Chinese tech firms in push to build smartphone brands abroad

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Chinese smartphone makers with ambitions to expand overseas are making more efforts lately to introduce and promote their brands to foreign consumers.

Large Chinese firms such as ZTE Corp. and Huawei Technologies Co. started holding press conference in overseas markets to introduce their new devices, and are also signing promotion agreements basketball and soccer teams.

The moves are paying off, a manager at ZTE says, as foreign telecom operators are getting familiar with the two Chinese companies and choosing to buy their smartphones.

Many other Chinese smartphone makers, such as Xiaomi Inc. and Meizu Technology Co., are also promoting their brands abroad and are using a variety of channels, such as the social networking website Facebook, to reach potential customers.

Hoop Dreams

In June last year, Huawei held its first overseas press conference in London to launch its P6 phone and has held many similar events in other markets since then.

Huawei is also a sponsor for soccer leagues in Europe, and has signed deals with teams such as Germany’s Dortmund and Italy’s AC Milan in recent years.

Huawei manager Shao Yang said the company has become well-known in Europe, especially in Spain.

Huawei was the sole Chinese brand to make this year’s list of the world’s most valuable 100 brands, as put together by the leading consultancy Interbrand. Huawei made it into the top 100 for the first time, landing at No. 94.

ZTE is making inroads into the United States, cooperating with teams in the popular National Basketball Association. Its logo can often be seen at arenas around the league.

ZTE signed sponsorship deals with the New York Knicks and Golden State Warriors for the current season, and inked two young stars, Chandler Parsons and Patrick Beverley, as brand ambassadors.

The smartphone company’s cooperation with the NBA’s Houston Rockets last year greatly increased its influence in that city, said Cheng Lixin, ZTE’s CEO for North American operations.

Its market share in Houston, the fourth most populous city in the United States and where Chinese star Yao Ming played his career, rose from 4 percent to 8 percent last year.

ZTE and Huawei have the money to sponsor sports teams and advertise abroad, an industry analyst said, but smaller smartphone makers like Meizu and Xiaomi were using Facebook to connect with potential buyers.

Facebook Friends

Almost two-thirds of international companies are using Facebook to communicate with fans and consumers, said Amit Midha, who leads Dell Inc.’s Asia-Pacific and Japan operations.

Many Chinese smartphone makers have corporate accounts on Facebook, and count on the website for helping them promote their brands.

These firms have special teams in China to run the accounts, meaning they must figure out ways to get around China’s Great Firewall, which prevents people in the country from accessing sites like Facebook and Twitter. The teams also have to figure out ways to overcome language and cultural obstacles.

Lenovo Group has 2.9 million followers on its Facebook account, the most of any Chinese phone makers, and Huawei has 1.2 million. Other companies have tens of thousands of followers. This is a far cry from what other international companies have: Samsung has 40.317 million Facebook followers.

Xiaomi, Meizu and Guangdong Oppo Electronics Industry Co. Ltd. are trying to attract followers by publishing more information on Facebook about their new models.

When Oppo launched its new N3 model on October 29 it made sure to put photos of the introductory press conference on its Facebook account the same day. This prompted several hundred people to leave messages on Facebook for the company, including inquiries on battery life capacity the performance of the phone.

These moves will help improve the companies make themselves known to foreigners, another industry analyst said.

About the Author

The Corner
The Corner has a team of on-the-ground reporters in capital cities ranging from New York to Beijing. Their stories are edited by the teams at the Spanish magazine Consejeros (for members of companies’ boards of directors) and at the stock market news site Consenso Del Mercado (market consensus). They have worked in economics and communication for over 25 years.

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