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Distribution is the cake and marketing is the icing: Nomit Joshi, Director Marketing, Gionee India

In a conversation with, Joshi talks about the trust factor for Chinese brands, competition, selfie mania that smartphones brands are leveraging on, celebrity endorsements and much more

Nomit Joshi

Chinese phones are aggressively making a strong foothold in the Indian markets. According to market sources, a few more Chinese mobile phones are awaiting a formal launch in India. Smartphones are one buzzing category where one gets to see aggressive advertising by most brands to stay relevant and establish a recall value. The brands are also tapping on the selfie craze to get the most out of consumer connect. Along with Gionee, Lava, Vivo and Oppo are also heavily spending on advertising.

The company clocks sales of around half a million smartphones every month and is expecting sales to grow 2.5 times in 2017-18 after securing revenue of $1.4 billion (Rs 9,500 crore) last year. Also, Gionee plans to almost double their marketing budget to around Rs 750 crore in 2017-18 from Rs 400 crore in the current fiscal. The company is banking on branding and targeted distribution to increase its share in the smartphone market. Hitting a user base of 1.25 crore users in India, Gionee is all set to penetrate further into the country. In fact, following the launch of A1, which coincided with the rollout of the #Selfiestan campaign, Gionee has received as many as 74,682 pre-orders for units worth around Rs 150 crore in the first 10 days.

Gionee is associated with Virat Kohli, Alia Bhatt and the popular IPL team Kolkata Knight Riders. Going further, the brand recently signed up three celebrities as regional brand ambassadors -- Shruti Haasan, Diljit Dosanjh and Dulquer Salmaan. caught up with Nomit Joshi, Director Marketing, Gionee India, to talk about the finer points of marketing in the smartphones category. He talked about why the category is so heavily reliant on celebrities and selfies and how Gionee has grown as a brand via marketing and communication practices.

Joshi has set up and led successful brand management initiatives in the area of digital marketing campaigns, media communication of new brands like Gionee Mobiles and managed media agency networks across India. He has in past worked with Lowe Lintas, which has given him opportunities to work across brand and product categories spanning consumer durables, automobiles, FMCG, retail, apparels, telecom and interior infrastructure in B2C space and IT Services in B2B space.


Why is it that most smartphone brands are focussing on the camera proposition and how difficult is it to stand out in the market on this USP?

There are two to three elements to it. One is the category truth that we need to understand. The camera was introduced into devices around 2005-2006 in the feature phones. Once Android came into the picture, we started getting two megapixel and VGA cameras too. If you look at the trend in the last four to five years, a lot of work has happened on the camera side, whether it is the front or the rear camera. If you look at the kind of work happening on the technology part of the camera, it comes with much more utility to the consumers. Autographs have been killed by selfies. Earlier there used to be slam books, which don’t exist anymore.

Secondly, through social media handles like Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook, a great amount of data is travelling and mostly that data is image. So that is why brands from top to bottom are talking about camera.  But every brand will have a certain unique USP with them, which will cater to the needs of the consumers and then there would be a solution or the value-added benefit from the product side to it. That is something which the brands want to communicate.

If you see feature to feature, specification to specification, it is going to be a never ending race. You need to go beyond the functional benefits in the communication strategy. If you look at our campaign that is going around right now, it is moving beyond functional benefits. The campaign is trying to bring a social and positive change that selfies bring people together in one frame and remove the boundary of caste, religion and race. To take pictures, you come closer to the phone and come together. We have taken unity and diversity as the peg of the campaign, where the selfies get established and the benefits of selfies go beyond the functional benefits.

Why does this category rely heavily on selfies, especially Gionee, Lava and Vivo? Gionee launched in India with the proposition of a good battery backup and later it changed to a good selfie camera.

If you see the trend these days on social media, WhatsApp groups are being created and images going from here to there and then to preserve a memory, selfie is taken. You go and hang out with friends and when it comes to sharing, selfies are more pronounced. Selfies also give you a good feeling at times. There is a huge amount of traction that the selfies are building right now. You need to address these things, solve the problem and add value to the consumers’ needs and solutions. The way the culture is shaping right now, selfies are becoming an important need of the consumers. It is not that we talk about only selfies. Our sign of line is ‘Gionee Super Selfie, Super Battery’.

Is this kind of positioning long term or is it just a matter of recent consumer trends?

Selfistaan is a long-drawn campaign for us. There would be various legs to it.

But what after the era of selfies ends?

It is not going to end. Yes, there would be development in terms of how the selfies are taken. There are dual cameras coming in. Then a panoramic may be added up. There are a lot of filters which may be handled on various social media handles. Those are not for the rear camera but for the front camera. A lot of technology is evolving around it and it is not a fad that is going to go away in a quarter or something. If you look in terms of selfies, the work that is happening from the technology point of view is beyond the camera and mobile phone manufacturers. For example, the kind of filters Instagram and Snapchat are adding, selfies are only going to evolve.

Like other categories, even smartphones are dependent on celebrities. What is the reason for that?

It is a global thing across categories that brands try to build associations at a certain stage in their life. Those associations are in terms of certain kind of intellectual properties (IPs) and certain kind of personalities. A lot of celebrity association has been happening all around. But if you look at it from a Gionee point of view, we have roped in a celebrity after four years of our existence. In the fourth year, we went ahead and signed Alia Bhatt for the first time. The way the category is right now, you have to cut across in a sharper way. If there is a known face, it brings a certain amount of noticeability. If a campaign is done in a nice way, people stand up and take notice. Secondly, celebrities have a lot of following which you can leverage in a better way. But our endorsements are not limited to celebrities.

