Certain phrases tend to follow OnePlus around. Chief among them is that it’s “the best phone you’ve never heard of”, and it’s representative of the rest. Everyone who’s used a OnePlus phone loves it, but the trouble is that group is relatively small.
Now the company is hoping that it can jump into the mainstream, taking on the more famous Android phones like Samsung’s flagships and finally putting those “iPhone killer” headlines to the test.
It intends to do so in a variety of different ways. But the latest is a major announcement that it will finally be much easier to buy: it has signed new partnerships with the UK's biggest carriers and shops, so that people will be able to buy it if they're on EE or Vodafone, or pick one up at John Lewis.
It comes just shortly before the company's fifth birthday, and just weeks ahead of the launch of the new OnePlus 6T. And it is all part of the company's plan to finally turn the huge amount of hype around its phones into a similarly huge number of sales.
But the new carrier announcements are also actually an extension of the work the company has already done in building its brand and encouraging people to recommend its phones, the company says. And it is adamant it will not come at the cost of the things that have made the phones so beloved, such as the engagement with its community that decides everything including what the phones look like and what features are added to them.
"We’re a digital brand first, and that means word of mouth is very important – it’s the number one way new users hear about us," Carl Pei, co-founder and head of brand of OnePlus, tells The Independent in an exclusive interview. "You may think that this is counter-intuitive, but partners like EE and Vodafone are actually an extension of our online strategy.
"Our users advocate us to their friends and family, and having high-street visibility means that now people can try our device in-store. The brand endorsement and support that these prestigious carriers and retailers have given us can also be taken as a compliment."
Pei says that the new shot at the mainstream won't change the way the products are designed and made. It will only expand the number of people who are able to contribute towards new ideas and feed back on old ones, he says, allowing OnePlus to keep that approach even while it expands the number of people who are a part of it.
"As we grow, we’ll get more feedback and pressure about our design choices – we only add features which can improve the experience, not because they’re in fashion," he says. "It’s important to understand what people really need."
The UK OnePlus forum is already one of the most engaged of any country in the world, with 1.5 million active users. More than 1,000 Britons turned up to see the reveal of the OnePlus 6, its latest phone, and it would go on to sell more than a million of those devices.
OnePlus has inspired fanatical devotion in its customers, who queue up for the phones and flock to the launch events. Some of that devotion was inspired precisely because the phones have been so complicated to buy: at the beginning, they could only be got through an invitation system that meant users felt they had been allowed access to club, and that exclusivity encouraged loyalty.
But Pei is clear that OnePlus doesn't intend to give up on that customer – or fan – relationship, even if there are many more customers that are a part of it.
"We’ve always been very focused on our users and we’ll have to work hard to ensure current users feel valued, and new users are welcomed. It’s easy for brands to forget where they’ve come from – we’ve learned a lot from others in the industry, both in success and failure," he says.
"We’re committed to keeping our core and staying grounded, while expanding our business. The ultimate driver of people wanting to support you is having a great product, and that’s followed by having great service. The product attracts you at first, but it’s long-term service which will keep you loyal. Too many businesses are focused on bringing in new users."
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