Branding is a bit of a lost art in the high-tech industry. Prior to the Internet, tech companies focused on building strong company and product brands, but as of late many companies seem to have fallen off the brand wagon with brand names that are not descriptive or unique. As an example, the generic term “Core” has been used by more than one high-tech company as recently as this past month. In addition, many of the Asian companies have struggled to develop brands that have appeal in western countries. Many names like Xiaomi and Changhong do not translate well and three letter acronyms just get lost in the pool of meaningless terms for most consumers. Huawei’s recent efforts to establish a new global brand with “Honor” stand out from the crowd and should be a lesson for others in the industry.
Branding is challenging because you only really get one chance to get it right – the launch of the brand. After the launch, the audience, in this case the consumer, owns the brand. Once a brand is communicated the best a company can do is re-enforce it or modify it, but the consumer ultimately determines what the brands represents. The most effective brands are those that have a unique term that can be trademarked, provide a positive image, have global appeal, and are used consistently over a long period of time. Often tech companies forget many of these aspects, especially the value of consistent use over time.
Huawei faced many challenges in consumer branding. “Huawei”, pronounced “wah-way” does not translate easily, the company is known for infrastructure equipment within the industry, and like many Chinese infrastructure companies, has faced challenges landing contracts with some western governments, especially in the US, over what appears to be more political reasons than technical (I won’t argue that point here). So, Huawei did the unusual, they started a new brand with the intent of it to stand alone. In fact, at the recent Honor 6x launch at CES, there was not a single Huawei logo anywhere to be found in the presentation or promotional materials. The launch was all about the Honor brand, which Huawei kicked off in 2014. This is very similar to what Levi Strauss did with the launch of Dockers. Levi Strauss was so concerned about diluting the Levi brand, that the company created a new brand for a new product line and target market.
While the Honor brand does not have a unique trademarkable name, the name does communicate a positive image, it translates well, it is re-enforced in everything the company does around the product line, and it is used consistently. Huawei also managed to get a unique domain name www.hihonor.com. Huawei as a company is a late comer to the smartphone market, but has rapidly risen to the third largest in global market share and grew unit shipments by 29% in 2016, a year that was essentially flat in overall handset growth. While it is difficult to tie market share gains to branding, I do believe that the Honor brand in conjunction with the quality of the products has and will benefit the company especially as they expand into new markets, like the US where the company currently has a negligible presence.
The accomplishments of Huawei around the Honor brand are especially admirable when you consider that branding is completely different in Asia. In fact, it is often challenging to convince Asian tech companies to focus on branding as they expand globally – an area where TIRIAS Research is often asked to consult. But, lessons in branding often translate across market segments and product categories. It wasn’t that long ago that a select few tech brands achieved global recognition, such as “Intel Inside” and ThinkPad.
The important message is that branding still matters, especially when a company seeks to expand globally and the Honor brand is a good example of a high-tech company doing it effectively and not forgetting the lessons of the past. Other start-ups and established tech companies should take note, because Honor is one to remember.
This article was written by Jim McGregor from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.