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Siddhant Narayan, Head of Marketing - India, OnePlusBI India
How brands are navigating the new normal
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How OnePlus pulled off the global launch of the OnePlus 8 series in the midst of a lockdown

How brands are navigating the new normal
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  • In our latest interview series, we talk to brands to understand how they are coping with the new normal and their strategies towards navigating these difficult times.
  • Siddhant Narayan, Head of Marketing - India, OnePlus tells us all that went into making sure that the launch was a success and how the experience taught them to think innovatively in an attempt to stay connected with its user base even during the lockdown.

Before the Coronavirus-induced lockdown hit the world, India had been one of the fastest growing smartphone markets in India. However, owing to supply chain disruption, the industry grew by 4% between January and March this year, according to CMR’s India mobile handset market review report for Q1 2020.

With India in its fourth phase of lockdown, things are slowly inching towards normalcy. With a few cities opening up, retailers are opening up shops. E-commerce players are also slowly restocking on products and starting to deliver, giving hope to smartphone players of things getting back on track soon.

However one brand that pulled off a rare feat was OnePlus when it launched its latest OnePlus 8 series of smartphones right in the middle of the lockdown. Everyone associated with the brand knows the fanfare involved with every launch. However, how were things different this time? We tried to find out from Siddhant Narayan, Head of Marketing - India, OnePlus who also told us how the current situation gave the brand an opportunity to think out of the box and further enhance its consumer engagement through owned channels and social media.

Excerpts:

Q) While the entire country is under lockdown, OnePlus has carried out something amazing, you have launched a phone. What were the challenges of putting everything together amidst a lockdown?

For the first-time ever, we launched our latest series through a global digital-only launch event. It brought together community members from across the world to witness the unveiling of the OnePlus 8 series and was a truly wholesome moment for us as a brand.

It involved working very closely with over 2,000 people spread across time-zones and ensuring we remained connected and in-sync with all the developments so we could work towards ensuring a seamless event. Moreover, it was crucial to be flexible and adapt to changing scenarios while striving for the best outcome. As Pete Lau had mentioned earlier, our launch date was pushed back three times out of concern for the current situation until we decided it was time to move forward with the hope for a better future.

Q) Phone launches usually happen with a lot of fanfare, especially for OnePlus that is so connected with its community. How was the launch of OnePlus 8 different? How did you create the hype around the launch?

Community engagement through offline activities and events has been central to our engagement efforts. However, given the current scenario, we were presented with an interesting opportunity to think differently and further enhance our engagement with users using owned channels like the OnePlus Forums and Red Cable Club as well as social media in order to create meaningful user experiences.

In the lead-up to the launch, we unveiled our Hypertaskers campaign to celebrate our community, a generation that seamlessly switches between a diverse range of roles, while attuned to performing tasks at incredible speed enabled by the cutting-edge technology on the OnePlus 8 Series. Once the launch happened, our community was yearning to get a hands-on experience of these flagship series. But due to the current circumstances, that would have not been possible. Therefore we created a digital initiative wherein our community received first-hand opportunity to unbox the phones virtually using the Instagram’s customized AR filters. This led to a highly positive brand engagement with our community and consumers at large, across India. We achieved nearly 98 million impressions online. We ran an online contest for the most creative AR unboxing ideas and received over 1000 entries within 2 weeks.

Q) Since you could not hold an event, did all your marketing monies go to Digital, not just for the launch but also in general?

OnePlus has predominantly been a digital-first brand and that has served as an advantage as we evolved through the years. The new norms have definitely led to a spike in content consumption online so there has been a natural lean towards digital platforms with more people spending their time on the web and on social media. However, we’re taking the time to understand and analyze the patterns in consumption and identify relevant channels such as search, social media, or email, in order to effectively communicate with our target audience.

Q) Apart from the launch, what are the things you have been communicating with your consumers about? As a marketer, what has your priority been in the past 1.5 months?

