Maximum reach, minimum spend is the Xiaomi way and in just five years that approach has won the digital-first, Chinese phone brand more than a quarter of India’s smartphone market.

Xiaomi claimed a 27% share of shipments in this market in Q4 2019, according to Counterpoint Research, ahead of rival Chinese brands Vivo (21%), Oppo (12%), and Realme (8%); Samsung (19%) is the other international player with a significant market share.

But while Vivo and Oppo have invested heavily in cricket sponsorship to achieve those figures, Xiaomi has from the beginning adopted a different approach.

The brand had an unofficial Facebook fan group running in India back in 2012, a couple of years before it started selling its products in the country.

“Around April or May 2014, we were deciding on an India launch at a time when the online market for phones was less than 3%,” Anuj Sharma, Head of Marketing, Xiaomi India, told a pre-lockdown conference in Mumbai.

“We brought the third generation of a global phone called the Mi3 and got only 10,000 units.” Why 10,000? Because that was the number of followers on unofficial Facebook fan group.

“We were hopeful, with our fingers crossed that at least 10,000 people will buy our phone,” he said. (For more details, read WARC’s in-depth report: How Xiaomi won over India with its “less is more” approach.)

What followed is now a rather common occurrence with flash sales of phones online. Online retailer Flipkart, Xiaomi’s partner, crashed with the heavy response. In its second flash sale online, all the devices reportedly sold out in five seconds.

“For each of those 10,000 phones, Flipkart had about 100 people logging in trying to buy it,” Sharma said. “The server was not able to handle the load.”

The tech has improved since then, but the basic approach of a “customer community” has not. What began with 10,000 fans on Facebook is today a community of over 11 million monthly active users who discuss Xiaomi products online and help others who join.

“The core fans are the main reason why Xiaomi continues to drive forward,” said Sharma. “This has been an active participation. This community is a part of our launches too.

“In most cases, our fans take precedence over even PR and journalists when we launch new products. These are voices we want to develop,” he said. 

Sourced from WARC, Counterpoint Research