Marketing idea for OnePlus: How about just selling the phone?

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Marketing idea for OnePlus: How about just selling the phone?
Generating hype and excitement for a product is a must in today’s world, especially when technology is involved. It is not an easy task, and even when you generate the hype, there is still no guarantee of success.

There are multiple ways to pursue such a goal, of which, the most common method nowadays seems to be through crowdfunding. Given the success of the Pebble smartwatch, it looks like it is the easiest to organize, but similar outcomes are never as certain.

For a while, there was even a period where the Pebble had not yet completed shipping to its founding funders and the company had scored a deal to begin selling through Best Buy. Growing pains aside, the Pebble arguably sits atop the smartwatch niche, and given its roots, it is hard not to cheer them on. Pebble had a good idea, and did not mess with the formula during its crowdfunding campaign.

Then, there was Canonical and the idea for a massive $32 million crowdfunding campaign for the Ubuntu Edge smartphone. It was going to be the top of the line in everything, and also deliver a seamless experience between mobile and desktop environments. I liked the idea and I was one of the too-few that pledged money to see the Edge come to fruition. The campaign failed miserably, and not because it was a bad idea, but because Canonical kept messing with a good idea and refused to leverage any of its own business muscle into the mix.

As I examine the situation, I want to point out that I have not signed up to receive an invitation to buy the OnePlus One, so no, this is not a rant about "why won't they invite me?!" 

If you build it, they will come

In-demand items almost always sell-out. It has happened with the iPhone more or less every year. The Pebble couldn’t keep up for months. Google’s Nexus line ran into higher-than-expected demand as well, catching LG by surprise, particularly for the Nexus 4.

So when the idea of creating an affordable, high-spec, flagship killer came along, and OnePlus set out on that mission, did anyone have any doubts about whether they could pull it off? Using established, high-end but common hardware, made in China, to be sold at cost, plus marketing and hype to generate a huge amount of excitement and pent-up demand, the OnePlus One was set-up for success. The association with Oppo (whether official or just a relationship) only added to the excitement because it generated high confidence that the OnePlus One would be a well-built product.

The fact that there wasn’t a crowdfunding campaign made it all the better because it set the expectation that the OnePlus One would be built.

That “great” idea

Then, someone had what I refer to as a “GFI.” GFI means “great f****** idea” and the thing about GFIs is that they are never “great” ideas. In fact, they’re terrible ideas. Even though they look “great” on paper, count on that GFI to just fail miserably.

I don’t need to point out what OnePlus’ GFI was, but I’ll spell it out anyway: Sending invitations to “buy” a smartphone is the dumbest, stupidest, “great” idea…ever. It may have had a place for its initial release, first invitations get the first manufacturer runs. I get it, it keeps the hype going and protects OnePlus from over-investing in making too many devices while production and quality issues are identified and fixed.

“Invitations” started going out months ago, and the device is slowly making the rounds. I saw a few at Google I/O and the impressions from the respective owners at the time were solidly positive. Our own review of the near-mythical device was also glowing. I know there have been grumblings about certain things, but let's by honest, by any measure, the OnePlus One is a successful first build of hardware and that is an accomplishment in itself, congratulations are due to OnePlus.

Scarcity tactics should be finite

The thing is that these invitations really have nothing to do with any “real” scarcity of the device. There are online retailers that will sell you a brand new OnePlus One device. Yes, the price is marked up from retail that OnePlus has listed on its own website, but that is because these retailers are not selling it at cost like OnePlus proclaims.

The doling out of “invites” to buy the OnePlus One have been going on long enough now that the team in China should know what a sustainable production schedule should be.  If the OnePlus One is to be a true “flagship killer,” affording no compromises, then limiting distribution to invitation only is going to fail in the long term. Why would I, or any consumer, wait months for an invitation to buy, only to wait longer for the device after I order it? I know there is a cost factor involved, but ask yourself how you value your time and patience.

Scarcity tactics in technology need to be limited in scope and in time. The cycle of excitement for new smartphones really only lasts a few weeks if competitors don’t steal the thunder. By the end of the year, there is going to be more new hardware, with new features, coupled with monstrous marketing budgets. The hype of these new products are going to eclipse the momentum that OnePlus has generated thus far. The company has the compelling argument for people to spend their $300-$350 now. By the holidays, the cost factor will be moot, and it’s all going to be about the new iPhone, maybe a cool new Windows Phone, and let us never forget the gorilla in the room, that is, Samsung.

Self-inflicted wounds

The obvious problems with the invitation system are now outweighing the benefits. It was implemented to control the influx of customer orders while controlling production and getting through initial growing pains. That makes perfect sense, but those that set up accounts to receive invitations had no controls. People that live in a country that were not identified as part of the launch (17 countries) were still placed in the invite queue, and either cannot buy the OnePlus One when invited, or they have to set up a mail-forwarding service to get it.  That is probably not a big deal to the user that really wants it, but if he or she chooses to not buy the device, it skews the demand curve for OnePlus.

