Xiaomi's Hugo Barra: 'We don't spend pretty much any money buying advertising'

Xiaomi's Hugo Barra: 'We don't spend pretty much any money buying advertising'

Hugo Barra Mobile World Congress

Business Insider/Lara O'Reilly

Hugo Barra (right) speaking at Mobile World Congress 2015 in Barcelona.

When it comes to marketing and advertising, Xiaomi has taken an entirely different approach to its competitors. From a standing start, only launching 2010 and with very little advertising spend, the brand has grown to become the second biggest smartphone maker in China, and it's currently the most valuable startup in the world with a $45 billion valuation.

Speaking at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Xiaomi's vice president Hugo Barra explained some of the secrets to its success on the marketing front.

He said: "We have a brand that feels very different. It's kind of geeky, pretty geeky, it attracts the early adopters. It's also very fresh."

Its marketing strategy fits perfectly with that target market. Early adopters don't want the technology that's being blasted in their faces on TV and outdoor advertising all day every day. They want to be first. They want to be the ones to introduce their friends to the brand.

That's why Xiaomi has spent almost nothing on traditional advertising to date.

Barra said: "We don't spend pretty much any money buying media, maybe [just] a little money boosting a Facebook post."

But even that tiny digital media outlay is "experiments rather than practice," he added.

By comparison, in 2013 Apple spent $351 million on advertising in the US, while Samsung spent $363 million in the region, according to Kantar Media.

It is Xiaomi's huge fanatical fanbase that have helped it make its name. They call themselves "Mi-fans." They have fan clubs. They have their own dedicated "Mi-fan Day" on April 6, when Xiaomi holds special marketing campaigns and announces new products.

Barra said that when Xiaomi announced it was launching in India, the company had just 10,000 followers on Facebook. Yet 200,000 people showed up on its partner's website to buy the device - "We were mesmerized, how come 200,000 people even know who we are?" Barra added.

It goes to show that having a gargantuan ad spend isn't the only way to win in mobile. Your loyal fanbase can be your multi-million dollar marketing budget.