We have done endorsements with sports teams and sports associations, whether it is with a football team or the two IPL teams that we have sponsored. We have been investing also to cut across a certain market. RCB (Royal Challengers Bangalore) was done with a certain marketing objective as we wanted to grow deeper into South. After that, we have to do consumer engagement and loyalty programmes. But there is a certain kind of charm that celebrities have, which help to cut across and get noticed immediately.

Why don’t we see much creativity in the campaigns in terms of storyline? More often, we see celebrities flaunting the phone in various poses.

Either I look at the world through the lens of the protagonist which I am using over there or look at the protagonist through the lens of the product. That is something the creative agency has to figure out -- the tone and imagery that the brand wants to portray. It is not that we are not doing storytelling. There is storytelling happening in our campaigns. The category is such that you have to build on high frequency also.

Along with marketing, distribution is another key to success for phone brands. How do you distribute the focus on these two?

Distribution is the cake and marketing is the icing.

Distribution is often heavily reliant on offline stores than the online ones. Would you call it a hindrance?

No, we need to understand how the market is. We are a country where we have got a habit of going to the stores. We have got a hybrid kind of culture where you will see all the markets operating at the same pace. Online is another distribution network. If there is a shop called Janta store in Kolkata, it serves to a certain kind of audience. On the other hand, Amazon is also a store and so is Flipkart and others. But for Indians, till the time there is a certain kind of investment that goes into certain kind of products and you don’t experience the product in hand, we don’t buy until we are sure about it.

There will be people who will convenience seekers and will buy online. Earlier deal seekers also used to buy online. Now there are not many deals available as funding has stopped for them. There are mature customers who want to go and try out the product and that is something which is going to stay in India. Still, offline contributes to 77 per cent of the market.

Now that Gionee is an established brand, would you reduce your marketing spends or is it the other way round? Every six months we see a new brand and so it becomes important to be visible all the time.

We want to stand out in this category and we will be managing that threshold. In terms of marketing spend, we will maintain and continue with the percentage figure of the revenue like before.

How do you find competition in this category?

At times competition is intense. There is an object that we have to drive and until the time we are putting efforts towards that way and aligning our energies into that direction, I do not feel that it’s challenging. So despite being competitive and challenging, it’s not very difficult.

All brands set aside some objective for themselves. What are the long-term and short-term objectives for Gionee India?

One objective is that we want to be the most talked about and most respected brand in the country in mobile space and we are building our brand around that thought. Our short-term objective is when people think of a great selfie camera phone with a long lasting battery, they should think of Gionee.

Gionee spokespersons talk about the importance of brand building. How important is it? How important is to choose the right creative agency for brand building? What checkpoints should be kept in mind for building a smartphone brand, especially in India?

As a brand, you need to be honest to the stakeholders. We should not be doing things that could be unethical in nature. We must partner on the basis of long-term vision as was the case when we met Mullen Lintas and Initiative.

When we as a brand were looking to explore, Lowe Lintas was already handling Micromax and MullenLintas had just carved out. It was a time when Mullen was doing some outstanding works for Havells and Tata Tea to name a few. We wanted to build certain similar imagery and the ideas they presented were appealing. After appointing Mullen as the agency on record for our ATL campaigns, we divided the mandate between the new and the old agency partner. And And was the agency with which we were working earlier and they are still with us. For the right choice of creative agency, only criteria should be the alignment of thought process.

Has the impact of demonetisation faded away?

The feature phones that were heavily dependent on cash sales faced the heat of demonetisation while smartphones sales were least affected. So for us, the impact of demonetisation was not that much.

How difficult has it been to establish your brand here? And how is it to establish a Chinese brand in a country that has sentiments not favouring Chinese products?

When we came to India in 2013, Chinese phones were not highly thought about. So we started with a panel discussion with about 200 journalists and the point to debate was ‘Made in China’ versus ‘Brands made in China’. While people may have concerns over ‘Made in China’, the ‘Brands made in China’ are superior. So our challenge was to establish that superiority in India amidst sentiments and politics. But that has not impacted much as all the Chinese brands never shied away from announcing their origins. People are seeking for quality and service assurance which we are able to give them. Being honest to our offerings is our greatest asset and we stick to our principle. Initially, it was difficult for us but after we got established as a brand that offers quality, we did not face any such problem.

What is the current market share of Gionee in India and what is your aim for this year?

We have a market share of around six per cent and we want to take it to double digits this year.

How do you allocate your marketing spend on different mediums?

Based on the need at that point in time, every campaign has got a certain kind of objective. If there is a campaign that needs just reach, TV is something that cannot be avoided. We need to add print also at times to build impact. If you need to build impact as well as frequency then you need to build outdoor also. This is something that is decided scientifically. TV is the biggest medium for us, but other mediums also play very important roles.

I am sure you have spent the maximum share of your marketing budgets on television, so which genre works the best for you and why?

Every genre has its pros and cons. If you look at reach, there is nothing that delivers more than cricket in India. General Entertainment also works. Music channels help you a lot. News channels bring a lot of connect.

We see a lot of aggressive advertising by the category on outdoor. When will we see innovation in this space?

You have to wait for another one month to see the kind of innovation we are doing in outdoor space.

Tell us about the most successful association or campaign for the brand.

Difficult to answer but there are a few campaigns that have worked well for us. In 2014, the world’s slimmest phone campaign worked very well for us. Then the campaign titled ‘every 7 seconds Gionee sells a phone in India’ also worked well. The KKR logo change campaign was a brilliant one. And most recent successful campaigns are Selfiestan and the one with Alia Bhatt.

How well placed is Gionee India in the branded content and brand placement space? How important is this space in India?

Yes. It is very much important and we have recently executed one. Selfiestan is the biggest example of branded content where creators created Selfiestan for us. We have been associated with TVF and other content platforms for this.

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