How a little-known brand conquered African mobile phone market

January 18, 2017 11:22
Tecno wins African customers by catering to their specific needs in terms of product appearance and features. Photo: Caixin

Not many people in China would be aware of mobile phone maker Tecno despite the brand's heady success in the export market

The company has notched an impressive record by grabbing 40 percent of the African market, beating much bigger Chinese opponents like Huawei, ZTE and Lenovo.

So, what's the secret behind its success?

Well, rather than go for expensive advanced technology, Tecno simply pays close attention to the needs of African customers and tweaks its product features accordingly.

Tecno phones are priced between US$120 to US$280, and in fact not very cheap for African customers. However, being carefully tailored to the niche market, they are selling like hot cakes.

For example, the picture system of most mobile phones is based on white or yellow skin tones. When African users take selfies, the pictures are often either too dark or blurred.

To solve this problem, Tecno collected a large number of pictures taken by African customers and tweaked the picture function of its handsets based on the data. The superior selfie quality soon became a major selling point.

Tecno also noticed that the African telecom market is highly fragmented, which means customers using different telecom operators need to pay hefty fees to call and text each other.

Given this situation, local people tend to use dual-sim phones to save money. Tecno pushed the envelope and introduced four-sim handsets, enabling customers to use up to four carriers.

Again this is not groundbreaking technology, but the minor adjustment made Tecno phones hugely popular in Africa.

The look is also crucial. Most global mobile brands have shifted toward simplistic designs, but Africans prefer sharp colors and shiny handsets. Tecno wasted no time in appealing to the local taste.

The company shipped 55.65 million Tecno phones in the first three quarters of last year, making it the champion among Chinese mobile exporters, according to official data. That compared with Huawei’s 41.49 million and Lenovo’s 29.51 million units respectively.

Tecno claimed that its total export reached 80 million units last year, up over 60 percent from the year before.

The company's market share in Africa far exceeds that of global brands like Apple and Samsung, as well as that of more affordable Chinese brands like OPPO and vivo.

Headquartered in Shenzhen, the company has set up a network of branches across Africa, covering countries like Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania.

The company manufactures its products in Shenzhen and Guangzhou and in some African nations.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 17

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist