It’s never easy to establish a new smartphone brand when the ecosystem has already matured. One brand has managed it well. Among the biggest winners of the year has been POCO, which has won the hearts of youngsters with a mix of innovation and marketing strategy. Getting cricketer Hardik Pandya to be seen with a POCO phone easily sends the ball over the ropes. We spoke to Himanshu Tandon, country head of POCO India, to find out what has worked for the brand.
Looking back at the year, how has it been for POCO?
We started the year with ambitious targets. There was news around normalisation in the overall smartphone industry but then figures showed a decline in shipments. Yet, POCO’s growth has been substantial. According to IDC report for Q2 and Q3, we were the fastest-growing brand at 76.5 per cent and 50.8 per cent. All the leading market indicators suggest that we have grown significantly. Both Q2 and Q3 saw significant growth, so it can be expected that POCO will close the year with an overall 85-90 per cent annual growth.
Second, from an overall market perspective, our premium series has grown. It is a good sign that shows people are moving up the ladder and are focusing on premium products from POCO. Also, we did a lot of marketing initiatives, like having Hardik Pandya as brand ambassador for launching a POCO X Series phone, doing integration with the Shah Rukh Khan film Jawan … in other words, relating with the Gen Z audience. There is a focus on our customer base.
Why do you think youngsters are buying POCO phones?
When I joined POCO India, I brought in a lot of changes around understanding the customer profile. One of the customer profiles we identified is the Gen Z audience, so 16 to 25-year-olds. From X series or F series perspective, it is performance-driven, bringing top-notch processors. We are giving an excellent price-to-performance ratio, which no other brand can match. Further, we have turned to marketing, making it relatable to Gen Z, like bringing in Hardik Pandya, which helped us get a lot of traction in the initial part of the year. The initial momentum we saw in Q1 itself has carried forward to Q2 and Q3. Third, the focus is on service and software experience. This year, the market has shifted towards 5G.
Different form factors that are coming in, how do you stay relevant?
We are doing a lot of research and let’s look at it from a demand and supply perspective. From a supply perspective, we see component costs of certain products going up. As a result of this, there might be a certain increase in the prices of chipsets for next year. From a demand perspective, there are a few trends that we are analysing. One is the premiumisation trend. With the Indian economy growing at a certain pace we are seeing a premiumisation trend, as a result of which if you see the ASP (average selling price) of all brands has been significantly improving. Two to three years back, a lot of people were opting for under-10K phones, but the maximum growth that we are encountering online and offline is above 10K. And the segment above 20K has skyrocketed with a lot of disruption with a lot of brands bringing superior chipsets, curved screen displays. Customers are willing to pay Rs 3,000-4,000 extra and get a better phone as compared to a lower version. There is also a complete transition from a 4G to 5G portfolio. We are observing that customers are getting more educated about phones. The focus is on the overall experience of the phone, which involves software experience and customer service experience.
Himanshu Tandon, country head of POCO India, one of the leading smartphone brands Picture: POCO
What are your offline plans?
This year we focused on a few cities — Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad. Next year, also, we are going to expand our offline channel, considering the momentum we have and the better portfolios that we’re expecting next year. But our focus will be more on online because POCO is strong there. Offline, from four-five cities we may go up to top 10 cities.
AI is the buzz of the season and people want more of it.
If you see the overall trend in the industry around AI images… ChatGPT is currently on the rise and it is one of the hot topics in the industry… we are investing a significant amount in R&D for AI, how we can integrate AI. And I think, in the near future, you will see a lot of AI features in terms of camera, texting… I think it is bound to happen; the industry is getting disrupted.