Micromax has clearly embarked on an image makeover. It is attempting to shed the image of a ‘cheap, Chinese knock-off’ and adopting a premium imagery. The interview with the new CMO of Micromax, Shubhodip Pal, was an interesting read and touched upon this and related issues. The premium imagery is sought to be reflected in the new ad for Canvas 2, with its foreign locales, models, understated tone of voice and very importantly, not touting the price.
Shubhodip made some relevant points about the need to change the brand perception of Micromax, the need for rationalisation of product lines and the shorter life cycles of phones. A couple of points that struck me:
While referring to the smartphone consumer he says,
There’s a segment of the population that doesn’t think twice about the price before buying a smartphone; let Apple sell there, I don’t care. We cater to Tier II markets like Lucknow and Kanpur. We cater to consumers’ basic computing needs like word, email and search. They may aspire to an Apple but are willing to compromise. And at the end of the day they are getting the same product; so they get to live the life an Apple consumer would but at a better price.
In my view, the Tier-II audience in India does not place Apple products at the top of the aspiration pedestal. That spot is either occupied by Samsung or Nokia. Only a small segment of that audience is likely to be aware of the real strength of Apple and carry positive feelings towards the brands. Samsung’s recent marketing blitz, product strategy, in-market visibility and pricing have ensured that it has become a truly aspirational brand. And it was achieved not with any great help from advertising. The ads Samsung run in India are pretty straightforward. A recent Brand Equity survey on India’s Most Exciting Brands also reflected this: Nokia and Samsung are seen as ‘more exciting’ brands in India in comparison to the iPhone. So pitching Micromax against the iPhone is frankly, a waste of money and effort.
Secondly, Micromax’s image makeover with ‘premium feel’ advertising is only one part of the marketing puzzle that needs solving. Promising a premium experience in advertising and not living up to it on ground will be detrimental for the brand. Micromax started off as an inexpensive (read, cheap) brand that assures the consumer of premium-like features. It will be a difficult climb upwards. Marketing pundits say that the reverse option (top down) is easier than bottom-up. And it takes a lot more than advertising to do that.
Ponds was once known as as a basic ‘snow’ brand. And then it was strongly equated with talcum powder – a category perceived to be mass and ‘unsexy’. And then they shifted gear towards being a premium brand by re-jigging their product line, not just the advertising. Havaianas, the flip-flop slippers brand from Brazil is also seen as a case study in this context.
Micromax has the dual challenge of having to play both in the feature phone and smartphone market. In my view, they got traction because of their product philosophy of giving something unusual, different – as captured in the ‘nothing like anything’ tag line. With Canvas 2 they are imitating Samsung Galaxy S3 or Note in terms of design – so its more like ‘something like something else which you aspire for‘. They have also ventured into LED televisions with a similar strategy – advertising that looks premium. Remember Akai and its forays into the Indian market earlier? They tried to be the ‘Sony for the mass market’ but failed. Others like Haier, TCL too have failed to gain traction in India. So will Micromax succeed? In mobile phones and other gadgets its all about product delivery and getting consumers to experience it. Advertising is just one part of the puzzle.