This week marks the seventh anniversary of OnePlus, which started by selling phones only to invited guests, and its community forum now numbers three million members in Europe alone. The company is about to run a three-day promotion as a thank you.
The ‘One For All’ promotion runs for three days (starting April 21st and ending April 23rd) and will offer a range of discounts including:
- £100 off OnePlus 8T
- £100 off OnePlus 8 Pro
- £100 off OnePlus Nord
- 25% off select OnePlus devices and accessories
A lucky draw will offer additional discounts, such as 50% off on the discounted products, or the ultimate prize of a limited edition OnePlus collectable.
More information can be found on the OnePlus website.
While you wait for the promotion to start, here’s a brief history of how the company that chose to ‘never settle’ has transformed since it started…
OnePlus One ‘comes from nowhere’ but lands with a bang
Although founded in December 2013, until April 2014 few would know OnePlus even existed. However, it was soon to become very well known thanks to a very clever, if somewhat controversial, marketing campaign that got the company talked about in more than just the tech press.
The company developed and built a high-spec, low-cost smartphone with almost no marketing budget. Instead, it relied on a unique personalised invitation system. If you wanted to experience the phone, you’d need to ask for it, and participate in the newly formed OnePlus community, which in turn got more people talking.
If you were successful in getting an invite, you could then seek to recommend friends, who wanted to know what all the fuss was about, to get their own invites. Unsurprisingly, social media at the time was full of people trying to find ways to get an invite – and OnePlus occasionally offered priority invites as ‘prizes’ for participating in online discussions.
As I wrote at the time, the invite system was a lesson taken from Eric Cartman’s book of marketing, based on the ‘you can’t come’ strategy, which made people go nuts trying to ‘get in’. The strategy definitely worked as it got people going mad trying to get an invite – and once you got an invite, of course you were almost certainly going to buy (it should be noted, the invites had an expiry date to encourage you to act soon).
- 13,000 users on the OnePlus website when launched on April 23rd 2014.
- By June 6th of the same year, the OnePlus One was available to purchase through invites and the number had grown to 80,000 users.
- OnePlus sold 1.5 million units globally.
- Demand rocketed to 25.6 million visits in December 2014.
OnePlus 2 repeats the success
After the success of the first release, OnePlus followed up with the OnePlus 2 and increasingly grew its online community (in 2021, this now stands at over three million registered users in Europe and 10 million around the world).
It also continued the invitation system one more time, as well as repeating the ‘flagship killer’ line – whereby high-end features were made available on a device costing a fraction of the price of established rivals, like Samsung, LG and Sony.
A BBC Report, including an interview with Will Findlater, then editor-in-chief at Stuff Magazine, spoke about the ongoing success of OnePlus’ marketing, and how it was really shaking up the industry by offering a more affordable flagship experience for consumers.
While OnePlus was not the only company doing so, with competition from the likes of Xiaomi, as well as ZTE and Huawei, it was certainly deemed the most successful – although the early handsets did sometimes lack at least one key feature that put off some customers (in my case, the lack of NFC to allow for Android Pay (now Google Pay) was a disappointing omission on early models).
OnePlus handsets from 2014 to 2020
“Marketing makes all the difference to how OnePlus and Xiaomi are perceived in the West, and OnePlus seem to be on the right track in this regard. Through an invite-to-buy system and clever PR they are appealing to the tech-savvy users that might see Apple and Samsung as too mainstream – the equivalent of the digital hipsters. They recognize that they need to succeed with these users first, way before they target the mainstream, and signs on social media suggest they might just do it.”Abby Francis, Mobiles.co.uk – July 2015
Besides the innovative/controversial invite system, OnePlus continued to come up with clever ways to keep its name in the news.
As part of what would become a regular thing for all future product launches, OnePlus sought to innovate on how to get maximum attention for every new phone launch. This includes getting people on the hype-train as early as possible to have them salivating over the next upcoming models – and the online community was a vital part of this.
For the OnePlus 2 launch, OnePlus decided to have the world’s first product launch in virtual reality, which anyone could watch at home and feel like they were really in the OnePlus offices in person.
OnePlus 3 marks a new sense of direction
By the time of the OnePlus 3 launch, there was a big change as OnePlus moved on to become more mainstream.
Some at the time considered this selling out, but it was vitally important to allow the company to grow.
Suddenly, everyone could go into an O2 phone store and see a OnePlus phone (perhaps for the first time) and buy it on contract, rather than shelling out in full for a phone SIM free.
TechAltar produced a must-watch video (see below) on just why enthusiast brands (which also included the likes of Pebble, Nextbit, Cyanogen and more) are destined to fail if they can’t, or won’t, break into the mainstream.
After the OnePlus 3, OnePlus was now a more conventional company with phones being sold through multiple channels, but the company continued with its ethos of offering high-spec devices at more affordable pricing.
It also continued to offer its own range of accessories, including wearable products like earbuds.
Pop-up to Show-off
Another way OnePlus engaged with its community, was through a pop-up event. Although other companies had done similar things, including HTC (later Honor would do similar, as well as Huawei), OnePlus wasn’t just inviting the public to see the new devices (like you might in a phone shop), but often to get access to buy the phone before it had even officially gone on sale.
There was entertainment laid on for visitors, including competitions, presentations with Q&As, and free food and drink – plus for those who chose to buy a device on the day, often some freebies thrown in too.
Unsurprisingly, people were willing to queue up in all weathers to get their hands on the new devices.
OnePlus has organised over 150 pop-ups in 38 cities around the world, with almost 100,000 attendees. It has also invited community members to attend its more conventional product launches, once reserved exclusively for the media.
The pandemic forced OnePlus to put these events on hold, but hopefully they’ll return in the future.
Other OnePlus innovations
Beside the online community, which has given OnePlus customers a direct line to the day-to-day workings of the company, there have been many other ways to engage with the public and help shape the future of the company.
- Open Ears Forum: A way to collaborate directly with the OnePlus community, with invites for the most loyal and knowlegeable users to work with OnePlus on new ideas.
- Ideas Campaign: Allowing users to submit software ideas, which are then voted on to get implemented within future software builds.
- Lab Programme: Before the launch of a new phone, selected users are given devices to review an as-yet unreleased product.
OnePlus today and the future
With the recent launch of the OnePlus 9 series and a partnership with Hasselblad to improve camera image quality, plus last year’s introduction of a more budget Nord range, OnePlus is continuing to grow and adapt to the ever changing marketplace.