I had an interesting evening last week, attending a session that showcased Xiaomi's Mi4 smartphone . What makes me write about it is not so much the phone but the way it is being sold. The Chinese brand now has Google's former Android spokesperson and vice-president, Hugo Barra, as its international vice-president, and watching him at work was fun. (Disclosure: We have become Twitter pals).
Barra is an Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)-educated Brazilian, and hides his prestigious technological degree while merrily displaying his national pedigree. Based in China and focused on India, the 38-year-old Barra, who shares a birthday with Bill Gates, straddles three of the BRICS group (that includes Russia and South Africa)
Since the event was not exactly a launch but an occasion to announce a price drop for India in Xiaomi's flagship brand, there were geeky bloggers being used to evangelise the handset, which, apart from having a controversial "beautifying" app for faces, has a cool facility where the smartphone can control a drone.
Now, Xiaomi is called the "Apple of China" because of its tendency to mimic the smooth design and cool features of the American cult brand. But the event showed that at least in reaching out to people, it is quite different. In terms of both pricing and the way the product is introduced, Xiaomi's style of no-frills marketing and informal introduction is quite distinct from the Apple way. Or so it seems to me.
Xiaomi, which uses lean online sales to cut down marketing costs, now plans to set up "experience centres" in India where walk-in customers can learn about how its gizmos work. This kind of reaching out is different from high-profile launches followed by store sales characteristic of big brands.
Founded only in 2010, Xiaomi has annual revenues in excess of $12 billion (Rs. 75,000 crore). Perhaps it is a tribute to "inclusive" marketing as distinct from the "aspirational" glitz that is the hallmark of Apple.