 2 for a customer while taking a decision to buy a new smartphone model.
    3. ISDs’ selling skills are last. Once again something I’d mentioned in one of my previous blogs.

    • Another point I’d made in one YouTube video where I talked about the redundancy of unnecessary hardware upgrades going forward, also stands supported by the majority of respondents who too believe, will lose relevance post-COVID-19 as they don’t really contribute much. I think the customers are getting tired of the war of RAM, No. of Cameras, Camera Mega Pixels, etc. They want ‘real’ differentiators now.
    • Face recognition, with masks becoming the norm for some time at least, is seen as losing relevance.
    • Fingerprint sensors still hold some relevance but that can change if gloves also become a basic requirement like masks.
    • Voice recognition as a security parameter is the next big thing in smartphone operations.

    1. The virus getting transferred quickly from surfaces brings up the importance of accessories to sanitize devices. Brands should see a big potential here.
    2. Contactless deliveries will be a strong motivation for customers to opt for buying smartphones online. Offline has to find ways to address this issue.

    1. The Rs.10k-20k segment is seen as the major segment for growth this year followed by the Rs.5k-10k segment. This aligns well with what most research agencies have been saying. If I was asked for a more narrow range in this, I would say the mid-point of the two which is Rs. 7.5-15k.

    1. With online gaining, a multi-channel presence is what we are looking at. Non-exclusive online platforms, online channels of offline partners (I believe CAIT and AIMRA are working on this one already), sales through exclusive brand portals, and stores are also seen as important which takes us to the requirement of a multi-channel strategy. It cannot be simply online or offline as we have known for years.

    1. There has been a lot of debate around whether Indian brands can make a comeback in smartphones. The results show a 50:50 possibility of them making a comeback. There are two key things here. If the Indian brands can switch the neutral respondents in their favor, they have close to a 70% chance to succeed. Add to this the honorable PM’s speech highlighting “#VocalForLocal” and the chances of a comeback become reasonably strong.

    1. However as seen in the survey, it is easier said than done. The survey suggests the way forward for Indian brands:

    Quality – The Indian smartphone brands have to keep their prima focus as quality. This has to be basic hygiene.

    Brand Visibility – It’s time to up the game. There has been no effort by Indian brands on this front. Actually they have gone on a backfoot. It seems they have just given up and do not want to spend any money from what they have earned till now.

    Invest In R&D – My suggestion would be not to compete on hardware, but rather put efforts on design, quality, software, etc.

    Revamp Their Service – The customer experience on this front has been really pathetic till now.

    Be Ethical – Offer a great experience to the customer. Be it distributors or retailers or customers. This is currently missing.

    Pitch the ‘Desh Bhakti’/ ‘Patriotic’ feeling. I can already see a couple of Indian brands pushing this feeling post the address by our PM.

    In simple terms if the Indian smartphone brands want to make a reasonable comeback and not be fence-sitters they have to reboot and that too fast. Remember – Out of sight is out of mind and they have been out of sight for quite some time now.

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