Indeed, for a company that is pushing the mantra of “never settle,” it is continuously asking its waiting customer base to actually settle on the fact that they have to wait.  In June, OnePlus noted that it was working on enabling some type of “pre-order” system, but the only time line given for deployment was "Q3."  Even if they work with a pre-packaged system that is most certainly available from any number of companies, it may not be soon enough at this point.

I don't have an issue with the last “contest” (since canceled) for invitation giveaways that were going to be “just for women.” I don’t even need to pick a side in that GFI. I look at it from the standpoint that there are all these people waiting for invitations to buy a product. The invitations being distributed are not following any linear process that I’ve seen.  In fact, I am not even sure what it takes anymore to earn an invitation (something to do with signing up, then having a minimum-undisclosed number of posts in OnePlus' forums). Plus, the company is also setting up contests to give invitations away to people that maybe did not have to wait in line in the first place.  Wouldn't it be easier to simply take people's money?  It's as if all this effort was made to be so different from everyone else and it has contorted itself into...well I don't even know how to describe it.

Pump up the production to “11”

OnePlus is saying that demand “is many times” initial estimates. I understand it takes time to ramp up production and ensure you have the supply chain in place to build the final product. That said, this is a single product. The only differences are in storage capacity, and the color of the back plate. I’m not saying that all that this is as easy as snapping on an extra chip here, and some injection molding there, but it arguably is that simple.  If there is one thing the Chinese have proven themselves to be pretty efficient at, its serving as a manufacturing base.

OnePlus has also said that the demand is something that no one on the team has ever seen before, despite claims that many come from working for other “leading consumer electronics companies.” I would like to know who those “leading” companies were then because all the leading players that come to my mind have had to endure demands for a product that outstripped supply at some point. In OnePlus’ case, demand for the “privilege” to buy the OnePlus One is apparently outstripping the ability to just offer that option. That is a high-class problem.

Overproducing and risking having too much unsold inventory can be a killer for small upstart companies, especially when it involves hardware that takes up physical space. In OnePlus’ case though it has the benefit of being based in China, and the manufacturing is being done under some type of contract. Moreover, the low cost of the devices means that the risk of being stuck with an oversupply is going to be very low. Production needs to be kicked into high gear, quickly (as in cranking by September).

Time is money

Being a “flagship killer” means being out there actually killing flagships, and getting the product in the hands of people. The marketing hype has run its course. The next big announcement needs to be in the form of getting invites to the early supporters en masse, followed by a traditional e-commerce order platform that will allow people to order or backorder, and have the ability to get the device shipped to more than just the initial 17 "launch" countries.  Declare the additional countries as "alpha" markets or something so you don't have to rush support.

It is good that OnePlus has plans to get some type of pre-order system up and running. Time is not on the company’s side though. As I mentioned before, we are fast approaching a new round of product releases which will capture the lion’s share of the spotlight as we approach the holiday shopping season.

Even for the money, the competition is still pretty compelling, the Google Nexus 5 an outstanding value, the new LG G3 is excellent, the Samsung Galaxy S5 is, well, the S5, and the HTC One (M8) is a work of art. The Nexus 5 is already a bargain, and secondary retailers have the other aforementioned devices available for well under normal retail. The OnePlus One is competing in a field with an impressive cast of characters.

Where the OnePlus One has made the biggest ripple is with the cost of the device. It can still undercut all those other smartphones in price (even if they’re discounted). Is that enough of a value proposition to be the “killer” the OnePlus One is meant to be? You could maybe get flagship specs at a subsidized price, if you get an invitation to buy one. All you have to do is sign-up and wait for the invitation (and participate in the forums). Once you get the invitation and assuming you don’t let it expire, you can order it, if you’re in the right country. Then, wait some more?  Never settle, right?



1. Topcat488

Posts: 1417; Member since: Sep 29, 2012

Excellent article Maxwell R.... +1 green thumb from me. I'm still spending my money on the Note 4 AND iPhone 6 though. O.o

19. tadaa

Posts: 267; Member since: Apr 18, 2013

remember when there used to be red thumbs here in PA? pepperidge farm remembers

41. techperson211

Posts: 1280; Member since: Feb 27, 2014

They're selling color OS in ASIA for about $500 for 64 gb, What a waste of money for this company even if you bought the international version there's no after sales service , might as well buy to established phone makers.

40. 0xFFFF

Posts: 3806; Member since: Apr 16, 2014

+1 for the good article. Though, IMO it is still far too kind when it comes to the clowns that run OnePlus and their deceptive antics. At the end of the day, I'd rather pay a little more and get a real phone from a real company than offers real support. And available to buy when I want to buy.

