Xiaomi is the largest smartphone vendor in China, partly due to its loyal fans. The five-year-old company makes smartphones with high-end specs and low price tags, selling them mostly online to cut overhead costs. Xiaomi’s sales more than doubled last year, and it became the world’s most valuable startup with an estimated valuation of $46 billion. The brand’s appeal goes beyond its low prices – it makesdeveloping loyal fans a priority. The next question is whether the model translates outside China. Here are five ways it cultivates its fan base.
1. Product Testers
Xiaomi started cultivating fans even before it started selling products. Before its first smartphone launch in 2011, Xiaomi recruited volunteer tech enthusiasts from around China to help it test its mobile user interface, MIUI, which is a variant of Google’s Android mobile software. These volunteers became the first batch of Xiaomi fans. Xiaomi continues to update MIUI (pronounced “mee-U-I”) weekly with input from customers, the fastest update rate in the industry.
Most gadget makers invite reporters and some VIP guests to their product launches. Xiaomi does it differently: it allots half the seats at each launch for regular customers. Fans sit in the front near the stage, and the press in the back. Xiaomi fans often travel from distant provinces to attend.
Xiaomi sells most of its products on its website in weekly “flash sales,” in which a small quantity of devices are released. These sales often sell out, fueling the company’s buzz. Xiaomi gives loyal fans what it calls F-codes (“F” for friend) that give them priority in the sales. This allows them to buy popular devices for themselves or their friends while others come up empty-handed. The F-codes give Xiaomi fans a sense of status and a tangible benefit.
Xiaomi hosts a party for its fans every few weeks in a different city in China. The company says the majority of its marketing budget goes toward parties and other events for fans. The events often involve raffle prizes of Xiaomi devices and opportunities to chat with senior executives.
5. Social Media
Like many Internet startups, Xiaomi does most of its advertising through social media. The company hires dozens of young staffers to respond to user comments on websites like Weibo, a Chinese social media service similar to Twitter. Xiaomi founder Lei Jun and other senior executives also often announce company news first through social media, so that fans feel like they have a direct line of communication with top management.