Vikas Agarwal Curated

General Manager - India || OnePlus

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This profile has been added by users(CURATED) : Users who follow Vikas Agarwal have come together to curate all possible video, text and audio interview to showcase Vikas Agarwal's journey, experiences, achievements, advice, opinion in one place to inspire upcoming operations managerss. All content is sourced via different platforms and have been given due credit.

  • The smartphone segment has so many similar brands. How do you manage your growth?

    We're not going to grow because we'll take market share from others. We don't believe in under-cutting the price, launching a new model just to enter a new price segment, getting more promoters to push the product, or by doing TV and print ads on a daily basis - technically, I can do that whenever I want; it's just a matter of spending money. Those are easy ways to grow the business. We've not done any title sponsorships of TV shows, cricket shows... the big things smartphone companies do. We just don't find them attractive enough. These are low hanging fruits; you just need to bid and pay money. We don't want to waste resources on this, like our competition. We're in the business of expanding the premium pie. And it's an under-penetrated market. So we don't worry about competition.

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  • What's the hard sell - extending equity from the smartphone to the TV segment? Or phone-TV connectivity?

    Initially, everything looks incoherent, but over time, there will be natural synergies. The whole experience on TV is broken; although flat screens have been around for long, the 'smart TV experience' hasn't arrived yet. The device ecosystem has not yet evolved. People use smartphones primarily for content consumption. When you enter the home, you'd want to continue consuming it, and switch from the phone to the TV screen. So we see it as a strong screen continuity experience. IoT is emerging, and a smart TV can be part of 'smart home automation'. Today, though the smart TV is at the center of your living room, it doesn't unite a family, like TVs used to. Smartphones have divided us. A smart TV can bring us together again.

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  • What do Indians care about most when selecting a smartphone?

    Battery, speed (RAM, processor)... and they feel their devices are getting outdated, so they want regular software updates. User requirements are always basic. I met with Jio, when they were rolling out their 4G network, they wanted to know how to differentiate. Their surveys revealed that people were asking for things like: 'Will I be able to download WhatsApp?', 'Will I be able to play YouTube?', 'Will I be able to move forward and backward on my video screen navigation?'... all so basic.

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  • What do you mean by OnePlus being a one-thing-at-a-time company?

    We do only one smartphone a year. I don't have backups. Companies easily discontinue a current product line, move to new products and re-boot. That either means you aren't confident enough or haven't put all your resources into a product... I don't have to do all those optimisations. But I am investing heavily in our after-sales experience. We've discontinued all external service partners. Over the last two years we've struggled with it. Now we're creating our own service centres, managed and operated by us - well trained staff, centres are at polished locations like retail malls and not in some corner of the city that's not easily accessible. We want our service centers to be used as lounges, with free internet and coffee. In some of the bigger centres, we have game rooms with Play Station. It can be a family outing.

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  • What is the media-mix at OnePlus?

    Online works best. We are a digital brand; we sell online, we do marketing online. We do some offline events for our community. For example, the first edition of the Open Ears Forum (a three year old global concept) was held in Goa last year. 30 of our most active users, who are also into tech, came over for a weekend and shared their views on our products... good and bad. The brand team then made an action plan. Techies really enjoy this geekiness; they are more knowledgeable and dig deeper than our own product managers. TV, OOH and print are becoming footnotes; I don't know how one can make creative better on these channels... there isn't much you can do. But on digital, you can optimise on size, format. We have separate campaigns for YouYube, for Instagram, Twitter. Airport ads are a good investment; we target lot of business travelers. Many people ask us why we're not big on TV. It's highly cluttered. We do 10-seconders during cricket matches. It gives us a 'concentrated' audience. It's expensive, but cost per reach is lesser than advertising on all GECs. There's a big audience that's still not buying OnePlus for different reasons - they may not be aware of OnePlus yet. We're trying to optimise our messaging, promotions and big media spends to acquire these new audiences. Of the 300 million people watching cricket, I'm targeting the five to ten million I need to reach, but it's my best shot at getting them.

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  • How do you define marketing at OnePlus?

    Marketing is word of mouth. The first campaign we did with Amitabh Bachchan (2016, for OnePlus 3), in KBC format, was a contest with OnePlus community members, based on Amazon product ratings. The winner got a crore; that guy quit his job, went back to his village and put the money into his agri-tourism resort that gives an authentic Indian experience to foreigners. We want to put all our marketing spend back in the hands of our community and invest in their welfare. Last year, for our 'Lucky Star' campaign, that celebrated the fourth anniversary of our partnership with Amazon, we let one of our community members buy 1,000 products on Amazon. When OnePlus One was launched, we used the 'invite' model to get users to spread the word. Even today, we've created proxy ways to keep this format going.

