Ninetology aiming for ASEAN from Malaysia

The home-grown Malaysian company aims to be the AirAsia of mobile phones for the regional market

A new upstart to the local smartphone scene, Ninetology has been making waves in the Malaysian market with their hip new phones.

We sat down with Sean Ng, CEO of Ninetology Marketing Malaysia and discussed the company’s plans to succeed in its goal. 

The Brand

On the name: Why did we choose numeric numbers – why 9? Why not 8/7/6? 9 is the biggest single digit number there is, and we want to show that we are serious when we started this business. We aim to have the biggest footprint in South East Asia.

On the branding: Our target region is ASEAN. We established this company with the help of a few ASEAN-based partners. The idea is that nine of us met up in a meeting, nine partners. I previously came from another local smartphone brand; when I joined the company, we had about 2-3% market share in 2009. By 2010, we almost achieved 24% market share. This shows that a local brand can achieve high volume market share.

We feel that we can have a chance in creating an ASEAN brand to tackle the region. So during the meeting, there was nine people there. Coincidentally, I still remember the time of the meeting – 9pm. So I took that as a sign of good omen, and incorporated the number as part of the brand name. We originally wanted to go with ‘Nine Technology’, but we felt that that it is a bit too long – so we combined the two words into Ninetology, creating a unique brand found nowhere else in the world. Nine is also considered a lucky/successful number in the ASEAN cultures, so it works there as well!

The Company

The start: We started Ninetology Marketing Sdn Bhd last year in April. We have a holding company in Singapore as our financial and design centre. We then rolled out our first model in August 2012. We used about four months to set up the complete ecosystem for our phones – which includes after-sales service.

On philosophy: I am under the philosophy of not focusing too much on profit making. Right now what's important for us is the ecosystem rather than chasing the cash. So far we have about 4.3% of the Malaysian market share, and we aim to triple that number by the end of the year. 

Malaysian userbase: In the smartphone segment, Malaysia is considered as a more enlightened market in terms of knowing the features that they want and need. Our customers here do their research prior to their purchase. Our internet connectivity is also quite developed around the country, allowing more people to join the smartphone bandwagon while subscribing to data services here in Malaysia. 

More after the break...

Brand Presence

Where are you guys now? : So far we have over 30 service centres around Malaysia – including Sabah and Sarawak. This is from the original eight when we first started. So anyone can send their phones to these centres to have your phones serviced. We have a central hub in Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, Kelantan and Kuantan; this is on top of our hubs in West Malaysia. Each of these centres is staffed with qualified technicians to take care of your phones.

I think we have garnered a good response from the public as we position ourselves as a right-priced and human product, to fit the right price and right segment market. To cater to our customers, we also have over 2000 touchpoints around Malaysia to service our customers. So Ninetology is everywhere! Brand management is important for us.

Malaysian or ASEAN?: We are not just in Malaysia. We are in Indonesia for now, but we are also looking to launch soon in Vietnam/Philippines/Thailand. In Indonesia we are not as aggressive in promoting our products – we are still focusing on our back-end set-up. But by the end of October, we will be going full steam ahead in promoting Ninetology in Indonesia.

On customer relations: Building my customer relation management system. If you talk about ASEAN, is to set-up the ecosystem and supply chain; each country will have its own challenges in terms of rules and regulation. For Malaysia, is to have proper brand marketing to target each different segment of the market, in terms of different language will have different needs. To tailor our advertisements to each language base is a fine balance of getting the right stuff across everywhere, and that is still a challenge for us here.

Design Inspirations

Customer first: I have been in the industry since I left school 14 years ago. I have grown from being a salesman all the way to be a brand owner today. I have been selling other brand’s products before today, and now I have my own brand. I told my design guys that I do not want to sell smartphones. I want to sell a buddy for my customers.

Phones today are like people – the phones are the first thing you touch in the morning, the nearest device to you every single time, and sometimes we already think of our phones like a person. They know where you are, your secrets, and even your mood. It is becoming a close buddy.

So I asked my design team – please design a phone that is almost human. Make it stand out, larger than life, and feels top notch. 

What do you think people want the most in a smartphone?:  It is a very straight forward answer. There are three things that people want in their smart phone: communication, as a buddy to accompany them around and lastly because it’s the current trend of the day. Most of us are going beyond the typical communications channel – instead of texting, we WhatsApp or Line. We even can make calls over the data line. 

The Future

In 18-36 months: We have a very clear heading and direction on where we want to see Ninetology in the local market. We feel that currently we are actually competing with ourselves rather than the other companies in the market.

The first 12 months is what we call ‘The Year of Focus’, focusing on developing the brand and setting-up the ecosystem/supply chain/after-sales service. The second year is our ‘Year of Expansion” for our branding and marketing. We will push our marketing approach to get a better market presence. The third year will be our ‘Year of Leverage’. We hope to work with a bigger brand to leverage our brand in conjunction with theirs.

End-goal: Our main goal this year is to complete the South East Asia journey, to have our ASEAN presence a reality. We also want to increase the education for consumers to switch from feature phones to smartphones. 

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