A Study of Chinese Smartphone BrandsFebruary 25th, 2021 by Socially Powerful
Chinese smartphone brands have begun the process of diversifying their product portfolios. Driven by internal and external factors including generating new revenue streams, technological and infrastructure advancements and trade and political issues in the US impacting the smartphone category. As a result, these consumer technology brands have diversified to create an ecosystem around their smartphones. The ecosystem interlinks physical products and software for a seamlessly integrated user experience, that in turn becomes an integrated part of consumers’ lifestyle.
As part of this diversification, Chinese smartphone brands are adapting their business models to sell these companion products directly to consumers through owned channels, existing e-commerce marketplaces and social platforms. Alongside this, they are focusing on nurturing their existing communities. By ensuring the loyalty of existing customers, these brands are almost able to guarantee the sales of companion products as existing customers are the most likely to purchase from a brand again.
The natural follow-on companion product from a smartphone, is headphones. We’ve taken a look at what Huawei, Oppo, OnePlus, Vivo, RealMe and Xiaomi are doing on social media to increase awareness and sales of these companion products.
1. Huawei mentions lead brand and product conversations and activity
Huawei dominates both brand and companion product conversations online, which is understandable considering it has been in the European market for the longest through its own store and pre-existing marketplaces. Since 2019, it has regularly integrated its headphones and other companion products into a Huawei ecosystem for its customers, with music events and Instagram influencers and LinkedIn entrepreneur activations. Huawei has also been pushing itself as a lifestyle brand on its community forums with a lifestyle subsection. Huawei community members share their favourite headphones and companion products here, along with how they enjoy using their Huawei products together.
2. Huawei succeeds in creating an ecosystem
According to our data, the majority of mentions featured Huawei headphones being discussed alongside smartphones. The most popular products were the FreeBuds range, which features five different headphones. The majority of Huawei’s headphones received positive mentions around the ease of use, great sound quality and good noise cancelling abilities. A few internet users compared Huawei headphones to other brands, and named Huawei’s companion products good value for money. While generally receiving positive or neutral mentions, negative comments were only found for the Freebuds range, suggesting they were uncomfortable, had poor volume control and didn’t connect well to Bluetooth or charging devices.
3. RealMe companion products thrive
RealMe has the lowest brand conversation rate, but the second highest in terms of headphones, suggesting that the brand has been successful in encouraging customers to buy its companion products. RealMe promotes its headphones on its own Instagrams regularly and holds competitions and giveaways where customers can win a pair. RealMe generally refers to the technical qualities of the headphones, positioning them as a top-of-the-range option that will provide an incredible user experience. In addition, RealMe is the only brand to have a story highlight on Instagram for its headphones Buds Q. However, RealMe is yet to utilise influencer marketing for its headphones, despite already doing so for its phones.
4. RealMe makes news headlines for headphones
Contrary to all other brands, the majority of mentions online came from news outlets, rather than Twitter. Most positive and neutral mentions were featuring Buds Air Pro in “Best Gadgets of 2020” rankings, alongside the announcement of new headphones launching alongside a smartphone. In addition, RealMe was the only brand to have all its headphones discussed within our selected time frame, which shows the popularity of its products. Discussions of headphones also included other companion products, such as smartwatches, suggesting RealMe customers enjoy using the products together. The only negative mentions suggested the Buds Air Pros were too similar to Apple AirPods, and too expensive in Europe compared to India.
5. Xiaomi struggles with inconsistency
Despite being the second most popular for brand conversations, Xiaomi’s portion of headphone conversations was the second smallest of our discussed brands. Xiaomi has been experiencing growth and popularity in Europe for its smartphones, but our data shows the brand has not yet fully developed an ecosystem around them. While Xiaomi does promote its headphones on Instagram, it is inconsistent and only around key events in the year, such as Christmas and Fashion Weeks. It does not regularly work with influencers, but reposts user generated content of headphones taken on Xiaomi smartphones. In addition, within Xiaomi’s community forums headphone threads are only findable if you search the exact product. They are not grouped under a lifestyle or companion product section, suggesting they are standalone products. Despite this, there is evidence of attempts at creating an ecosystem with a promotion alongside the Mi 10T Pro, where customers receive a free pair of True Wireless Earphones 2 with the phone.
6. Xiaomi needs social media
The sentiment of mentions for Xiaomi headphones was positive or neutral; it did not receive any negative comments, however Twitter users did mention how similar the True Wireless range of headphones were to Apple AirPods. The positive comments were generally good reviews of the products, or social media users commenting they liked the product. To coincide with social media promotions, mentions spiked around Christmas, suggesting the brand would have more mentions should they invest in social media efforts.