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  • What is your take on OnePlus advertising?

    We started advertising very recently; we don't really know how it works. We're entrepreneurial... we don't know the right approach to go about advertising. We've been experimenting and are trying to improve our processes. Think of whatever media we're doing right now as one big experiment. It has not been proven right so far... it's very difficult to correlate ROI on campaign spends, but in the absence of an alternative one does it as hygiene in the hope that it'll deliver. To see ROI, maybe we need to do a bigger campaign. We'll do it when we have the right creative.

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  • Why have you never had an advertising agency on retainer?

    So far, about 70 of our campaigns have been done internally. We are not averse to agencies. For every campaign, we do try to go through these agencies, but see... the brand team understands the campaign objectives better than anyone else. Agencies have some sort of an inherent tendency to think from an industry prism, not from a brand prism. They don't prioritise the campaign objectives; for them it is more about being different for the sake of being different. Most of the campaigns we've done are very basic and direct in nature. Agencies don't find such campaigns innovative enough. Whenever we brief agencies, we also ask all our internal teams to come up with ideas. When we compare the two, in most cases our internal ideas have always stood out more. We have no reason, then, to go with agencies. Most of our scripts are also written internally, by our social media team. We'd like to have a good agency for the long-term, if we can find one... just that I haven't come across any. They need to understand the brand better.

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  • How does a smartphone stay premium in India while also playing the volume game?

    We don't see ourselves as a volume-focused brand. We don't cater to the masses. Of India's billion-plus population, there are around 400-500 million smartphone users. Typically, every year, a third of them buy a phone again, so the market comprises around 150-160 million people. Of these, only five million people buy a phone that costs more than Rs.30,000; that's the premium market...that's my universe, the 30K to 1 lakh range. We benchmark ourselves against the best in the industry; and the price differential in that context is where affordability comes in. In a premium segment, OnePlus is an affordable, discounted alternative. We make it even more affordable with promotions, cashback, exchange offers, EMI... in India, these additional incentives and sales promotions are important.

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  • What are the milestones of your journey with OnePlus?

    We're a grounded, humble, simple, one-thing-at-a-time company. We've never really set very ambitious goals for ourselves. Focus for us has always been on - just being there at the end of the year. In our industry, over the last 10 years many companies have come and gone; just surviving is a challenge. Not just for new brands, but existing large brands especially. When we started out in 2014 we didn't know if we'd be able to stand out in this cluttered and competitive environment. So for us, the first layer of success is to just survive. That in itself is an ambitious goal. The turning point for us was the second year. After the first year, expectations were high. With OnePlus X we entered into a new price segment (lower price point), hoping for a bigger market. That was a small set back, but a big learning. We realised our key users are tech savvy geeks, who're expecting the best from the brand, not a 'compromise solution'. Then on, we decided to focus only on 'flagship'. The launch of OnePlus 3 was a turning point. Overall, I'll say it's largely luck, but OnePlus 3 really consolidated our position as a genuine brand for the premium segment. India has always been seen as 'an entry level market for the masses'; it is not really known for the premium segment. It was a landmark for us when OnePlus 5 touched a million units. The market itself is five million units.

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  • From a global standpoint, tell us about the journey. Also, where does India fit into the overall scheme of things?

    OnePlus started its journey back in 2014 and we have come a long way in just five years. Today OnePlus is the fourth biggest brand in the premium segment globally. This year, we launched a 5G smartphone in the UK and US. India has played an integral role in overall global success.

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  • What are the trends you observe in the smartphone market?

    India is one of the most exciting places to be in for the smartphone market, it is the only country which is still growing not just in terms of volume but also price. The industry is actually becoming more premium. There are two underlying factors which are driving this premiumization. One segment is cost rationalization, entry-level smartphones are becoming dearer, so a lot of phones which used to be available at a low price of Rs. 6,000-7,000 are now available at Rs. 10,000. It is the same customer who is still buying the cheapest smartphone available in the market and that is not a premiumization. A separate segment is of quality products, customers using a cheaper or a mid-segment smartphone are now buying a premium smartphone and that is a segment that we cater to. In fact, in last two years, there has been a 18 per cent growth in the premium segment and the entire growth has come from a new user who has bought a premium smartphone the first time. That is what we are really proud of. Those customers chose OnePlus because they wanted to consume a premium product. Going forward, we want to see this premiumization grow. It is not a trend, it is going to be a structural shift. It is not going to go back to the cheaper smartphone again. Once a premium user, always a premium user.

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  • How do you use digital in the functional use of the medium in the OnePlus India marketing strategy?

