Monday, November 29, 2010

Of genuine phones in an bottomlines-driven market - Micromax

Went to the Micromax blogger’s meet in Delhi yesterday. The founders made an interesting speech, and received new-found respect from me and many others.

Micromax starts at the roots level, making simple, understated, feature-rich phones in a mass market. Is it this that has made them the third largest selling brand in India in such a short time? There is no way to answer that question for certain. But there is one certainty in the fact that they base their assumptions and their products on the needs of the people, not just you and me laptop-toting-car-driving-technology-flashing dudes, but a net-surfing hairdresser, a CNBC-watching maid, a truck-battery-powered phone booth operator, android-aspiring college students , woman with a fancy for crystals (yes, they have a phone specially targeted at women).

For one, they have their premises right. They have spoken to the right people – the commonest of the commoners, and have the best in technologists. How else would they deliver expensively-perceived technology in easily priced gadgets? It didn’t take me long to realize that these guys are so close to the common man, not just due to great research, but because they ARE one of them. Despite the newfound success in marketshare, they’ve managed to be as true to the customer as they were when they started out. How many companies can claim that?

“We aren’t doing anything breakthrough. We just put together technology already available and putting it together at a lesser price. And this isn’t rocket science.” But it is, my friends, rocket science to actually put your customer and his pocket before hype and your bottomlines. You’ve won their hearts, and my admiration.

A lot of phones need a lot of work. I was not very fond of the shiny panels and annoying polyphonic ringtones on some of their models. But, to be fair, I’m not exactly the target audience for sub-7k phones anyway. Most phones are built for specific needs in mind – extra-long battery back-up, dual SIMs, FM radio and MP3 players, GPRS etc, and most are priced below 10. One model that I would personally endorse is the Modu. You’ll find enough dope on techie-blogs on this thing if you google it, but it should be enough to stir your curiosity that it’s listed in the Guinness book of records.

And what is there to expect in the future? A phone that can unlock and start a car, to begin with. And one with a built-in, detachable Bluetooth handset. They are working on many more exciting ones, they promised, right after they asked us for ideas. Mr Jobs, will you consider putting a coffee-maker on my iPhone? Right, I thought so.

However, the only thing I wasn’t in agreement was their marketing strategy. They are the underdogs of the mobile industry who’ve made it the hard way. Users echo in jest, “Micromax will take over Apple someday.” Clever humor in ads a great strategy, works all the time. But when you hire an Akshay Kumar to endorse your brand, to me it’s like selling out the ‘genuine’ image that got you here in the first place.

Allow me to elaborate. Ogilvy once said, “The consumer is not a fool. She is your wife.” But all too often one comes across agencies and consultants underestimating the consumer. Akshay Kumar is a mass icon, true. Because he makes the audience laugh. But your audience reads that tabloids, all of Punjab Kesris, Mid-days, and the likes, which talk about his new love as enthusiastically as they talk about his exorbitant fees. To me, he’s all faff, no meat. Opposite to Micromax. Now while a common man is appreciative of Akshay’s humor, does he connect to that actor as a person? My guess is, not. So is he the right choice to sell your product? You get the drift. I always thought a Pankaj Kapur might appeal to the audience better, given that he still chooses to be the underdog of the commercial film industry, for pure meaty roles. There, fire your agency, Micromax.

A few inspiring bytes heard at the event were:
  • "We've done no inventions. We're just making features accessible.”
  • "Nothing is rocket science. We just gather ideas that exist and put them together."
  • "Always think mass-market. Varanasi. Hubli."
  • "Features are aspirations. They shouldn't be, else it's a failure for technology."
  • "Unless you have the right product, consumers will reject you for a few hundred rupees."
  • "Why should we make expensive phones when 95% people can't afford them?" (Have an answer, Mr. Jobs?)

And some quirky ones on the “others”:
  • "We had a meeting with Nokia. They had their drinks and went back home."
  • "We don't have iTunes :)"
  • “Microsoft is confused about the Windows platform. We are not comfortable with Windows.”

All in all, a great afternoon. Though breakthrough marketing strategy were missing, I think they deserve the benefit of doubt, that they would evolve with time. I finally got context to their slightly-ambiguous-but-cool 'Nothing like anything' tagline. I move to Germany soon for two years. If Micromax makes an impression, I just might evangelize the brand there, for them ;-)

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