Paul Holmes 21 Jun 2017 // 7:08AM GMT
CANNES—Huawei, a company almost unknown its own market five years ago, is now preparing to tell its story aggressively in the West. “We want to let more people know us, and know us in a better way,” the company’s chief marketing officer Glory Zhang told an audience in Cannes, during a session focused on “China’s Age of Ambition.”
During a session moderated by Fast Company staff editor Jeff Beer, Zhang conceded that Huawei was until recently almost unknown its own market. When she received a job offer from the company 16 years ago, her mother was not sure what the company did, and even five years ago she wanted reassure that her daughter was working for a “real company.”
“People couldn’t touch and feel the products we made, because we started as a business-to-business company,” making products that were sold to other manufacturers. But the company got into the smartphone market five years ago—it is now the number three smart phone company globally—“and now people know us, thanks to the smartphone.”
But in reality, Huawei is an end-to-end solutions company, providing network products, operating in the cloud, and selling to the consumer. That is part of the story the company plans to tell as it expands internationally—and indeed, a part of that story is already familiar: “Before smartphone business we provide very sophisticated equipment to companies in the west,” says Zhang.
Otherwise, she thinks the distinction between east and west is increasingly redundant in the digital age.
“As we move from physical world to the digital world, it’s not divided between eastern and western,” she says. A lot people want to live in that pure digital world—human beings are ushering in a new era. We can play a role in driving into that new era.”
There are elements of the Huawei story that will be interesting in the international context, however. A private company, Huawei is employee owned, and has an unusual structure with three rotating CEOs rather than the all-powerful chief executive that is more common in Chinese companies—and many western ones.
“From brand perspective we have a beautiful story in terms of the company and the culture that needs to be told to the western world,” says Zhang. “We have a culture that celebrates the collective wisdom of the company and our employees.”
It also respects what international expansion can add to the mix.
“We respect expertise of local markets, from Japan to Sweden to Paris, where we have our aesthetic center for design. International means not only opening offices in different parts of the world, but the kind of expertise we can draw from different markets. We want to make full use of local talent.”
Simon Shaw, chief creative officer, Hill+Knowlton Strategies, says that working with Huawei in international markets has posed unique challenges. “It’s been incredible journey over last two years or so. We have been forced to rethink what it means to be client-centric, to really embed ourselves with the client. We have had to learn their culture and the culture of Chinese companies. It’s not about immediately having a solution to every challenge, it’s about co-creation.”
That’s because Huawei, in Zhang’s words, is “looking for a partner rather than an agency. We are looking for someone who shares our vision, and our passion.” Cultural compatibility is key. “To build any relationship between the brand and the agency we have to understand each other. Mutual respect is import to bridge the gap between the two cultures. And I appreciate the world of co-creation.”