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OnePlus knows better on how to sell on the Internet

On the internet, it’s NOT keynotes but leaks and reviews that tell the story of a product.

Abhishek Agarwal
May 23, 2019 · 6 min read

For almost half a century, Apple has defined how computers should be sold to the masses. Steve Jobs fashioned this huge keynotes where he would unveil each product in an highly-anticipated moment weaved into a compelling story: often to explain what the consumer wants, but doesn’t know it yet. Products that people didn’t ask for but it captures their imagination nonetheless. This is how he controlled the story around Apple’s products in the space between launch and press reviews. Soon it became customary for every company to launch their products this way.

With all the clever (and sometimes, profound) storytelling, the core tension was still built around the question what’s behind the wraps? It’s that “voila” moment of a keynote that was the epicentre to all media stories. But in the age of the internet, that anticipation is fading. Everything is leaked months ahead of the launch.

A product is leaked, written about and buying decisions made even before the company gets to put the product on the shelf. So why will users click through articles about product launches that basically say: “We Knew It All Along”. What do you build the anticipation upon?

Launch day is Binge day

OnePlus thinks the answer is to simply remove the gap between launch and reviews. OnePlus makes their products available to reviewers weeks ahead of launch not caring about leaks, and have all the reviews published on the launch day itself. Full, Comprehensive Reviews is the new information users get on launch day that OnePlus wants to build the anticipation around.

On the internet, the story of your tech product is not controlled by your clever marketing campaigns, but by leaks and reviews. Everybody is a storyteller. OnePlus hopes these stories are as well informed by reviews as much as possible. At the least, it gives something more for people to keep talking about.

Tech enthusiasts like me flock to the Internet as if Netflix just uploaded the next season to their favourite show and essentially binge-watch all the reviews online. If your feeds are flooded with OnePlus posts it’s because we got it trending.

The Pyramid of Enthusiast brands

One can argue though that Leaks and Reviews are still mostly followed by tech enthusiasts. My mom doesn’t even know what these terms mean but does know that India’s most legendary actor, Amitabh Bachchan features in OnePlus ads. But what influenced her decision to buy a OnePlus phone: Me or her lifelong idol, Amitabh Bachchan.

It’s ME, obviously. It’s a common behaviour to turn to your “techy” friend and get advice on which phone to buy. Thanks to the internet, there are more of these “techy” friends, more people checking out device reviews than ever. Reviewers followed by Tech Enthusiasts talking to Average Consumers: that is the pyramid that OnePlus built its brand upon.

OnePlus, running Cyanogen MOD, started out as an enthusiast brand. They didn’t market their phones to the masses, simply rely on YouTubers, blogs and forums. They would intently participate in forums, as it became the source to all feedback and subsequent iterations.

But eventually, companies require to appeal to the masses to sustain and grow. In the process, they de-prioritize various things that we enthusiasts care about. Like choosing a slippery but better-looking metal back on the OnePlus 3 over grippy, more practical sandstone back on the previous 2. But so far, OnePlus, by rooting themselves to the pyramid, have maintained a sustainable middle ground between the enthusiasts and end users.

Reviewers followed by Tech Enthusiasts talking to Average Consumers: that is the pyramid that OnePlus built its brand upon.

Fodder for Enthusiasts

Another tactic that OnePlus devised is to have a shorter 6-month upgrade cycle. In a world, where even one-year upgrades feel quite iterative and people moving to newer models less frequently, 6-month upgrades seem pointless and counter-intuitive. But OnePlus knows that even these iterative upgrades: the minor spec bumps, a more-polished design, etc. are interesting to the enthusiasts. And then there’s more.

You see, OnePlus phones are characterized by low prices and they achieve these prices by carefully choosing the essentials. You don’t need a Quad-HD display, Full-HD is just fine. Stereo speakers are not essential and so is wireless charging.

The most attractive part of OnePlus has been the price and not the high tech luxuries. But with each iteration, they add one more thing from this basket of luxuries. It’s interesting for tech enthusiasts to see how OnePlus incorporates new features. And this is another thing they build the anticipation upon.

OnePlus is now, both: A Value Brand and a Premium Brand

OnePlus core philosophy implies it won’t sell a phone based on head-turning gimmicks and party tricks, but solely giving the best of the core smartphone experience you need at the most affordable price.

This seems simple and obvious until you realize there’s a complicated question sitting at the heart of it: “What makes the core smartphone experience?” As per Youtuber MKBHD, it’s the 5 pillars of a smartphone: Display, Build, Performance, Battery and Camera. But he recently adds a sixth thing: the Extras.

The Extras are little things, nuances to that core smartphone experience that impacts different people differently. The question here becomes a subjective one, a different answer for a different tribe. With the 7 Pro, they’re appealing to a different tribe.

It’s for those who care about the difference in display between an iPhone XR and iPhone XS. For who care about having the fastest storage, and stereo speakers. And for who can tell the difference between the cameras of Samsung Galaxy S10 and Pixel 3. OnePlus went all out and incorporated every “useful luxury” on their 7 Pro. The tech enthusiasts love it. The person with deep pockets loves it.

And this is where OnePlus circles back to its philosophy. They will “thoughtfully” pick the useful luxuries from a high-end phone and bring you a “Never-Settle” device, at hundreds of dollars less than the iPhones, the Galaxies & the Pixels.

No one can argue OnePlus’ unflinching commitment to its philosophy with respect to the software. At the risk of being labelled a fanboy, I would say Oxygen OS is Essentialism defined!

While the ignorant argued that they are going against their core philosophy by releasing a $700 dollar phone, what they don’t realize that OnePlus just did what it does always: pick the useful essentials (but for a luxury phone instead) and price it hundreds of dollars less.

The OnePlus of 2019 is not saying that their sub-$500 phone is all one needs, they are now simply saying that they have the best phone in the market at a much lower price. If you think the cheaper OnePlus 7 is still all one needs, buy it, recommend it to your friends. But now you’re more aware than ever that you’re not only buying from a value brand, but also a premium brand. You’re aware than ever that your OnePlus 7 is quite cheap.

While many enthusiast brands like the Essential Phone, Pebble, Nextbit, etc. have gone extinct while trying to appeal to the mass market, OnePlus is one of the few success stories that can dream to take on the likes of iPhone. Their evolution story stands on their highly competent tactics to leverage the nature of the internet. Their schemes being:

  1. Rooting themselves to the Reviewers — Tech Enthusiasts — Average Consumer Pyramid,
  2. Engaging Enthusiasts with Half-Yearly Updates, and Premium tiers
  3. Learning a subjective question: “What is the core smartphone experiences?” from its varied tech enthusiasts.

Their strategies ultimately affect the product they made. Their product can’t succeed without the reviews raving their devices. Transparency has helped them both sell and build a great product. You might spend a few extra dollars to buy the Galaxy S10 or the iPhone XS, I am gonna stick to the essentialist Oxygen OS and buy a OnePlus 7 Pro.

Transparency has helped them both sell and build a great product.

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