43. downphoenix

Posts: 3165; Member since: Jun 19, 2010

OnePlus should just do a first come first serve thing, maybe do like Xiaomi where they put up batches of phones, first to go in and successfully complete the order get it, others gotta wait. maybe limit 2 phones an order, and cant order for 2 more order timeframes, to ensure everybody gets a chance at buying them even if availability is limited.

2. dickwyn

Posts: 621; Member since: May 07, 2012

yeah i agree form the start they're just trying to get the market's attention. When the phone gets to the hands of the masses then it's time to launch another flagship model

3. damokles unregistered

The day it hits the shelves, it is already an old device, so nobody will give a F. So, let's wait for the better phones to be released.

4. dickwyn

Posts: 621; Member since: May 07, 2012

OnePlus Two

6. Maxwell.R

Posts: 218; Member since: Sep 20, 2012

I would hate to think of the purchase scheme that is brewing for that. Might involve digging for golden tickets or something.

10. JC557

Posts: 1925; Member since: Dec 07, 2011

You get nothing! You lose! Good day sir! I said good day!

34. Maxwell.R

Posts: 218; Member since: Sep 20, 2012

So much for that idea huh? ;-)

5. nebsif

Posts: 37; Member since: Jul 27, 2014

The money u think u're saving when U buy it with an invite U actually gave 1+ by working for their PR department participating in stupid invite contests. With them bezels, no mSD and built in battery (while being bigger than 5.7 note3) it doesnt deserve half the hype it got.

7. GreekGeek

Posts: 1276; Member since: Mar 22, 2014

Oneplus sucks I still don't get why this stupid company gets media mileage. The only thing that they're good at is annoying consumers Smfh

18. antmiu2

Posts: 550; Member since: Jun 19, 2011

do you want an invite?

22. GreekGeek

Posts: 1276; Member since: Mar 22, 2014


28. cyborg009

Posts: 119; Member since: Sep 17, 2011

Good one :D No matter all crab they say about OPO, if you put an invite link right here all hell will break lose :P

32. Amberobaid

Posts: 2; Member since: Jun 06, 2009

yes sure

33. Amberobaid

Posts: 2; Member since: Jun 06, 2009

yes sure

8. realjjj

Posts: 375; Member since: Jan 28, 2014

What makes you think that they ever intended to make significant volumes for sale outside China where the price is just normal? Have you seen any shortages in China? Ofc not because there they can't build the brand by not selling a cheap phone, all local phones are cheap. At least they win the "vaporware of the year award". (Google Glass gets the "vaporware of the decade" award since they don't seem likely to launch it before 2025.).

12. brokenchains

Posts: 17; Member since: Nov 28, 2012

Glass has always been an experiment. I wouldn't call it vaporware because they never really had the intention of a widespread release. We do need a term for hardware that never materializes. I vote for vaportech.

15. Maxwell.R

Posts: 218; Member since: Sep 20, 2012

Mainland China OS not one of the launch markets. From the get-go, this has been touted as a "flagship killer." It's not vaporware. The invite system is just a terrible idea.

29. VZWuser76

Posts: 4974; Member since: Mar 04, 2010

How is something vaporware if it actually exists? When they talk about vaporware, there isn't a proof that it actually exists, only rumors and supposition. Glass has been seen in the wild, there have even been court cases about where it can be used and IIRC laws written about where/when they can be used. Vaporware is the wrong word.

9. frydaexiii

Posts: 1476; Member since: Dec 01, 2011

Exactly what's been on my mind about oneplus all this time... Seriously, if you claim to have the best phone, start a fair sale system like pre-orders, not make the Hunger Games with the invite system. Might as well settle...

11. LikeMyself

Posts: 631; Member since: Sep 23, 2013

This phone is a fail! Popular makers have a huge price for flagships as these cover the big costs of processors from Qualcomm, infinite patents to pay, and price for ads! Takes a lot of resources to make a good phone which the OnePlus can't do and will remain a virtual great phone on paper!

13. cocote177

Posts: 21; Member since: Apr 12, 2012

I want to buy one of these phones, but it is virtually impossible to find them, so I decide to wait for the next Nexus iteration. It would be available in the coming months....

14. JC557

Posts: 1925; Member since: Dec 07, 2011

Well, at least there are 64GB models for sale on craigslist at a reasonable price and invites at a not so reasonable. This was for NYC though. Other than that OnePlus should really rethink their strategy, especially now that the sequel is in the planning stages if not in the works already.

16. GreekGeek

Posts: 1276; Member since: Mar 22, 2014

I hope they will vanish into bankruptcy as soon as possible. They had enough media attention, And it looks like they have no intention of selling these units in actual volumes. THAT is trolling to the highest degree folks.

17. AfterShock

Posts: 4147; Member since: Nov 02, 2012

It was a big deal in the early spring. Now, it's who cares.

20. InspectorGadget80 unregistered

OnePlus will just closed it's doors

21. FoneAddict

Posts: 263; Member since: Jul 05, 2011

Lost interest in this phone. By the time it's widely available newer phones will have already superseded it.

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