Shubhodip Pal: The Man Who Added the Midas Touch to the Micromax

Shubhodip Pal

Cricket tournaments, movie titles, F1 racing, football…Micromax is seen almost everywhere. This is the brand that has grown beyond imagination over a period of six-eight months. It all happened when Shubhodip Pal, the man with the Midas touch, joined the company as its Chief Marketing Officer and took it on an uncharted course to success. Micromax’’s Canvas series of smartphones is now a case study for almost all OEMs. One can easily attribute this success to Shubho, as he is fondly called, because Canvas was his brain child. Diksha P Gupta from Open Source For You spoke to Shubhodip Pal for a behind the scenes peek at the strategies that made Micromax the brand it is today.

Q: Micromax has come a long way, from being just another name in the market to becoming a pioneer in the smartphone segment. The credit of adding this zing to the brand clearly goes to you. Can you share what you actually did to the brand from the time you joined the firm?
Nothing much really! What I did was convert simple rocket science into the basics. I concentrated on getting the basics right. The first thing I did was knock off the 43 sub-brands that Micromax previously had, classifying our products into four simple categories. We thought smartphones needed to be out there under one sub-brand, therefore ‘Canvas’ came up. The story of how the name Canvas actually came to be used goes back to the time when I was being interviewed by the company. I was asked what ‘nothing like anything’ meant to me, and I said it’s a large canvas and I can do whatever I feel like. And thus, the Canvas series was born. All the feature phones come under the ‘Bolt’ brand, the tablets under ‘Funbook’ and the women-centric phones under the ‘Bling’ brand. We have done away with brands like Ninja. So, that’s the first thing we did.

The second thing we did was to ensure that our communication is clear and cuts across all barriers—addressing any person I talk to, be it in this country or any other part of the world. Consistency in communication was also an important thing that we ensured. The ton of the brand got reflected with all these efforts. We started looking at Canvas 2, then Canvas HD and went on to Canvas Music and Canvas 4, which has just been launched. You can see a consistent line of communication in all these launches and that is what actually has helped us.
Finally, our management also played an important role in all of this. They take decisions pretty quickly. I could easily launch ‘MMS,’ which stands for movies, music and sports, which is the brand ethos for Micromax. We have been consistent with this. There’s no point in doing something only once. If I am on MTV video music awards, I would want to be there for at least three years. If I am associated with music, I would want to get the best bands here, because I know the pulse of the youth of the country. We do not define the ‘youth’ by the age group but the attitude.

Some like rock, some like electronic dance music, and so on. I can cater to all these if I get associated to different kinds of music bands and different sorts of events. I may not be able to get a high rating from TAM Media Research because of all these activities, but I can feel the pulse of the youth on social media and gauge their exchanges online. The measurement tools could reflect a particular opinion about what we do, but my gut feel is different. I love the freedom I am getting to do different things with the brand. That makes a lot of difference to the work I do.

Q: Where do you plan to take Micromax with its new image?
Global! I wonder why we can’t be the first Indian brand to go global!

Q: When do you plan to do this?
I can’t comment on it at this point in time but very soon, I guess. The pace at which we are working, you never know… it may happen sooner than one thinks. To all the people who want to know the answer to this question, I can just say that we will be the first Indian brand to go global. It may happen some time next year. And that is the reason why we want to be consistent in what we do. So if I make something here, it has to work across Latin America, Europe and other parts of the world. The concept of MMS cuts across continents. It’s just the artiste and type of sport/music that will change depending upon the geography and taste of local people. All we need to do is to understand that and go ahead with our strategy.

Q: So what cities and cultures are you targeting right now to go global?
Almost every part of the planet. Let’s see where we can really make it.

Q: With the company going global soon, where do you see your Indian competitors?
I won’t differentiate between the local and global competitors. It’s just a function of who does what first. We are known for innovation and for a lot of ‘firsts’. So if we can continue with that pace, I think we can make a good dent in the global market as well. It all depends upon how we do it and how well we time ourselves.

Q: It’s time for touchscreen smartphones but there are takers of physical QWERTY keyboards as well. Are you not planning to get back to that segment?
There are takers of physical keyboards but if you look at it from the market perspective, the touch panel is really the way to go. You can still do a QWERTY with the touchscreen phone and you don’t necessarily need physical keys. So, I think there are more takers for touchscreen devices, hence we stick to them.

Q: Any logic for sticking to stock Android and not tweaking with Google’s operating system?
As I said, it’s Canvas. I can do whatever I want with stock Android. And that is how we created Canvas 4. If I look at any other form of Android, I cannot do my bit. Stock Android gives users the openness and freedom to do anything they want to with their smartphones. It also helps my users leverage the applications created by Android developers for the Android ecosystem. Also, if you look at a majority of the devices out in the market, they are all on stock Android. There are very few people really tweaking Android. It’s like if I create a car today, running on fuel which is not diesel or petrol and it is not available everywhere, I will have a limited user base for it. So, if I create a platform which is not commonly used across applications, it is of no use. So the fact that you need to be a part of the eco-system is very important.

Q: And will you continue to be with stock Android for future devices as well?
As of now, yes. We have no plans to change that.

Q: What about a Windows phone?
Maybe in the near future. We are looking at it and evaluating it. It is definitely one of the options before us, but I do not have definite answers as to when you can see a Micromax Windows Phone device. We are looking at it for both phones and tablets.

Q: Who do you consider your competition in the Indian market right now?
Just the top five players.

Q: You seem to be aping one of the top five brands, Samsung, in the way they do teaser ads…like you did with Micromax Canvas 4. You teased the world with Canvas 4 features one by one, like Samsung does for its devices. What is the idea behind this strategy?
It is not Samsung’s strategy—it’s a well-known marketing strategy. It’s a marketing plot that people use to generate curiosity in the market place. One can only generate curiosity if the brand has some power. We have seen that in the last eight months Micromax has been able to develop that pull for the brand, with this teaser ad strategy. And we have never gone wrong with the expectations of the consumer. We began with Canvas HD, then Canvas 2 and then Canvas 4. If you see, we received around 11,500 pre-orders for Micromax Canvas 4 in less than 36 hours of opening the pre-booking. So the strategy clearly works.

Q: What was the idea behind pricing Canvas 4 so aggressively?
Micromax Canvas 4 is priced at Rs 17,999. The idea behind pricing it in this bracket is that there is a big gap in this price segment. The Rs 15,000-20,000 segment is very price-sensitive. Again, we are not here to make losses. We are also not here to make humongous amounts of money. We are here to make the right amount of money. We completely believe that it is all about the democratisation of technology. If I can package everything and still make money, why should the consumer suffer! Just because I am giving them fantabulous features, it does not mean I have to charge them a bomb.

Q: When you came on board, you probably had two challenges to face. The company lagged in its marketing strategies and in its product profile too. What challenge did you try to address first?
I tried handling both simultaneously. I felt the need of addressing both together and the founders of this firm have been very open minded about this. When I had my final presentation in November last year (and I had not joined the company then), they agreed on what had to be the final roadmap and what needed to be done. We do not have deep pockets in terms of the budget. We have ear-marked a certain amount of money vis-a-vis the competition and we took it on from there. And the rest, as they say, is history.

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