Vivo - a brand cannot be neglected

Vivo might not be a very international brand, and should be the least well-known (relatively) manufacturer under the BBK Electronics family (Oppo, Oneplus and Vivo are under the same parent company). Yet, it WAS the 5th largest phone manufacturer some time in 2016 and 2017 (surpassed by Xiaomi in recent months). Its strong brand presence in China and India cannot be overlooked and scorned. How does Vivo make it???
Let's take a closer look.

Background of Vivo:

Vivo is a young company established in 2009. Together with its 'siblings' Oppo and Oneplus, they are owned by BBK Electronics (aka the parent company). Its products are sold mainly in China, India and Asian places like Malaysia and Thailand. It also appears on many World Cup 2018 advertisements because it is one of the sponsors. 

Let's focus on the recent two years' development (2017 and 2018).


the mundane X9/X9s/X9 Plus/X9s Plus

In the first half year, Vivo performs just like any other Chinese brands, with its designs similar to iPhone (even the naming is similar). Putting mid-range specs (e.g. CPU S625, S652, 1080p or 720p screen) plus a few gimmicks like dual 20MP selfie camera into a mid-range price tag is the usual way to attract customers for Vivo. Examples are X9, X9 Plus, X9s, X9s Plus etc. This doesn't really make it stand out from its competitors (at least the price is not attractive enough to compete with aggressive Xiaomi). Vivo is criticized of "high price, low specs" (can be seen from using the S625 in mid-high range products).

Things are a little bit different for the rest of 2017.

X20 Plus UD (underscreen fingerprint)

X20/X20 Plus

The pursuit of a 18:9 screen starts in the second half of the year, when the X20 and X20 Plus are announced to follow the trend. Vivo actually goes a step ahead of all the Android manufacturers. Yes, it's the underscreen fingerprint function on the X20 Plus UD version. That's what Vivo differentiates itself and goes the extra mile (sort of). A full screen display accompanied by an underscreen fingerprint (omitting either the front or rear fingerprint sensor) is a recipe for neatness in phone design (no any abrupt circles or ovals). 

People including me are dumbfounded by the fact that the X20 Plus UD only utilises the S660 instead of higher end CPUs like the S835. S660 doesn't seem to match with the "high-class" feel of the phone (the underscreen fingerprint) As an experimental product, I think that's okay. But selling at a price slightly higher than ordinary mid-range prices while only using mid-range specs (e.g. emmc 5.1 ROM, LDDR 3 RAM) doesn't guarantee sustainable sales (though for marketing hype, that's perfectly fine). That's probably one of the reasons why Vivo is surpassed by Xiaomi at the end of 2017 in terms of sales volume and market share. 

X20 Plus UD (gigantic 6.43" 18:9 FHD+ screen)
I am impressed, on the other hand, that Vivo insists on the "Plus" model. In its target market, Asia, people like using large size phones (say 6.0 inches or above), probably because they use their phones very often and want a strong battery support. Other international brands are prudent about making big phones with high-end specs. Even so, they are made for the low to mid range only (e.g. Sony XA2 Ultra, Samsung A9). Big screen, capable CPU (like the S660), together with big battery, is likely to be a successful formula in China and Asian places. 


X21 UD

X21 (non-UD)

X21 UD 

The X21 evolves to become a mature successor of the X20 series. Incorporating the controversial notch and the welcoming underscreen fingerprint, the X21 is said to be an insignificant 'incremental upgrade' (with the CPU, camera roughly the same). Anyway, this series is still selling very well. An interesting product line pops up this time, which is the Z series. The Z1 has a similar front and back design as the X21, same S660 CPU, large rom and ram. A conventional rear fingerprint sensor plus less capable cameras justify for the significant price difference. But man, S660 with a decent spec package in an attractive price (around 1600 yuan, USD232). 

Z1 (left) vs X21 (right) - looking very similar

On the other hand, for the notch lovers, Vivo provides an alternative, the V9, to have the same notch display with weaker specs and lower price.

pop-up selfie camera!

screen display fingerprint still there!
The biggest surprise is how Vivo turns a concept phone into mass production in just a few months' time. In MWC 2018, we are given a glimpse of the Nex phone with extremely impressive screen to body ratio and an exciting pop-up camera to get rid of the notch (together with Vivo's quite sophisticated and signature underscreen fingerprint. Then, in early June, this 'dream' comes true. It successfully brings us to the next level of the true bezel-less future. Although lacking in NFC and water resistance rating, the phone is finally situated in the flagship category with standard flagship specs, continuing with the underscreen fingerprint solution, and capable camera (pop up selfie camera too).

The overall message is that even second-tier manufacturers are innovating a lot. Samsung, Apple, catch up!

Marketing strategy:

The marketing strategy is another success factor.

Vivo accumulates a large sum of cash for sure, so its advertisements are basically everywhere. I've stayed in Shanghai for more than three months during 2017 and 2018, and you can see the same ad on malls, metros, buses, TVs. The wide coverage certainly enhances the brand presence.

Slogans, are another old but gold tactic. By utilising short and eye-catching phrases, many people are attracted to give it a try (even though many of the slogans are mere marketing strategies, without really THAT beneficial to performance). 

Example 1: 
See translation below

Translate as "front and back (camera) 20MP, backlighting also clear, illuminating your beauty". 

There are still a bunch of customers who think that higher resolution equals better photo outcomes (this may be partially correct, partially though). It also utilises the psychology that backlighting situations are often no good, and claims (or proves) that their phones can handle this situation well, at the end the beauty of the person in the photo can be reflected. Not sure if the actual outcomes are really a lot better than the competitors, but the fact is that Vivo tends to overexpose the photos a bit, so as to create a clearer and brighter picture under backlighting conditions.

Example 2:
See translation below

Translate as "charging 5 minutes can used for talking on the phone for 2 hours. 

This is a more classic example from Vivo (and Oppo), back a few years ago when they announce the VOOC quick charging solution applied on their smartphones. The actual usage numbers may be a bit lower or higher than expected, but it is certain that the VOOC skill really pushes Qualcomm and MTK to quicken their pace to develop their quick charging solutions (and trying not to harm battery life so much). 

Future wishes to Vivo:

The underscreen fingerprint solution and the pop-up selfie camera make the world see how Chinese manufacturers are willing to risk and "innovate" instead of merely copying from this and that. There is still lots of improvement for the brand to become truly international, such as adding NFC, including even more "wow" features. The arrangement of phones and designs with Oppo and Oneplus is also an issue because it seems that there isn't a huge differentiation strategy between Vivo and Oppo when it comes to the mid and low tier phones (this similarity might be the synergy strategy of the two brands, though). 

As a Chinese myself it's glad to see Chinese brands advancing and leaving the old days of "copying" from other designs.


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