Let’s toast a miracle: a truly global Chinese brand that has pioneered a new category and charges competitive prices in developed economies. That company is DJI, the drone manufacturer. In Chinese, the brand’s name is da jiang, or “big territory” which suggests the scope of the enterprise’s ambition. The brand has become relentlessly relevant in the lives of consumers.
Prophet’s China Brand Relevance Index (BRI) measures the depth of the role brands play life. Our belief is simple: in order both sustain a price premium and fuel future growth, brands must deepen relationships with consumers over time.
The BRI ranking is an aggregation of four dimensions of engagement:
1. Customer obsession – How in touch a brand is with how consumers live and work?
2. Distinctive inspiration – Is a brand motivated by a clear purpose?
3. Ruthless pragmatism – Does a brand make experiences reliable and widely available?
4. Pervasive innovation – Does a brand push the status quo with novel solutions to life?
Our expectation is that DJI will become a power brand on our BRI list within the next couple years. Why? DJI’s founder, Frank Wang, has done everything right, which has resulted in worldwide dominance. It currently accounts for more than 70% of drones sold annually and is valued at more than $11 billion.
Wang’s core realization: a Chinese global brand needs to be born globally. From the get go, he assembled an international team capable of positioning products to meet the needs of local markets. Randy Jay Braun, for example, is the Director of Production Experience. A professional photographer for over thirty years, he was one of the first artists to dive into “aerial image capture.” And DJI granted the freedom for Randy to connect the technology to the hearts of American consumers. In 2017 he co-founded the DJI Aerial Photo Academy, a traveling workshop series teaching drone photography skills across North America.
Wang’s entire leadership team is international. From Vincent Richir, the policy director of EMEA to Michael Parry, the Managing Director of North America, DJI has rejected the traditional Chinese central “command and control” model of corporate governance. Wang, born in 1980, embraced globalism at an early age. After being rejected from top-tier American universities, he enrolled at Hong Kong’s University of Science and Technology. And, today, he “just wants to hire the best people to do what we need to do.”
DJI taps into global talent with worldwide offices: Hong Kong handles logistics, Tokyo develops cameras, and programmers write code in San Mateo, California. A creative team works out of Los Angeles while a New York office handles public affairs and government relations.
In addition to structural enlightening, DJI satisfies all BRI pillars.
4 Pillars of a Strong Brand
1. Distinctive Inspiration.
DJI is driven by a very clear brand purpose. In Wang’s words, “The direction of the company is driven by the original dream: to make a very easy-to-use product that can realize the human dream to fly.” This evocative aspiration fuels product innovation, segment diversification (e.g., personal versus professional users) and social media experiences.
DJI’s message is consistent worldwide. All advertising changes the frame of reference of image capture from cameras to drones. All advertising dramatizes the magic of aerial photography “whenever the inspiration strikes you to creates something truly great.” All advertising reinforces not only functional superiority but also the inherently social dimension of image sharing. Although DJI lacks a unifying tagline, the tone and manner of all communications is the same: soaring, high-tech yet accessible and bursting with beauty.
2. Pervasive Innovation.
DJI has more than 1,500 employees dedicated to research and innovation. A few recent examples: DJI has more than 1,500 professionals working in research and development. In May 2017, the brand introduced Spark, the first drone that users can control simply by hand gestures. The Spark is a mini camera drone that takes off from a user’s palm. Spark can do this thanks to 3D vision sensor technology, as well as its use of machine learning and computer vision.
In 2018, DJI introduced the Mavic Air. Unlike the Mavic Pro, the drone is pocket sized. The gimble – a component allows the camera to seem as if it is floating through the air – is more enclosed and protected inside the drone. And it has an eight-gigabyte memory storage which frees users from the tyranny of memory cards.
3. Ruthless Pragmatism.
DJI’s greatest strength is its scale. DJI, known for its Phantom drones and increasingly for the aforementioned newer Mavic Pro — both popular for aerial photography — has established itself as the market leader in many price categories.
In 2017, for drones that cost between $500 and $1,000 — primarily used for camera work — DJI represented 36 percent of the market by units sold in North America last year, according to Colin Snow, founder of Skylogic Research, a firm tracking the drone industry. The brand also commanded 66 percent of the North American market for drones priced between $1,000 and $2,000, and 67 percent of the market in the $2,000-$4,000 range
It has also diversified in to higher-end professional models used for everything from power line inspections to crop spraying. Its “Inspired” series of are sold for more than $10,000 and are used for everything from power line inspections and crop spraying to broadcasts of cultural events such as the Emmy awards and footage featured in blockbuster films.
4. Customer Obsession.
Finally, the brand agilely rides the waves of popular culture through creative partnerships. From the partnering with OKGO for their latest music video to sponsoring the Burning Man Festival in Nevada, DJI ingratiates itself in lives of consumers in unexpected ways. It also embraces a community of like-minded customer advocates. For example, the DJI+ Discover mobile app connects people socially and professionally by enabling drone-pilots and drone enthusiasts to start conversations and meet up. It also functions as a professional marketplace for aerial service providers and clients.
In conclusion, DJI is a brand that embraces the world. Wang, a new generation leader, resists the traditional “protective” modus operandi of most Chinese companies and embraces the dimensions of brand engagement and experiences that drive affinity and loyalty. As a result, DJI transcends the usual perceptional limitations of mainland enterprises. The company is poised for sustainable, high-margin growth.
Learn how your company can follow DJI’s footsteps and become a stronger brand using the four pillars of brand relevance.