Xiaomi’s One Shot at Success in the US

Xiaomi may soon take its first steps into the United States. How will it do? I have some suggestions to offer. If it follows them, its chances of success will increase. If it doesn’t, well, it may face the same problems that have dogged Microsoft, BlackBerry, Motorola, HTC and many others.

I have watched many handset makers fail. Wireless in the U.S. is a booming business, but it’s not easy to break into the space as a handset maker. Apple’s iPhone and Android devices like Samsung’s Galaxy line have been big winners to date, claiming roughly 80-90 percent market share.

Well-known competitors like Microsoft, BlackBerry, Motorola, HTC and LG are struggling to hold onto single-digit market share. If these better-known brands can’t seem to cut it, what makes Xiaomi think it can?

The Beauty of a Blank Slate

Xiaomi does have one advantage. If it can leverage it correctly, it stands a chance of succeeding in the U.S. marketplace.

What is that advantage? In the U.S., few customers know much about the brand. Ask any smartphone user about Xiaomi, and you likely will find zero brand recognition. The name is unfamiliar. That means Xiaomi has a blank slate.

That blank slate can be golden if it handles its U.S. entrance correctly. Xiaomi has a unique opportunity to create initial awareness. It can put the first strokes of color onto a blank canvas. It can create a fresh new picture of what it represents in the minds of American users.

If it executes well, then it stands a much stronger chance of claiming a segment of the American marketplace. A strong debut can be much more effective than reinventing an existing brand. However, Xiaomi must create a reason for end users to trust an unknown company and to want it to win.

Trust traditionally comes with time and experience. However, early stage trust can be built quickly with words and stories. Then a long-term trust can develop over time. Is Xiaomi ready for the challenge?

The company will get only one shot at this. Once the first impression is made, the die will be cast. Here’s what Xiaomi has to do.

First, it must create a hot device — one that is new and noticeably different from the iPhone or the plethora of Android devices already in the market. Its handset must be attractive to a specific segment of the marketplace. Remember both BlackBerry and Microsoft offer a different OS, but they are not flourishing.

Second, winning over the media and analyst community is key. Xiaomi must challenge existing stories with its own new ideas. If Xiaomi can make a strong enough case for itself, then news stories and commentaries will proliferate. The brand will stand the chance of catching fire.

Something will be written. Either the ideas will be supplied by the company, or the ideas will come from the market. Leaving it up to the market is risky. Without media and analyst interest, Xiaomi’s chances of success will dwindle.

Third, Xiaomi must attract the end user. Positive stories are key. They will lend it credibility and help convince users to give the brand a try.

Tug on Heartstrings

Xiaomi will get one shot, and it must get it right. It must conduct all of the elements of its U.S. debut like a symphony. If it can do that well, then Xiaomi will have a chance to carve out a place for itself.

There is one very important question it must answer: Why should users care about Xiaomi? If it can create an interesting and compelling story, and if it can successfully tell that story to the marketplace through the media and analyst community, then it stands a chance to succeed in the U.S. marketplace and the rest of the Americas.

We know the story of Steve Jobs’ Apple with over the last few decades. We fell in love with that success story. It plays out like a novel.

That’s what Xiaomi must do — that’s how it must compete. It must find a way into the hearts of customers. Otherwise, even the best technology will fail.

The wireless world has turned into a very emotional place. Users buy because brands are hot — because they connect for one reason or another. They buy for personal reasons.

Xiaomi’s biggest challenge today is to get close to the customer. It must develop a story, tell it well, and tell it everywhere. It must create the right kind of image on the blank minds of its potential consumers. It must make sure it hits every single item in this process right on target.

If it does, then maybe, just maybe, it can create a path to success in the American marketplace.

Jeff Kagan

E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a technologyindustry analyst and consultant who enjoys sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry he's been watching for 25 years. Email him at [email protected].

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