When Poco F1, or Pocophone F1 as it was called globally, launched back in August 2018, it was pitched against the OnePlus 6. The Poco F1 had all the features and specifications expected of a flagship at the time. On top of this, the starting price of Rs 20,999 made the Poco F1, a more affordable alternative to the OnePlus 6, which started at Rs 34,999.
But then Xiaomi’s sub-brand fell off the map and Poco disappeared for till the end of 2019, with speculation rife that the brand was about to shut down. However, Poco staged a comeback in 2020 with a whole new lineup of phones, starting with the X2, followed up by the even more affordable M and C series. It would also operate independently from its parent Xiaomi, though at a global level they are still part of the same group.
In 2021, Poco India is asserting its brand identity further with a revamp of its logo. The Poco logo now includes a custom ‘Mad’ emoji in place of the first ‘O’. The ‘Mad’ emoji has received some mixed response if one were to look at it kindly.
“Our social strategy has been slightly off-track. The new logo for Poco embraces our key philosophy, which is ‘Made of Mad’,” Anuj Sharma, Country Director for Poco India told indianexpress.com over a call. Sharma also argued that because emojis have become a much accepted “part of our usual communication,” they tend to have “a better brand recognition.”
Poco’s change in strategy is hard to ignore. While OnePlus, its original perceived competitor, has gone increasingly premium, Poco’s lineup is now dominated by phones priced between Rs 8,000 to Rs 20,000 — also the bread and butter of mother brand Xiaomi.
Still, the diversified strategy appears to have worked for Poco. According to numbers from the International Data Corporation, POCO entered the “top 5 online channel vendor list” in 2020, further strengthening Xiaomi’s share in the market.
Data from Counterpoint Research showed that Poco crossed five million shipments for the first time in the fourth quarter of 2020 driven by its M2, M2 Pro and C3 models; no small feat for a brand in the highly competitive Indian market.
“The brand has done well in 2020. Their limited model portfolio strategy has worked in terms of giving volumes, considering the intense competition in which Poco is playing now. The brand is perceived as giving some extra value than others in the market with more youthful energy,” Navkendar Singh, Research Director at IDC told indianexpress.com over an email. IDC though did not share the exact market share for Poco.
According to Sharma, its budget friendly Poco C3, the more mid-range M2 have all sold more than a million units. The company is currently in an online-only model in India, with no presence in offline retail, which still commands a substantial share of the market in the country.
Independent, but not quite
But despite the modest success, Poco is operating in what can only be considered a tough space and this is not lost on Sharma. The smartphone industry has been consolidating. He admits that from 30 to 35 brands that used to sell a few years back, it is now down to 10.
IDC data shows that ‘Others’ in the Indian smartphone market space account for just 16.6 million shipments for all of 2020, a contraction of 23 per cent compared to the year before. In contrast, market leader Xiaomi’s shipments stood at 41 million for all of 2020.
And while Poco is technically independent, it is still dependent on Xiaomi. As Sharma describes it, the relationship is closer to how Realme, Oppo and OnePlus are part of the BBK group. “They’ve seen the benefits in the global supply chain and it is something similar here,” he underlined. Realme, which only started in 2018, is already among the top five vendors in India.
“In the last four years, there’s not been a single brand without a larger one backing it. The stakes of creating a brand in 2020-21 are so much higher. One million of anything is not too much to get you on the supplier side. They are looking at 10s of millions of parts,” Sharma explained.
But breaking the perception that Poco is no longer a Xiaomi sub-brand is easier said than done. For one, people keep pointing out how some of the phones are revamped Xiaomi products. The Poco X2 and Redmi K30 were seen as carbon copies of each other.
“Poco is independent from product portfolio, teams, etc. What that essentially means is that as we kind of grow, we start having slightly different products,” Sharma insists. This is what Poco somewhat managed with the X3 where it used the Snapdragon 732G processor, which has so far not been available on any other phone.
But what of the ‘flagship’ strategy? According to Sharma, going independent meant they can’t be selling just one particular device.
“In India, about 75-80% of the phones that were selling were below $200, which is about Rs 15,000. With X2, we were trying to get as close as possible to that particular segment, so that you have enough stake in the market, you have enough volumes,” he said.
He pointed out that Poco F1 at $300, may be extremely affordable for the US market, but in India, it was hitting the premium segment. The company has instead adopted a more “balanced portfolio” approach in order to sell to more people.
“For the business to make sense, you have to go beyond the premium segment. I am extremely thankful that we took the call, because by the time we got to about June, July, the sub-$200 segment had actually grown to about 84 or 85%. More and more people in the pandemic decided that ‘I’m not going to spend as much.’ At that point having a C3 and M2 helped,” he pointed out.