Xiaomi’s Mi 10 And The Unfortunate Problem Of Brand Perception

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Bhawani Singhhttps://techmepro.com
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The Xiaomi Mi 10 is the Chinese smartphone manufacturer’s first flagship smartphone to have come to India in a long time. If anything, we’re glad that Xiaomi is riling up a segment that has primarily been occupied by a few players. But, we can’t help be apprehensive about how Xiaomi will tackle the massive, unfounded expectations that consumers have built up over the last few years.

In a press conference that happened earlier this week, Xiaomi India CMO, Anuj Sharma, shared an anecdote on how he came across a Twitter user who expected Xiaomi to price the Mi 10 at INR 19,990. Yeah, you read that number right.

But this shouldn’t be surprising and the launch of the Redmi K20 series last year is the perfect example that exemplifies this. The Redmi K20 Pro was the first high-end phone from the brand of Redmi and had all the ingredients to justify its launch price of INR 27,999. But being used to aggressive sub-15K prices from the brand, the Indian audience just couldn’t seem to justify the price tag and took it to Twitter to express their “disappointment”.

Apparently, not all of it was genuine disappointment though. Xiaomi’s CMO claimed that a lot of these tweets were from fake accounts and were made to make the Redmi K20 series seem overpriced.

Mi 10 Brings A Lot To The Table

Now before we go ahead, I think it’s important to know that the Xiaomi Mi 10 is a flagship phone through and through. It’s powered by the flagship Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor; has a quad-camera setup led by a 108MP sensor; boats of a 90Hz curved punch-hole display, supports 30W wireless charging, and a heck lot more.

With a barrage of high-end features on the Mi 10, it is indeed an exciting device that brings a lot to the table. Obviously, I’ll leave my judgement in our full review of the phone.

xiaomi-mi-10-5g-2_6y23
Xiaomi’s Mi 10

But the point out here is that at a price tag of INR 49,999, the Mi 10 is not an overpriced phone. Since the phone was first launched in China, there are obvious comparisons being done with the Chinese price of the phone. With a starting price of CNY 3,999 in China for the 8GB+128GB variant, that roughly translates to INR 43,000, the official Indian pricing of INR 49,999 seems like a dishonest mark-up at first.

What needs to be known is that the Mi 10 isn’t manufactured in India and all units are imported from China. This adds import duties to the Chinese pricing. The increase in GST rates on mobile phones in India also plays its role. Lastly, the dropping INR/USD rate also needs to be considered to make more sense of the Indian pricing.

Also, another notable feature of the Mi 10 is that subtle changes have been made to the operating system. Unlike MIUI 11 that’s found on other Redmi phones, the MIUI 11 on the Mi 10 is ad-free and also comes with the option of uninstalling pre-installed Xiaomi applications. This solves two issues that have got a lot of flak in the past. With these subtle changes, the Mi 10 is expected to deliver a software experience that you’d expect for the price you’ll be paying for it.

But the problem I’m trying to address here is not a product problem. It’s rather about how Xiaomi has positioned itself in the Indian market with respect to the smartphones that it has launched in the last few years.

Red(Mi)

Earlier this year, Xiaomi expressed their interest in reviving its Mi brand in India. If you, like many other consumers, are confused regarding the difference between Mi and Redmi, allow me to explain. Redmi is a different sub-brand that caters to the budget segment and includes devices like the immensely popular Redmi Note series that has truly helped put Xiaomi on the map.

The Mi brand, on the other hand, is a premium brand that offers more-expensive devices that also showcase Xiaomi’s innovation. The Mi series and the Mi Mix series of smartphones come under this umbrella. Unfortunately, until now, India hasn’t seen a lot of these more-expensive Mi smartphones. For context, the Mi 5 was the last phone to have launched in India in the Mi flagship series before the Mi 10 that launched today; a phone that received lukewarm response despite boasting of impressive specs.

xiaomi-mi-5
The Xiaomi Mi 5 that launched in India back in 2016.

If a company wants to diversify and launch a product that targets a different audience and doesn’t necessarily push across the same brand message, they usually resort to the creation of sub-brands. For instance, Realme was spun-off from OPPO and was given its own space to create feature-packed smartphones for the online market that could rival other competitive offerings in the industry. OPPO, on the other hand, kept its focus on the offline market and also had offerings in the mid-range and flagship segment.

As explained above, Xiaomi too has sub-brands. Keeping POCO aside, for now, Redmi caters to the budget segment whereas the Mi brand is for the company’s premium offerings. But there’s one problem here. Mi and Redmi sound too similar and are perceived as the same brand by many. In fact, until 2019 – when Redmi was officially announced to be a sub-brand – Redmi phones were branded with a Mi logo.

redmi-note-6-pro
Redmi Note 6 Pro

Redmi has a mass-market appeal and the propensity of an average user to confuse Redmi with the Mi brand doesn’t seem to help the cause. This very problem might be the biggest challenge that Xiaomi faces with the Mi 10 in India.

OnePlus, despite slowly and meticulously working on transitioning from being a brand that offered flagship killers to a brand that offered flagships – over a period of 5 years – wasn’t resistant to flak when it first announced the OnePlus 7 Pro (the brand’s first attempt at making a premium flagship phone). In my opinion, the anticipation of such a reaction was probably one reason why the OnePlus 7 was launched at a price lower than that of its predecessor (OnePlus 6T).

This is primarily because when it comes to flagships, the brand name and the brand value matter too. This is one reason why Apple & Samsung, until now, have been the go-to choice for consumers looking for high-end smartphones.

It’ll be interesting to see how Xiaomi goes about tackling this issue regarding brand perception and how the Indian market reacts to it. As for me, I’m excited to check out the Mi 10 and pit it against phones like the OnePlus 8 Pro and the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra to see where it stands.

I also can’t help but wonder if this was the best time for Xiaomi to make a comeback with respect to flagship smartphones in India. The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to have a considerable impact on the discretionary spending of consumers in India and spending moolah on an expensive smartphone might not be the first thing that I’d expect a lot of people to do.

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