    OnePlus has also been a digital-first brand as this allows for active two-way communication between the brand and our audience and empowers users to voice their opinions, feedback, and suggestions on a real-time basis. This also enhances brand transparency and has played a vital role in building a loyal community of OnePlus users who have been our most vocal supporters as well as valuable critics on digital platforms. Digital has also helped us cut the noise and remain focused on genuine user matters. Additionally, community engagement through offline activations has been central to our marketing strategy since the brand’s inception.

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  • How are you taking on to your competition?

    We don’t devise our strategy based on what competition is doing and have always focused on creating unique, differentiated experiences for our users. Our latest step in this direction in the OnePlus Music Festival that will take place in Mumbai in November. No other smartphone brand is specifically associated with music; it strongly resonates with the youth at large and our user community and transcends all forms of cultural boundaries.

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  • What is your opinion on your India-only strategy when it comes to consumer insights, behavior, marketing, and promotion?

    We have initiated a few strategies keeping in mind the needs and expectations of our Indian users. India as a community is the brand’s eye to the globe, a soundboard for experimentation through which the company also understands the pulse of the customer at a global level. For example, an Indian customer is a very experience-driven customer to date. Being an online-first company, we realized we would require some tweaks in our business model. Therefore, we set up a large scale Experience Store in Bangalore as an additional offline touchpoint for our customers to personally engage with the brand. Following its success, we are now present in over 1500 offline outlets for our customers in key markets across the country. Similarly, after-sales service is something that is very important for the Indian customer. Keeping this in mind, we are also setting up large-scale state-of-the-art exclusive service centers in key cities to provide our customers with premium after-sales services in line with our unique product offerings. Seeing the potential that we have unlocked with India, we may replicate these learnings in other markets as well.

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  • What does Downey bring on the table for OnePlus India and how will he impact the brand’s image in India?

    We have always believed in creating exceptional experiences for our community. The common ground in our ideologies and values convinced us that Robert Downey Jr. is a perfect representation of our brand’s Never Settle spirit. OnePlus believes in bringing the same level of premium user experience to its users in India as it does across other regions worldwide. Similar to OnePlus’s brand identity, Robert Downey Jr is known for his unconventional approach to the characters he plays and powerful storytelling ability. Both Robert Downey Jr and OnePlus are known to disrupt the industry norms and bringing transformational experience to the people. In fact, our ad was written by Robert Downey Jr himself.

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  • What is the strategy behind ‘premiumization’?

    The two key elements that we rely on are to deliver a premium user experience for our users are high-spec hardware with bloat-free software in the form of OxygenOS. Our product strategy remains to stay focused and invest our energies in one product that is highly efficient and appreciated by the OnePlus Community. As a digital-first and community-focused brand, we are well connected with our users through social media and online channels like our forums. In addition to that, we conduct events like Open Ears forum where we directly connect with our community and seek valuable product feedback, which helps us further enhance our future offerings. This gives us a very unique positioning and advantage over our competitors, which is very difficult for others to replicate. OnePlus is undoubtedly the brand with the most engaged community base worldwide. Currently, we have over 5 million community members, highest engagement on Twitter with 1.59 million followers and over 1.5 million followers on Instagram, implying how deeply knit we are as a community. Lastly, our business model is such that we are present largely online. As an Amazon-exclusive smartphone brand, we gained and continue to maintain a more solid structure over our competitors. With growing internet penetration across India, I expect online to continue to grow to become a dominant channel. We will always look out for offline opportunities given how a large segment of Indian users are still heavily offline based, But our sales focus will be based on the online channel, and offline will add to top off our online strength.

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  • How would you define the OnePlus India marketing strategy?

    The core of our marketing strategy is word-of-mouth, irrespective of what we do on TV or on digital. 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. When we launched the OnePlus One smartphone in 2014, we implemented an “invite-only” strategy wherein customers were invited to buy the product, building a desirable, exclusive brand appeal. This further helped us ensure that we only offer true flagship technology with uncompromising quality to our users. The demand for our smartphone was incredible, and also led skyrocketing traffic to our website, reaching 25.6 million visits in December 2014 – just one year after the OnePlus website was launched. A large part of the marketing happens on the Amazon platform that is a part of the channel. There, we help in contributing to the ALT channels. Even with social media promotions, our focus remains on emerging social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn. For us, marketing strategies are also a function of timing. So, when there is a launch we go somewhat heavy on marketing because then we have to maximize brand visibility. When there are seasonal sales like Diwali, Amazon does its own promotion as it is our sole e-commerce partner. Other than that, it’s just the community that we have earned with our products, which adds to the territory.

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  • Why India is important to your global strategy?