It has been our main priority to remain closely connected with our community during this time. We are constantly exploring different ways to curate meaningful content and experiences that our users will connect with as we all navigate this new normal.

For example, we recently launched OnePlus Domin8, a unique PUBG MOBILE tournament for our community that will also allow them to virtually interact with pro gamers and Indian cricketers and compete in a one-of-a-kind exhibition match series.

For our Red Cable Club (RCC) members, we have introduced ‘Summer of OnePlus’ which allows them access to special activities and first-hand access to sales announcements, exclusive updates, contests and much more.

Through the above-mentioned initiatives and even our seemingly simple campaigns like #IndoorsShotonOnePlus, we hope to reassure our users and let them know that we’re all in this together.

Q) The retail sector might still take a long time to see a lot of footfalls post-Covid. I know you have been pushing your offline presence but will the current situation now make you pause on your offline expansion and bring the focus back on your online presence?

For OnePlus, the focus has always been to craft world-class user experiences- be it through the online retail space or through offline store presence. This continues to hold paramount importance for us even in the current situation. Also, being a digital-first brand since inception, there has never really been a question of shifting between online or offline platforms. The intensification in the brand’s offline strategy is only to complement the existing online business model. We have expanded our retail footprint in order to create more offline touchpoints for users to physically engage with the brand and better understand the product. Our experience stores have not just morphed into a community hub but also a strong network where customers can share their positive experiences to assist prospective buyers. This has greatly enabled us to gain more visibility and trust among offline audiences.

Q) Due to the lockdown, will there be a limited number of phones available for the Indian market?

While there was an initial slowdown in smartphone manufacturing, we are expecting an uptick in momentum given the recent government directives hinting at relaxation for the manufacturing sector. With commercial functions regaining pace, we are hopeful of things getting back to normal in due course of time. Also in the new norm, smartphones have reinstated their importance as the focal point driving our virtually driven lives. So customer demand for smartphones might be delayed, but they will never be completely halted.

OnePlus users can look forward to accessing the latest OnePlus 8 Series from the end of this month onwards. The latest flagship will be available across channels.

Q) Why did you not consider launching the phone once the lockdown was lifted?

Community is at the core of everything OnePlus does. We are constantly listening to our user and fan base to innovate, engage and create meaningful experiences for them. We were cognizant of the growing anticipation around the OnePlus 8 Series. Keeping in mind this sentiment as well as the overall expectations from the brand, we went ahead with a global, online launch of the OnePlus 8 Series. This event was also a manifestation of our efforts to adapt to the new norm and stay relevant to the times, undeterred by current circumstances.

Q) What have your key learnings from this entire experience been? Has it helped make you more agile as a brand?

The current circumstances have only reinforced our focus on the community. It is their feedback and expectations which hold the most value for us as a global technology company. The new norm that we all are living by at present is heavily reliant on online services. People are invariably spending more time with their gadgets- be it their smartphones or smart TVs. The ways in which people connect, consume, create, and compute have undergone considerable changes. Therefore staying connected with consumers has never been more important than now.

OnePlus has used this time to strengthen its ties with the community and curate experiences aligned to their expectations. It has helped us stay attuned to their needs and continue with our pursuit of achieving excellence in technology.

Q) Will we be seeing any high decibel campaign around the new launch? How are you going to market it?

Our OnePlus 8 series received an immensely positive response globally including the US, Europe and China markets. In India, the initial assessment of the OnePlus 8 series is very positive, and we are expecting it to transition into robust sales in the coming months.

Irrespective of the format or channel, word-of-mouth continues to remain the crux of our overall marketing strategy. Over the years, we have earned the faith and trust of 5 million community members in India. The OnePlus community has always been actively promoting our flagship products by constantly sharing their positive experiences as well as feedback and on how our products have meaningfully changed their lives.


COVID-19IndiaCases: 906kDeaths: 23.7kRecovered: 571k
COVID-19WorldCases: 12.76MDeaths: 566kRecovered: 7.22M
COVID-19USACases: 3.22MDeaths: 134kRecovered: 1.03M