Can You Xiaomi How to Cook Startup PR?

What if I told you there’s a little-known Chinese company that’s outsmarting Apple and Samsung with a  global consumer strategy based largely on Facebook and Twitter?

You’d probably give me the same response I give my five year-old niece, who wants to be a princess when she grows up: Sure you can, honey, sure you can. But this isn’t a fairytale. This week we’ll be examining Xiaomi’s success through their ‘Mi Fans’, and analyse just how they’ve managed to ‘out-market’ evil stepmothers Apple and Samsung.

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Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who has the fairest PR strategy of them all?

So you’re a new player in the smartphone game, competing against the iPhone and Galaxy lineup, with startups like the YotaPhone whose designs constantly push the envelope. You better have a damn good strategy to amplify your voice above the rest.

This was  Xiaomi’s situation. Their newest creation, the Mi 4 may not have the brand cachet of Apple or Samsung, and it may not have two screens like the YotaPhone, but it’s sure as hell getting as much, if not more, attention. How is that possible? Let me introduce you to the strategically curated world of ‘Mi Fans’.

Little Rice and Their Rice Flour

‘Mi Fan’ is a play on Xiaomi’s meaning in Chinese (Xiaomi means ‘little rice’ and Mi Fan means ‘rice flour’). This is Xiaomi’s designation for their strongest supporters, who are  equivalent to Apple ‘fanboys’ or Google’s ‘fandroids’. One of the company’s PR strategies has been to descend from their corporate jade tower and interact with fans through social media and offline events. Xiaomi wants to make their intentions clear: They want to be friends, not just another generic corporate personality.

With one look at Xiaomi’s Facebook page, you can see that it’s incredibly inviting to fans. Product tutorials, pictures and updates on new hires, are mixed with fan photos, giving their page the same vibe as a family photo album. They add to this intimacy with calls for interaction, regularly asking ‘Mi Fans’ to share their opinions:

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“Which Mi phone are you using now?”

 

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“Have you tried this before?”

“What can you buy with $15 worth of savings?”    

Perhaps the most intimate of all fan experiences are Xiaomi’s ‘Mi Fan’ Festival. The most recent, held in China, embodied their PR philosophy: Instead of the traditional product launches that they’ve done in years past, they held a flash sale for fans, offering cheaper prices and access to a Great Wall’s worth of products. Given the resulting testimonials, and pictures like the one below, it’s clear Xiaomi’s ‘Mi Fans’ are on course to help their favorite Chinese startup chew it’s way to the top of the global smartphone food chain.

How to Cook Your Own ‘Mi Fans

As a startup, marketing and PR are not always going to occupy the lion’s share of your budget. Xiaomi’s ability to involve fans and utilize their community to generate intimacy is extremely cost-effective. Asian startups face an uphill battle trying to gain Western attention, due to language barriers, cultural differences, etc. Creating a sense of familiarity with your target market requires real sincerity more than perfectly phrased greeting card sincerity. Xiaomi’s method of community driven marketing is not new, and it’s not limited to billion dollar industry giants, by any means.

On Xiaomi’s Facebook page, posts rarely exceed 100 words. In fact, most posts direct users to other articles or images the company has created. And generally, a picture or a concept shouldn’t be so complicated or local that a person living 281,736,912 miles from you isn’t going to get it.

So before you become paralysed trying to write a Pulitzer Prize worthy English paragraph, spend time first thinking of simple ways to draw your customers closer.

For example, if you’re a wearable startup, ask fans to submit the most creative way your product is being worn. Create a hashtag to be used for entries and give a prize for the best submission, and then promote it like mad. While these are just two examples, your goal here is to create a bond between you and your users through content; show that you are open to -and value- their contributions!

Community driven marketing is like cooking. It needs a recipe, the right ingredients and a lot of heat. So show your own ‘Mi Fans’ how to make rice, and then watch as they help give life to your brand with new and unexpected twists on your recipe.

At G3 Partners we’re obsessed with helping startups communicate more effectively in new markets. This means understanding the unique characteristics of your target customers overseas and implementing communications strategies which are relevant to them. In Xiaomi’s case, Facebook doesn’t even exist in China, their home market, yet they’ve been able to use it to powerful effect, building an impassioned global community behind their brand.

Want to stir-fry your own ‘Mi Fan’ banquet? This should get you started.

‘Mi Fan’ Ingredient List:

  • Be active on social media and community websites to show you are a fan and a member of the community, not a corporate overlord

  • Social media interactions should reflect the way that your company and your target customers actually speak. (It’s fine to use slang, hashtags and references to pop culture, if they’re authentic and will resonate with your audience.)

  • Create a community that people will actually want to be part of, and support it through authentic interaction. This gives the the community value beyond serving as an information resource, and will keep people coming back to check in and share ideas more often.

  • Invite users into your company. Show fans behind the scenes, updates on hires, and upload fan photos as well, to offer supporters a sense of belonging in the company