OnePlus has an unconventional approach to selling phones — and that's because phones are just an entry point.

Until recently, I've watched the OnePlus phenomenon from the outside. The brand's earlier efforts didn't really sway me, and I was turned off by the numerous (and well-documented) PR blunders. This year, with the OnePlus 3, the company finally grew up, with a great phone at a great price and basically no drama or associated bullshit.

But the overall strategy for OnePlus wasn't entirely clear to me until I received the brand's latest offering, the OnePlus 3T, this past week.

It's the first OnePlus phone I've used for any length of time, so it was my introduction to OxygenOS and the OnePlus brand. In itself, it's a great product, and I mostly agree with what Andrew Martonik says in his review. (I'll have a second opinion piece coming later this week.) More revealingly, though, the 3T reviewer kit also contained a full loadout of OnePlus accessories and gear — a case, t-shirt, OnePlus Bullets earbuds and a OnePlus-branded leather messenger bag (plus luggage tag). Each one is available to purchase from OnePlus — this isn't just a one-off deal to try and impress the media. (Although admittedly, impressing fickle and cynical bloggers is surely part of it.)

Each item, including the phone, comes with a card bearing a message for the customer, opening with "Friend," and signed off with "Never Settle." The card bundled with the phone has a personal message from co-founder Carl Pei, bearing his signature.

Friend, Never Settle

This says a lot about the growth of OnePlus as a brand, and hints at how it might make the bulk of its profit further down the line. The company has admitted that it makes very little profit on sales of phones like the OnePlus One, 2 and 3. That's no surprise when you're shipping devices with cutting-edge specs around the $400 mark.

A really good $400 smartphone can lure you towards other branded stuff that's way more profitable for OnePlus.

But look at the accessories and gear sections of OnePlus's store. It's packed with much higher-margin items like branded power banks, earbuds and chargers, not to mention bags and clothing. By ensuring every customer feels like they belong to the OnePlus family, they're more likely to fork out for more expensive accessories either at the point of purchase, or further down the line. (The 3T also has a OnePlus Community app preloaded, which plays into that strategy.)

In the case of Dash Charge, OnePlus's proprietary fast charging standard, it requires OnePlus's own cable as well as its own wall plug. If you lose the cable or charger in the box, or need a spare, the only place to get that is directly from the manufacturer. And you can bet the margins on those items are pretty high.

Other manufacturers with larger global businesses to support do this too, of course. (Together with higher upfront prices for their phones.) But OnePlus, as a smaller company, could basically use its phones as a gateway drug to introduce consumers to the brand — a brand which, as it happens, now sells a bunch of other stuff.

With that in mind, it's fascinating to see OnePlus branching out into audio products and apparel, which represents another side of the OnePlus brand experience. "We would like to thank you for supporting us through purchasing OnePlus Gear," the card with the OnePlus messenger bag reads, "If you love our products and what we stand for, please help us spread the word." This is all about building the OnePlus brand, and the community around it. Those loyal enough to carry OnePlus on their person (and not just in their pocket) become ambassadors of a sort. They get to "spread the word."

And in case you were wondering, the leather messenger bag given to reviewers alongside the 3T is actually pretty nice. The quality is high, the OnePlus branding is subtle — and you'd absolutely expect that in a product that sells for £90 in the UK, or $99 in the U.S. Again, those high margins.

In sending all this stuff to reviewers, OnePlus immerses them not just in the phone but in the much more important brand experience we've touched on above. Because nurturing its brand, and slowly but surely branching out into product categories with higher margins, seems to be what'll fuel OnePlus's profitability in the future.

Really, the phone is just there to get you interested. And when you buy it, you too are part of the family.

Friend, Never Settle.


Other odds and ends on a working Sunday:

  • While we're talking OnePlus 3T, it's a shame the company wasn't able to have Nougat ready in time to launch the new phone. (Marshmallow feels kinda old after a month with the Pixel.) That's really the biggest caveat for the 3T right now. At least it'll be going away in the next month, with an update to 7.0 for both the 3 and 3T expected before the year's end.
  • We're expecting finalized firmware for the Huawei Mate 9 pretty soon. So far everyone who has a review unit is running a non-final build. Like I said in my review, the main thing (besides trivial bugs) that needs fixing is low-light camera performance. Hopefully Huawei can tune things up. In every other respect this is a really promising phone.
  • I've been messing around with the Nougat beta on the Galaxy S7 edge this past week too. A lot is still in flux, and Samsung is building this release out based on user feedback, which is great. The new, lighter, brigher UI is sure to figure prominently in the Galaxy S8, so we're likely getting a sneak peek at what's ahead here.
  • Some guy called Phil Nickinson has just launched his new thing. Get your fill of Phil over at Modern Dad. What is Modern Dad? Watch this here video and find out!

That's it for this week. Happy Thanksgiving weekend to everyone in the U.S., and happy Cyber Monday / Cyber Weekend / Where Did All My Money Go Weekend to everyone else!