Xiaomi is not the new Apple, it is the new Muji


Chinese challenger brand Xiaomi, which rose to prominence through explosive online sales of its affordable smart phones, is now repositioning as a lifestyle brand.  But, the cynic would say they have not shed their reputation as a copy-cat, but this time the target is not Apple, it is instead a Japanese with a unique closeness with contemporary Chinese consumers.

This month, Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun was featured on the cover of Wired magazine with the tagline “It is time to copy China”.  In the article, Lei defended the uniqueness of his brand’s innovation, and suggested claims that their smart phone business should not be misunderstood as China’s Apple.

Xiaomi LeiJun

Lei Jun denied Xiaomi is copy-catting Apple in Wired Magazine

To a certain extent this is a subjective claim in the world of technology, but the physical and infrastructural similarities were not lost on a lot of Chinese consumers – quite happy to buy into a local Apple challenger.

As the popularity of Xiaomi’s smartphones plateaus, the brand has repositioned itself as a lifestyle brand – offering new products such an intelligent-functioned rice cooker, televisions, bicycles and lamps.   To capture this new innovation within the Xiaomi empire, the Beijing-based brand has created the sub-brand “Mijia”.  The Chinese is a two-character acronym of their new home ecosystem with the full name – “Xiaomi Intelligent Home”.

But the name and the imagery of the Xiaomi’s new sub-brands also raises the issue of copy-catism.  Read On.

Xiaomi's subrand Mijia launched its first product of rice cooker which is similar to Muji's

Xiaomi’s subrand Mijia shows some ‘similarities’ to Muji’s

Instead of Apple, this time it seems Xiaomi has drawn substantial ‘inspiration’ from Japanese brand Muji.  A brand that has enjoyed incredible success in China since launching in 2008.

  • First the name, “Mijia” from Xiaomi, is phonetically close to “Muji” – the original term used by local consumers, rather than the Chinese translation.   Muji has created a unprecedented level of consumer closeness in China, due to their flagship store design in major cities and aesthetic combination of Eastern and Western design principles – a winner with local consumers trying to balance increasing internationalism with their modern aspirations.
  • OK, so maybe the name is a ‘coincidence’, but looking at the imagery of Xiaomi’s Mijia, it is also semiotically similar to Muji – in terms of a focus on minimalism, balance and use of whites/greys to create a sense of harmony.   From the perspective of Chinese home makers, this particular palette is on-point in terms of “contemporary Chinese urban aesthetic” – that is, rooted in tradition, but driven by the future.
  • However,  we have to pay some respect to the idea that informed the choice of Muji as Xiaomi’s template. Xiaomi is set to roll out new home innovations every quarter as part of Mijia’s expansion.  Placing these product releases under a consistent philosophical roof allows the brand to enter a new category with a clear role.  In the absence of this context, consumers may be weary of a superstar-smartphone-maker suddenly becoming a more substantive part of your home environment.

Look forward to our new Muji Digital Report next week.  Part of our CSBR Membership.


About Author

Jerry Clode

Jerry Clode is Head of Digital & Social Insight at Resonance. He leads Resonance SMART, providing leading-edge research, strategy and naming for brands in China using bespoke methodologies. Jerry also produces Resonance's popular China Social Branding Report, a bi-weekly publication covering modern marketing methods of the world's top brands.

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