OPPO in Thailand
Upstart Brand Challenges Samsung’s Dominance
Chinese smartphone brand OPPO is now the second-largest brand in the ASEAN region, having surpassed Apple and trailing only Samsung.
Upstart Brand Challenges Samsung’s DominanceBy Kwangyin Liu
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 627 )
A Maserati showroom is not out of place on the third floor of Bangkok’s most upscale shopping mall, which buzzes with a constant stream of patrons on a Thursday afternoon. Directly across from the luxury automobile showroom is a brightly lit OPPO store.
Over the past five years, the Chinese smartphone brand has made the transition from unknown upstart to aggressively taking on major cities worldwide, befitting its current status as the world’s fourth-largest smartphone brand.
OPPO has performed especially well in Southeast Asia. According to figures from IDC Research, OPPO’s sales across the ASEAN region (Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Myanmar) last year grew by 1.3 times over 2015 as the brand ascended to second in overall regional market share.
According to data from marketing consulting firm GFK, as of this past March, OPPO had reached an 11.2 percent market share in the Thailand smartphone market. This is second only to Samsung, and represents phenomenal growth compared to OPPO’s measly market share of just one percent five years ago. The most popular model is the phone with the strongest selfie capability, and the most-purchased model price is 10,000 Thai baht (around NT$9,000).
How has OPPO managed to stand out amid the intense competition in the Thai market? And how has it been able to overcome most people’s negative image of “made in China” products? To address those challenges, the company has employed three key tactics, i.e. blanket coverage, aggressive spending, and local hiring.
Blanket PR and Showrooms
What is blanket coverage in practice? For starters, OPPO’s huge ads are plastered all around Bangkok, on billboards, on the streets, on walls, at store entrances, and throughout subway stations.
Cha-non Jirayukul, OPPO’s chief marketing manager for Thailand, relates that OPPO implements an aggressive marketing approach, from online efforts to in-store promotions. In one of these efforts, OPPO has been a major sponsor of popular television programs, including The Voice of Thailand.
The company also employs a swarm approach to getting distributors. “We have to call on every single outlet. We used to sell ourselves, but now we need to get everyone else to sell for us,” says Jirayukul.
How many sales outlets does OPPO have in Thailand, and how many sales personnel? While Cha-Non Jirayukul would not reveal specific numbers, he did offer the following: “Five years ago we had just over a hundred, and now we have more than 5,000 full-time sales personnel. Meanwhile, we also have more than twice the number of sales points we had five years ago.”
How does OPPO blanket the market? “By dividing by region; after canvasing the streets we go to blanket coverage, look at data, and formulate our strategy,” relates Jirayukul.
OPPO has adjusted its strategy in line with the competitive landscape. First, it concentrated on putting distributors in place, after which it turned its attention to raising OPPO’s in-store positioning, and finally focused on selling higher sales price items to peck away at Samsung’s market.
Distributors Get Double
OPPO’s second secret weapon is aggressive spending. “In the store you need to find ways to convince the boss how good OPPO’s products are and that they’ll be profitable,” says Jirayukul. However, one Southeast Asia smartphone industry insider notes that OPPO gives their distributors twice the cut of other vendors in the overseas market. Enticed by the profit potential, retailers are naturally happy to push the products.
“You show them the products, and say we’ll talk after the boss takes a look at them. Then, when he realizes how good the profits can be, he gets to work,” says Jirayukul.
The third tactic is using local hires as managers. At just 34 years of age, Cha-Non Jirayukul is OPPO’s top sales executive in Thailand. Jirayukul studied Chinese in Guangzhou in his early twenties, and since starting out as an event translator for OPPO five years ago, he has worked his way up to the company’s highest sales position in his native country.
Rather than relying on hiring Chinese executives to sell products, OPPO prefers to hire locals who are well attuned to the local market, fluent in the local language, and who understand the ecosystem and habits of local consumers.
The facts bear out that the company’s local hiring strategy has been critical to its success at making inroads into the Thai market.
“I think all of the Chinese brands should thank OPPO,” remarks Jirayukul. “Five years ago, Thai consumers had a poor impression of Chinese-made products, but five years later we’ve changed their minds, and today Thailand’s consumers are more and more confident in Chinese brands,” he adds.
Jirayukul readily admits that OPPO’s top rival is Samsung, and that it will take several years to catch up and take the lead over the Korean giant. “Ultimately our goal is to become number one, which could be taken to mean toppling Samsung from the top position. From the day I started, I wanted to make it to the top. Now, I’m not the only one saying it, so are a lot of our distributors, who are keen to do more business for OPPO.”
If Jirayukul’s confident smile is any indicator, we can expect OPPO to surpass Samsung at some point in the future. Whether it can succeed in that mission will depend on the corporate headquarters’ continued pumping of money into marketing, profit sharing, and personnel investment to maintain its blanket coverage strategy.
Translated from the Chinese by David Toman