Smartphone exec: Tapping design to tackle the competition

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This article is part of our special report Mobile and Broadband.

Chinese smartphone maker and broadband provider Huawei moved into third place globally as a phone distributor at the end of last year. Joining giants Apple and Samsung in the product markets brings new challenges for design and branding, says Shao Yang, the company’s chief marketing officer for device.

Shao Yang spoke to EURACTIV’s Jeremy Fleming at the Mobile World Congress, in Barcelona.

Why has your strategy changed in relation to design?

We are making big changes, and starting our brand building journey. Last year we underwent some significant strategic changes from a business-to-business to a consumer focus from original design manufacturing to original equipment manufacturing, and from low-end value to mid and high-end markets. This transformation is not so easy, but we are glad we increased our revenues last year, with healthy profits and in shipments we have moved to number three in the world for smart phones.

As number three in a market where you are competing with Apple, presumably design now has to play a stronger role in your product development.

Design is something we need to do much better and we aim to be number one in the world for design. That’s why we have been building consumer centres in a number of locations and we have made a major hire, not yet announced, on design. We are going to be releasing some great designs.

Is there a problem with devising global branding and design?

It is definitely less developed in China and Apple are leading now, but the history of Huawei shows its attitude has been right. This was seen in our entry into the business-to-business sector. It was harder to get into the network business than the consumer business. There were the seven big players in that market when I joined Huawei in 1988. At that time if we looked at them and asked ourselves “how can we win?”, I would say it would have been hard. But our attitude instead was “maybe we can co-exist”. That was a tough time for us to do our wireless business. There were seven big players, you might say “mountains”, in the business then: Ericsson, Nokia, Siemens, Motorola, Alcatel, Nortel and Lucent.

In this industry people like to be superheroes, so Ericsson’s slogan was “Take you forward”, that means: “I’m smart, I’m a teacher, I can teach you.” Nokia’s was ‘Connecting people’. But our attitude is that the customer is more important than ourselves. So we have some slogans such as ‘We hear you’, ‘Innovation for you’, ‘Realise your potential’, so you see the customer is more important than us and that makes us different in the industry.

Apple is really like a superman and everyone admires it and the machine is maybe more important than the people themselves, and people are not proud so much of themselves but of the products they are using. Huawei does not agree with this philosophy and thinks people are more important than the technology.  

You talk about consumer led design, usually this involves surveys and so on, how do you find out what the consumer wants?

The problem is not finding out what people want, but how to listen to them. Apple is really good, but they define things and then the consumer has to follow, if I want to change the card, you must follow, if I want to change the interface, you must follow, if I want to define the system like this you must follow. There is too much control.

How important is European Market for your strategy?

There are always two important markets for Huawei: China, a big market and our homeland, and Europe. In the beginning for us Europe was a very small part of our market but it has always been very important. This is because Europe is a critical market, and the challenge is innovation. Europeans only want to use the best products. So by focusing on the requirements of Europe we can make our products better. The target for us is that if we want to make the best product we need to meet the requirements of Europe. That’s why Europe is important for us

Issues of trade and politics are coming to the fore in the technology markets. How do you keep brand and design apart from media political debates into which Huawei gets involved?

The good news is that people get more and more information now. Our slogan is “enrich people’s lives through communication”, and we are doing the right thing to let people have information – good and bad – and we therefore let them have the information that they can base their judgment about us on.


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