#10Q: Launching a global brand in SA in a crisis

Global technology brand Oppo was about to launch its smartphones in SA last year when Covid hit.

Global technology brand OPPO was about to launch its smartphones in South Africa last year when Covid hit. It pushed its launch back to the fourth quarter and is now aggressively targeting the dominance of the mobile phone market, aiming to be in the top three of mobile brands in the market. It is ranked number five globally and prides itself on its pioneering technology, launching the world’s thinnest smartphone in 2014; and the first to introduce 5X Zoom ‘Periscope’ camera technology. Oppo’s business covers 40 countries with over six research institutes and five R&D centers across the world, from San Francisco to Shenzhen. Oppo also opened an International Design Centre headquartered in London, driving cutting edge technology that will shape the future not only for smartphones but for intelligent connectivity. Retailing Africa spoke to Liam Faurie, head of go-to-market and operations at Oppo, about the Chinese brand’s challenges launching in South Africa and plans now that the launch is behind them.

1. Tell us about the brand?
Liam Faurie.

Oppo is a smart technology company. In 2004 Oppo founder Tony Chen looked at all the big tech companies and wondered what had happened to the human element behind it. Our founder wanted a cool brand where people wanted to work. A few years later, after starting to make BlueRay players, they got into the phone business, and made the ‘Smiley Face Phone’ with the camera designed as a smiley face. That set the trend for Oppo and its phones and it started going into the smartphone space with meaningful innovation. Oppo X 2020 had the world’s first rollable display. It resulted in Oppo being in the top five of the global smartphones space in terms of volume.

2. What is the Oppo USP?

Oppo’s positioning is high end specs with a nice price point. We have aggressive pricing on contracts of R299 p/m, bundled with our wireless earphones. The Oppo A53 S is our big seller. What we have done is make our phone the best gaming and communications device for R5,000. Customers like to feel they have something extra.

3. Why have you chosen South Africa?

Oppo has been trading in Africa in Kenya, Nigeria and Egypt. South Africa is not an easy market to enter. We classify markets as device or operator markets. Oppo’s success comes from open markets where consumer demand drives growth and we enter with price points; whereas South Africa is more challenging as SA operators have very strict requirements, products have to be customised first for SA with all their own animation pre-loaded. Vodacom, MTN and Telkom shops have very strict guidelines on how they allow brands to be expressed in store.

4. How will you appeal to SA consumers?

Oppo’s launch into South Africa is part of a slow rollout in Southern Africa… We hope to conquer this continent. What we have done, is make sure we are coming into this market with not necessarily the most affordable price points, but we give you value and quality. We will make sure quality is top of mind. What the consumer needs is a smartphone with a big screen and long lasting battery. We will give it to them – we have the biggest batteries in those price segments and safe charging which doesn’t degrade the battery.

5. What partnerships are you building?

We partnered with Google by giving our users Google vouchers as well. Our products come with Android straight out the box. We added Go Gamers, Superbalist, and gave consumers the option of Netflix vouchers as well. And last month we signed a partnership agreement with MTN.

6. Outline your marketing campaigns, including in store?

We entered this market during a very difficult time. My Chinese principals arrived in the country in February and started setting up meetings and then, boom, lockdown. So, we managed to launch in Q4 of 2020. We had to be selective when we launched with partners, so we partnered with Vodacom and their downstream channels; in retail with most of the TFG group; and at selected Ackermans and Game stores. We have really sourced the best of the industry in terms of our team and are in 1962 stores, with more coming online.

7. What challenges do you expect?

The pandemic has been the biggest challenge, losing that face to face interaction with our team and partners. In this industry we rely on relationships and being able to show our phones to our partners, let them hold the phone in their hands, and experience all the phone features for themselves. How do we now go to all of the stores and tell them about a product and brand they had never heard of before? We had to try get multiple stores into training sessions. That has been very tough for us but slowly we are getting around to all.

8. Please tell us more about your localisation strategy?

One thing I want to highlight is that the team is the most important. That is what Oppo values most. We went out and brought in the best in the industry in terms of our talent. Our channel team is drawn from all the big brands. We put together this local team that is supported by a few Chinese expats to do what we need to do in this industry. Our focus is on local job creation. We currently have 184 field team members out there – area managers and promoters. That is the foundation. You can have the best product in the world, but you need the best team to support that product.

9. How did you restrategise entering the market after Covid hit?

We did have a TV commercial in 2020; but it has very much been about a digital presence going forward. We gave our product to some young influencers and used videos they made of our product.  The next big launch is our 5G product coming end-March.

10. What are your growth plans for 2021?

It is a very difficult time, and it will continue to get difficult. Our strategy is very simple: continue investing into this market, be it through marketing, through team resources, take it step by step. The big change will be the launch of two really exciting 5G products with our partners. We will reap the benefits of that. Channel expansion is also key for us. There are a few national chains we want to target. Call centres and online presence is a key growth area for us. The pandemic has disrupted the retail industry… but a business built in a crisis is a business built for resilience. If we have been able to achieve what we have, given the current market, then once this market shows really strong smartphone growth again and we have all our partners lined up, we can only see growth. We will be looking at product and team expansion this year, and channel expansions will see us get into the top three smartphone brands in South Africa, up there with the iPhone and Samsung. That is our target. We are in this for the long term.


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