7. OnePlus is consistent across brand and product conversations
OnePlus holds the third highest mentions in brand and headphone specific conversations, suggesting a constant focus on its smartphones and companion products. This can be supported by its Instagram content, which features at least one headphone post a month. The OnePlus UK Instagram was only created in November 2020 and is yet to partake in influencer marketing for its headphones. While the UK and Global accounts primarily focus on smartphone content, whenever a post on headphones is uploaded, it focuses on how seamlessly the headphones can be integrated with the smartphones. In addition, one of its most recent headphones launched alongside a new smartphone.
8. OnePlus collaboration with artist leads mentions
The majority of conversations online surrounded a limited edition collaboration between graphic design artist Steven Harrington and the Buds Z. The main sentiments around headphones were positive and neutral, with only one negative comment. Nearly 75% of all conversations were on Twitter, with users agreeing that OnePlus headphones were very comfortable. While the majority of mentions were very headphone-focused, some did discuss the headphones alongside other companion products (smartwatches) and smartphones, suggesting that consumers have begun to create OnePlus ecosystems.
9. Oppo is yet to fully focus on headphones in its marketing
Oppo has been gaining popularity in Europe for its smartphones recently, and ranks 4th in both brand and headphone discussions. Oppo primarily focuses on its smartphones and smartwatches on Instagram, regularly using influencer marketing for those products, however, we have yet to see Oppo make the most of influencers for its headphones. While Oppo has minimal posts of its headphones on Instagram, each headphone is searchable within its community forum: ColorOS. The forum groups the headphones individually, and they are not included under the “lifestyle” section available.
10. Oppo’s new headphones receive a good welcome online
The majority of online mentions were about the Enco X headphones that launched in January 2021. The general sentiment was neutral, followed by positive. The main neutral comments were from news articles, or Tweets linking to rankings of headphones, rather than user experiences. However, positive comments did say that Enco Xs did have good noise cancelling properties for its size.
11. Vivo begins integrating headphones into its ecosystem
Vivo’s smartphones are definitely more popular than its headphones, with brand conversations ranking second to last, and headphones ranking last (with only 7 mentions in total). This is surprising considering Vivo regularly posts promotional images of the headphones and smartphones being used as an ideal pairing. Vivo launched its UK and European Instagram accounts in October 2020, and began using influencers to promote its smartphones in November, but we are yet to see partnerships for its headphones. It has recently begun using the hashtag #ItMakesMeHappy on all of its products, suggesting they should all be used together in harmony. Vivo is yet to develop a community forum in Europe.
12. Vivo is ignored due to tricky customer journey
Vivo’s most talked about headphones were the TWS Neos, followed by the Original TWSs. The lack of conversation is potentially due to the headphones being hard to find in Europe, and that the headphones are not available to purchase through Vivo’s website.
Through our research, we found that different brands are all at different maturity stages when integrating their companion products into their main marketing activities. Some have been successful in creating ecosystems with their customers, while others have only just begun the process.
1. Nurture existing relationships to strengthen brand community
Huawei has been successful in nurturing its relationship with existing customers and smartphone owners to help create an ecosystem around its products. Through integrating companion products using lifestyle forums, influencers and events, Huawei has dominated the headphone market in Europe by creating a sense of community around itself. A social media presence is essential to creating a successful community as the majority of mentions for all brands (apart from RealMe) were led on Twitter.
2. Cross-sell from existing smartphone successes
From this community, Huawei has been able to leverage its smartphone success in cross-selling its companion products to existing customers. We have also seen Xiaomi and OnePlus attempt this by offering a promotion where a customer can purchase a smartphone and receive a free pair of headphones. However, Xiaomi and OnePlus have not seen as much success as Huawei due to the fact they are still developing their online communities. Xiaomi uses influencer marketing for its smartphones and watches, but not for its headphones; if it were to develop an influencer marketing strategy for its headphones, it would undoubtedly see similar success to Huawei.
3. Have seamless and accessible direct to consumer selling
All brands discussed have adjusted or begun adjusting their business models with a direct to consumer approach. Most, apart from Vivo, have created their own stores for European customers to buy directly from, or are easily accessible on popular e-commerce sites such as Amazon or Alibaba. In addition, most of these brands have begun developing social-commerce capabilities, where customers can purchase products directly from their Instagram accounts. Some brands have also begun leveraging influencer affiliate marketing. With this, brands are able to directly drive sales to these companion products through their own websites or through ecommerce platforms that use affiliate links—for example, Amazon’s Affiliate Program. Presenting customers with different purchasing options creates a seamless buying journey, which is essential to secure a new purchase. Vivo’s products are not easily accessible in Europe due to the lack of online stores, hence the lack of discussions surrounding its headphones.
4. Stay relevant
In order to create a successful ecosystem of companion products, brands need to develop and nurture their existing communities, so current customers will stay loyal. This can be done through seamless integration of D2C channels, including owned websites and pre-existing marketplaces, and with influencer marketing. Without a natural, easy journey, brands will not be able to stay relevant with their existing customers, let alone new ones.
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