Interview: Today’s consumer connects with brands at a ‘shared value’ level: Suhail Tariq, HONOR India

Suhail Tariq

In conversation with Social Samosa, Suhail Tariq, CMO, HONOR India talks about the brand’s India journey and sustenance strategy.

Honor India recently launched ‘You Deserve Better’, a campaign which promised better for all.  The brief was to establish HONOR as the mobile with the best camera in the industry. The idea came from a consumer insight that most of us are extremely dissatisfied and disappointed with our current phones. The phones we once loved have betrayed us and we are stuck in a bad relationship. HONOR will be the newfound love for those who are repenting their bad decisions.

The company picked stories of people who are in love but can’t enjoy a single moment together because of their partner, their existing mobile phone doesn’t respond. Thereby telling the consumers that they deserve better.

Honor also aims for a bigger and better share in the Indian smartphone market, currently dominated by Xiaomi.

The brand’s India CMO, Suhail Tariq speaks to Social Samosa at length about insights behind the campaign, standing up to the competition, growth of influencer marketing, upcoming advertising trends, and much more.


HONOR entered the Indian market in 2014 year-end. How has been the journey so far?

Our journey in India so far has been extremely promising. Ever since we entered the Indian market, we have seen an overwhelming response from the consumers.  It is our second-largest market after China and we have a long-term commitment and strategy for the country. We see India as a growth driver for our global business. While our long-term goal is to be the number one smartphone brand in the country, our short-term goal for this year is to be number one in terms of quality and after-sales service.

What have been the challenges and opportunities experienced throughout the journey and marketing to the Indian audience?

One thing that we have learned about Indian consumers is that not only they are aspirational but also demand value for money. As a leading e-smartphone player, we believe that we have been able to find that balance. Another learning that we got from looking at many smartphone players that made a grand entry into the Indian market and eventually could not sustain was that it is extremely essential to have a long-term commitment and strategy to be successful here. HONOR is a global brand with a local approach and we have built specific strategies for India. We aim at winning the Indian market based on quality products specially manufactured for the discerning Indian consumer. We are a global brand but we think local.

The insight behind ‘You Deserve Better’?

The insight we leveraged was that today mobile phones are no longer an accessory. People spend more time on their phones than with each other. It is like being in a relationship with one’s phone. Just like some relationships, people tend to stick to the phone they have because they are used to it – not because the phone is perfectly suited for their needs. This led us to our thought – getting people out of less than perfect and sub-optimal relationships with their phones – because ‘You Deserve Better’.

Also Read: With multiple consumer touchpoints we build cohesive storytelling: Vijay Parasuraman, Coca-Cola India

Objective to be achieved from the campaign?

Other than the obvious aim of achieving and exceeding our sales targets, the larger aim was to let the audience know that we are a distinct brand and to improve brand awareness.  This aim was not only to shift the perception of the consumers but also to ensure that the long-term commitment that we have for India is reflected through the campaign and communicated to the audience.

Please take us through the conceptualization to execution of the campaign

We conceived the campaign in two parts. The first was to create a dissonance about bad relationships people are in with their phones. Make them question the utility of their favorite mobile phone brands – hence, ’You Deserve Better’, and breaking that barrier by giving them a choice which is far superior to the competition.

The second phase was to show them the unimaginable, amazing possibilities when one finds the right phone to be in a relationship with – hence, ‘See the world for the first time’.

Both these phases drove home the key feature of the HONOR 20 series – The Camera.

Any activities planned to take the messaging or the core thought beyond the campaign videos? 

Our messaging has been uniform across platforms. The core idea is to convey to the consumer that – #YouDeserveBetter. All the communication that has gone from our end to the relevant stakeholders carries this message. In addition, we have explored Social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and PR to help our message reach to as many people as possible.

Where does HONOR stand in the whole smartphone pie in India and what is the market size like? 

We are one of the most loved brands by Youth. Our Mission for India is to be No. 1 brand and our goal for this year is to become the best quality and after-sales service phone brands in India.

What is the media mix like? How much of it does digital occupy? Also, please share your digital marketing strategy. 

Currently, 90% of our operations are online and we are looking forward to establishing offline sales ecosystem in India in the coming years. Therefore, the major expense was through digital and some of it complemented via offline. We captured a slice of life instances of consumers and used online and offline as a medium to portray HONOR 20 Series as India first product and drive engagement.

How far has HONOR followed the ’causevertising’ or ‘storytelling’ trend in its communication strategy? In addition, is it the only way forward for advertising? 

It depends on the product and the life-stage it is in. While it seems to work for established FMCG brands to take up a higher purpose, I feel the essence of any good ad is in the story it tells in 40 seconds. How effective and persuasive it can be. I would not want to choose between the two as the way forward but strategically exercise either option depending on the situation.

Does purpose-driven marketing help in translating online reactions and engagement into sales?

Quantification of this will be difficult at this point of time. However, what we do know is that today’s consumer connects with brands at a ‘shared value’ level. People have begun to take stands on their beliefs and want the brands they associate with to do so too. This new way of connecting is way more intimate and would result in greater long-term salience and loyalty.

Your take growing culture of ‘influencer, content marketing’? How has HONOR leveraged them? 

Influencer and content marketing has come a long way since we first heard of these terms. From an individual with a steady follower base creating content in his or her bedroom to mainstream actors, sportspersons, etc. today taking up the role of influencers, the gamut has expanded significantly. Today, it is a mutually beneficial relationship where not only the influencers but also the brands are looking at associations that can help them reach out to their audiences. Influencers are working on building their brands and we will see this evolve further in the time to come. Similarly, there are different platforms that brands can leverage today to communicate with their audience. With increasing internet penetration in India, we have seen multiple platforms for the brands to leverage, where content has to be customized for the kind of audience that they intend to reach out to. 

Lastly, three advertising trends that you foresee in 2019? 

AI – It is possible today to do targeted advertisements thanks to AI algorithms. It allows organizations like ours to find out who is at what stage of the purchase cycle and target that person accordingly.

Contextual advertising – Long term messaging which lived on for a long time is now a thing in the past. With the bombardment of different messaging every day, people do not have the attention span or the memory to sustain the messaging that they receive through different modes of communication. Every ad is memorable in its own time and context. One needs to be reaching out to the consumers in a more relevant way.

Hybridization of media – While it is true that digital and social media are growing, traditional media like TV and newspapers continue to hold their own. In India, video (TV) ads remain the easiest way for mass awareness while print is great for tactical communication. Going forward, everyone will increasingly use a mixed approach more calculatingly.