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Most people consider their choice of smartphones an intimate affair. Nowadays, we spend more time on our phones than with actual human beings. This has been considered an epidemic by some people but one man’s meat, is another man’s poison or is it, one man’s poison, is another man’s meat?

Smartphone manufacturers have been rushing to develop new smartphones with better features and consecutively larger price tags but this development has also led to the steady growth of budget smartphones with more than decent features. These same manufacturers have been ballooning their brands in new markets in a bid to increase sales.

I have not studied other African markets aside from Nigeria and South Africa but I can confidently say that each market has its own uniqueness and market needs. In Kenya, price rules. The Kenyan smartphone market is a predominantly “clueless” consumer market that will be impressed by seemingly large specifications and small price tags on a phone – case in point, the success of Tecno.

Sell a smartphone at an affordable price and people will be lining up to give you their money. However, this is not an entirely true statement, or maybe affordable is just relative – We’ve seen Samsung Galaxy flagships and Apple’s iPhones prosper to some extent – in their own way. For instance, shortly after the launch of the iPhone X in Kenya last year, Redington announced that they had sold over 1000 iPhones within the first week. We got similar reports just the other day when Samsung saw over 800 pre-orders for the Galaxy Note 9.

Price vs Brand

As much as this market is heavily dependent on price, the brand also goes a long way in influencing the purchasing decision of one smartphone over the other. It’s not once I have heard someone tell me that they would buy an Infinix over a Tecno, despite these two brands sharing a mother company and possibly the same production chain. Each brand that is currently active in Kenya has their own impression in the eyes of the consumer. A simple example is how a Samsung and an iPhone will be considered premium devices regardless of which model.

Some brands have to work harder to convince consumers to spend a premium on them while others just simply do nothing aside from setting up a few billboards (I see you Apple). A good example? The OPPO Find X. The company’s first premium flagship to hit the Kenyan market. A great device with a design that leaves many breaking their necks but still struggling to break through, not because of the price but because it’s an OPPO.

Read More: OPPO Find X Impressions – The $1000 Future

The water runs deeper though. We have seen established brands come in with the hope of easily penetrating the market but end up hitting the wall. This is mostly an issue of familiarity – Remember I described the average smartphone buyer in Kenya as a “clueless consumer”. This means a brand may be big out there but if Kenyans have no idea you exist, you’ll just sell your devices to your family members. Ask Xiaomi, they’ll tell you why their first attempt in Kenya bore no fruits. The company had to restrategize and relaunch to have a chance at surviving and now things are looking up.

Still on Xiaomi’s case, choosing the right distributor is important. Constant visibility and availability also go a long way in convincing consumers to pay attention to you. Xiaomi’s first attempt saw the company partner with Orange (now Telkom) as a telco partner and authorised seller. The only problem was, Orange was struggling to even have customers to sell airtime to, let alone overpriced Xiaomi smartphones.

“Constant visibility and availability go a long way in convincing consumers to pay attention to you”

It’s not just Xiaomi who has been to through Kenya’s hell’s kitchen, at least the brand lived to talk about it, unlike Motorola, LG, Sony, Alcatel, Wileyfox, Wiko, Obi, Mi-Fone, ZTE, Zedd, X-Touch and many more that might have even flown under our radar, that went under and that was the last we heard of them. This is not to say that you cannot find any of these smartphones on the shelves but local support for them packed up their bags and went searching for greener pastures in the form of more accepting consumers.

Motorola, LG and Sony made the same mistake Xiaomi made earlier on. Going with the wrong distributor, bringing in outdated smartphones and pricing them like we’re a billionaires market. The likes of Alcatel and Wileyfox just suffered from poor marketing and stiff competition in the form of aggressive pricing from the Chinese brands. The Wiko story is even sadder. These guys had everything figured out; A good distribution model, great pricing and amazing specs to match but they failed on one important thing, constantly updating their portfolio. Wiko was slow in bringing in devices to the market, one device model would stay on the shelves for too long which would mean the competition would soon offer better for less while Wiko is still trying to sell you dinosaurs.

Then there’s Vivo. At least they were smart enough not to bother launching in Kenya after their preliminary research revealed that they could not compete effectively without bleeding cash.

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