    India is a soundboard for all experimentation. I think through India we understand the pulse of the customer. Globally, we are offline first and have a partnership with telecom operators. In India, the next wave of growth comes from offline customers. This new audience wants to experience OnePlus. Take the OnePlus TV, for example. The audience would like a touch-and-feel experience before buying. Many Indians still hesitate to buy online so we need to create experience stores. We are setting up a franchise model and offline stores. We will have large-format experience stores and bring international standard retail to India. The next store in Hyderabad is a 16,000sqft experience zone. Even after 12 years of great growth in the smartphone industry, the premium segment is only four percent. We need to make it easier for the next set of audiences to experience the product. The premium segment is a sizeable market. It is not as crowded as the entire industry. It is difficult for any new product to enter the market because you need to have the experience, product, and great customer service. It has a high entry barrier and it has taken us five years in India. We always knew who the OnePlus customer would be from the beginning and we always wanted to go to the online user first. It is important to create a forum for our community to engage with us. Our TV is premium because we wanted to create the best experience for the family.

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  • What advice would you give startups regarding product and marketing?

    One should never spend on marketing in the beginning. A startup should win the market by word of mouth and with the community. In the early days, you would not have a lot of money to spend on marketing. So let the product make money and then spend money on marketing. At OnePlus, we do not spend on advertising; we focus on the community. The music festival is our way of telling them that we are giving back to them. The product always comes first and identifies your core users. Once you have that then you can start profiling better and diversify to a larger user group. We are always going to be focused on youth and those we can reach out to with limited resources. Our audience does not spend on platforms like print. Our audience spends time on online games and music. If you know your audience it is easier to latch on to them.

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  • What are the opportunities in India when it comes to technology?

    The real opportunity for India is to lead in modern and cutting-edge technologies. As I mentioned earlier, we are manufacturing here for exports, but the bigger opportunity is in R&D. We are developing new technologies out of India and we are building 5G and IoT in Hyderabad. We are building new technologies for the smartphone and TV. Artificial intelligence is a revolutionary technology, but only a few AI use cases have been developed. It is a few years away. We have used machine learning in our devices, but we focus on developments that are bigger. To that end, 5G and IoT make sense for us today. Playbook for us is a word of mouth and engagement with the community. We do not want to dilute the power of the community by leveraging it as marketing.

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  • How has been your experience with the phenomenal growth that OnePlus has seen?

    Globally, we had two good moments. We launched our 5G handset and figured in the top four in the premium segment globally. However, the real star this year has been India. We are the biggest in India and we are number one in the premium segment with a 40 percent market share. For the last 10 years, only two brands dominated the segment and for the last two years we have grown to the top. We have also grown multiple counts in India. We have started exports from India, have an R&D centre being set up out of India, and we have a global contact centre running. The last quarter has been the quarter for us globally. And our core fundamentals remain the same: we are a product-driven company and our success has been because of our community. We have built the brand through our community. The OnePlus One was on an invite-only basis, but we built the product based on the community. Product and community are the reason why we were successful. The community is in the age group of 18 to 35 and are digital-savvy customers. We used Amazon in the beginning to sell and the community created a great story for us on various forums. India is a unique and must-win opportunity for us. India is the least-tapped market for brands, and everyone has an equal opportunity to capture this market. The fundamentals are strong here because 65 percent of the population are youth and we have a very stable government.

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  • How do you deal with the competitors in the premium segment of smartphones?

    We do not really treat other brands in the market as competitive as we rather focus on improving ourselves towards creating the next best user experience for our customers. We believe that our products outshine most others in the category, in terms of build quality, performance, and design. It can be rightly said that we are our own biggest competition right now. Forty percent of our customers are repeat buyers of OnePlus devices, which also indicates that once a user uses a premium device, there is little chance of reverting to a lower-end smartphone. These figures indicate that the opportunity is immense in India and is only bound to grow. We as a brand are open to exploring the opportunity the market presents and strive to be here for the long haul.

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  • What is your opinion on India as a market for smartphones?

    If you want to be succeed as a brand in India, you must truly understand the needs of the Indian market. India is a fast-growing market with tremendous potential and a very discerning customer base. By catering to India-specific needs, the country has today become a community that is our eye to the globe, a soundboard for experimentation through, which we understand the pulse of the customer at a global level. It has become our benchmark for creating successful global products.

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  • How have you decided on your Sales And Business Model?

    The one-device-a-year strategy has worked for us so far and our users have also appreciated the focus we put on one device, so we are not tempted to bring in more flagships every year. OnePlus will not alter its price range and get into a lower price segment. We have consciously refrained from entering into multiple categories because we believe that it dilutes the value of the brand in the long run and we also have realized from our experience that it is not what our users expect from us.

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