Here is the full transcript of VP of Xiaomi Manu Kumar Jain’s TEDx Talk: Marketing Without Advertising at TEDxIIFTDelhi conference.
I’m going to talk about something that has really fascinated me over the past three years, which is, how you can build a brand without really advertising. Historically, people are taught that marketing is equal to advertising. The most convenient way of building a brand or selling our business is to basically launch a product, do a lot of traditional ads — TV ads, and then assume that people will come and buy it. “But is that the only way to build a brand?” is what I’m trying to caution today.
Let’s start from the beginning. In the 1980s, when I was a kid, probably many of you were not even born, this was the only way for us to come to media. This was Doordarshan. Then around the late 1980s or early 1990s, all of a sudden my role changed because I had a choice. I had two channels: Delhi and Delhi Metro. So I could switch.
And with this Delhi Metro coming in a lot of new soaps came on, like Zabaan Sambhalke, Dekh Bhai Dekh, etc. And a lot of new brands started showing their TV ads. In fact, all the brands that I consumed during the 1990s when I was growing up were the brands that were introduced to me by these TV ads.
Then I went to I.O.T. the big revolution for me in I.O.T. was a new medium, called Internet. All of a sudden, I could go, and access Internet on something called “desktop.” I used to go to my conference lab, I used to go to Yahoo. I had an image of Yahoo! there. All of a sudden you could type something and results would come up. It was so fascinating! A new way of communication. About six or seven years back I thought that was the only way for me to access Internet.
Today, I’m responsible for Xiaomi’s business in India, and we call ourselves a mobile internet company but can you imagine that in 2010 I didn’t know you could access Internet on a mobile phone? In 2010, my wife gave me this phone, an N72, and that’s when she taught me, my wife, that you could access Internet on a smartphone. I said, “Wow!” This is phenomenal!” Who ever thought of something like this?
Anywhere you’re travelling, you no longer have to hold onto a laptop, or your desktop. And you can access Internet on the go. And that was one moment which basically defined my life. At that time of my life, I was working for McKinsey and I started thinking, “What am I doing?” The world is changing, and I need to do something much more exciting with my life. And that’s when we started Jabong.
Jabong was basically a new way of selling products. As many of you would know, he was selling shoes, clothes and other fashion products online. So we were trying to redefine the distribution network.
[1. Distribution. 2. Product]
We were saying, “We will sell these products, available offline, now online. We actually thought we would fail. Who would ever buy shoes online, or clothes online? But eventually we were wrong; a lot of people were coming and buying. We came up with a new type of distribution but our marketing was still very traditional.
At Jabong, we started with a lot of TV ads, print ads, outdoor hoardings, and he was spending just like any other traditional companies in the 1990s were spending. That’s how we were building brand. And I used to think, “Something is wrong.” Because when I used to compare Jabong to other Internet companies from the west, that I knew about and was proud of, like Google, Facebook, etc., I thought that these are companies that have built Internet businesses without any kind of TV ads. So what were we doing wrong?
At that point, I didn’t have an answer. About two and a half, three years back, I left Jabong and I started Xiaomi‘s business in India. When I started Xiaomi’s business most of the people said, “You’re going to fail.” “You’re going to be a disaster.” “You’ll die in three months.” The reason was that we were selling phones online. And only online. And we were not doing any TV ads. In fact, if you look at all the smartphone brands before that they had built their business on only the usual things building a huge distribution network across 100,000 shops, doing a lot of traditional TV ads or print ads. People said we weren’t doing any of the usual things so we would will definitely die.
Today we have become the number one brand in the online segment. We have become the number three brand online plus offline in all of India. And we have had a great success over the last two years. A lot of people don’t know us because we don’t do any TV ads but we have basically built a pretty solid business foundation over here. And that started me thinking, “What have we done differently? And can you basically share it with others? And what have other similar companies across the world have done, which is how to build brands without any advertising?
I looked at the top 50 smartest companies in 2015 in the world. This is MIT’s list of last year. We are one of them, by the way. I short-listed some of these companies, which I thought would be some of the companies we could relate to, companies that we use or we have heard of. Companies like Facebook, Snapchat, Uber, Apple, Google, Amazon, Tesla Motors. I said,”What are these companies doing? Aren’t they really spending money on advertising?” And the answer was, “No.” None of them.
Take the example of Facebook. Facebook has 1.7 billion people coming on Facebook monthly. One fourth of the people in the world come and use Facebook every single month. Has Facebook ever done any kind of TV ads? No. Take another example from the East: Alibaba, which is the biggest e-commerce company in China, and the biggest e-commerce company in the world. They have a “Singles day”, every 11th day of the month they celebrate a Singles day. Last Singles day they did a revenue of ten billion dollars in less than a day. Ten billion dollars! And without any TV ads.