Storyboard18 | 'Misinterpretation of the facts using 'Make in India' as a marketing tool wasn’t a good experience for me', Realme's Madhav Sheth

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Realme’s Madhav Sheth talks about the company’s advertising strategy, changing consumer behaviour and the overused ‘Make in India’ marketing ploy in the smartphone category.

Storyboard18 | 'Misinterpretation of the facts using 'Make in India' as a marketing tool wasn’t a good experience for me', Realme's Madhav Sheth
After being elevated as president, Realme International Business Group, Madhav Sheth’s goal is to make Realme the go-to brand choice for millennials. The company relies heavily on building a loyal community of its users instead of pumping money in celebrity-led advertising which has become a mainstay in smartphone marketing in India.
As it keeps an ambitious goal of achieving 100 million global sales by 2022, Storyboard18 spoke to Sheth about the company’s advertising strategy, changing consumer behaviour and the overused ‘Make in India’ marketing ploy in the smartphone category.
Edited excerpts.
Tell us about your advertising and marketing strategy in India which has worked for you?
Realme is not about marketing. We didn’t do anything innovative in marketing as such but we did create a Realme community with a dedicated app which is currently 4.5 million strong. Here, the users give real-time feedback on our products, features, colour and design. Every day, we see around 300,000 to 400,000 active users on the app.
What also worked for us is that we brought products much earlier than anticipated after hearing the feedback from our community. One might consider building community as a marketing tool but for me it is more of a feedback tool where we engage with the consumers, understand their aspirations for the future and that’s how we decide and how and what product should be launched, when it should be launched, what’s the current sentiment of the market. During the pandemic, for instance, we needed to figure out whether the market was looking for a bigger screen or better battery. So, product portfolio needs to be changed according to the situation.
I think Realme has been quite agile in doing that. If I’m completely convinced about certain feedback for a product, we can roll out the product as quickly as next six months. Real time feedback mechanism and at the same quick action to the feedback mechanism has helped us.
How has your consumer changed? Is he/she more demanding, what kind of expectations do they have?
From an industry perspective, the replacement cycles have increased first from 18 to 24 months then from 24 months to 30 months. Post-pandemic, we have seen that consumers are looking for phones with innovations and disruptions rather than just upgrading the phones as a matter of lifestyle. Consumers are asking questions like – Is the phone giving me the usability or the functionality? More importantly, consumers are not looking to buy any logos. They are looking to buy phones with durability, innovation in a particular price category. Realme has always hinged itself on performance and design so we are constantly looking to deliver on that front. Smartphones are not just about giving people another hardware device, it’s about understanding and fulfilling the aspirations of the user in the next 12-18 months since the market is so dynamic. Every day there is a new innovation coming out from one brand or the other, then how can we keep with that particular technology and ensure that consumers are getting updated devices from Realme that is what keeps us on our toes and hence the real feedback mechanism is extremely important to us.
How has your association with KL Rahul helped the brand? Are you looking at more celebrity associations?
Probably not. Honestly, we believe in performance marketing rather than celebrity led marketing. We do use celebrities when we are launching products which are targeted at masses but for our premium range of smartphones under GT series we don’t prefer using celebrities.
Is influencer marketing critical for you?
Yes and no. Realme is an online community brand so therefore influencers become important. I also believe that every home has an influencer and we are targeting them. A millennial in a household will guide the device purchase of the family so he/she becomes an influencer and they will not rely on a celebrity’s advice. Our aim is to educate this millennial population with what we are offering.
How do you tackle image management and keeping brand value intact when anti-China sentiment has been on the rise?
It’s a pity to hear such types of comments from few people. The worst part is not about the people but the brands who promote themselves as an ‘Indian brand’ wherein any of the foreign brands are more Indian than they are. Some of these brands do not have their research and development (R&D) centres based out of India so they are completely dependent on countries such as Taiwan, Hong Kong or China. How can they call themselves as an Indian brand? Using ‘Make in India’ as a marketing tool is not the right way of doing things. The best part is the government knows about what is Indian and what is not very well.
Around 95 to 99 percent of our phones are manufactured in India. TVs are 100 per cent manufactured in India. Components, of course, we have to import. We have our own R&D centres in the country. There is a fundamental disconnect right now that people try to use ‘Make in India’ as a marketing tool to promote their brand which is not the right way of doing things. It is not ethically right. You have to be fair and honest about how far are you Indian. People are not fools. On a short-term basis, brands wish to get visibility. A brand should not mislead consumers. Misinterpretation of the facts using ‘Make in India’ as a marketing tool that’s something which wasn’t a good experience for me but I also believe most consumers have understood it by now.
Where's your next area of growth coming from?
It will come from the ecosystem products and there’s a huge opportunity. At Realme, we believe that everything around you which is convention will move to smart. Our goal is to make the smart products (could be a TV/laptop/refrigerator) connected to the hub (smartphones)
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