It is a well-known fact that Chinese consumers are very open to new tech. They have always been relatively early adopters of new innovation and are even willing to try the bleeding edge often on tech and devices. They have shown that if they can afford it, they will prioritize the newer, shinier toy. This preference for high tech has coincided with the advancement in technology, where hundreds of digital and tech acronyms compete for attention every minute of every day across China. AI, VR, AR, IoT are just some of the common terminologies that have made it into consumer tech vernacular lately. Digital this or smart that, how can brands successfully move beyond just merely showcasing their technology but instead leverage it to deliver relevant experiences for consumers?
Moving Beyond Technology to Deliver Unique, Meaningful Experiences
Brands who have made the list on Prophet’s Brand Relevance Index™ this year all share some common characteristics. All of them are able to maintain relevance with consumers through multiple avenues including brand value communication, customer engagement, cultural relevance and technological innovation. One of the most apparent recurring themes among the brands is High Tech, Higher Touch. With brands today boasting about their latest technology by introducing a slew of new product and service functions and features, how many of them can truly maintain a ‘higher touch’ with consumers? In other words, once a new tech becomes readily available, how can brands move beyond the mere tech features and instead truly deliver enhanced experiences for consumers and other real and easily felt benefits?
Let’s take 5G as an example. Simply put, 5G is the fifth-generation of mobile internet connectivity promising much faster data download and upload speeds vs the current 4G, as well as wider coverage and more stable connections. 5G is now moving from hype to usage from high profile pilots in 2018, a few pre-commercial launches in 2019 and the promise of full commercial rollouts in 2020. Many brands today promising higher download speeds and better connectivity enabled by 5G are just listing the surface benefits of 5G.
In China, many brands have become smarter about not just marketing the high tech but focusing on the high touch and consumer relevance of all this new tech.
How can faster data downloads and wider connectivity actually be integrated into consumers’ lives to make it tangibly better? How does any of the new tech make consumer life more practical, convenient, rich, fun? What is the enhanced experience promise the new tech enables? As we move to a world where the experience is the brand, especially in China, we have seen the leaders in brand relevance being the best examples of focusing on the higher touch side of any new tech.
For example, Huawei (#2), the mobile and network global leader that has become synonymous with 3G, 4G, and now 5G innovation in China if not globally, manufactures high-end smartphones like the Huawei Mate 30 and smart home devices for consumers. The reality is that Huawei and other 5G networks work in the background and therefore enable other brands, products and services to improve in relevance in that last mile of high touch for the Chinese consumer.
International automobile giants such as Audi (#10) and BMW (#14) have strategic partnerships confirmed with Huawei to launch futuristic 5G/IoT empowered ICV (intelligent connected vehicles). These joint ventures would utilize the capabilities of 5G technology to safer and semi-autonomous cars to mass consumers. One of the many tangible improvements of a 5G enabled vehicle is an enhanced driving experience for driver and passengers. For example, by reading current traffic conditions, a car will be able to communicate with traffic lights, cameras and road signs, to best direct passengers to their chosen destination. 5G enabled vehicles not only comes along with new and powerful features, but most importantly, allows for a more effortless and enjoyable driving experience for users.
Or take Huawei’s artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities as a case of elevating high tech into higher touch. Instead of boasting about the power of AI, Huawei took it a step further to integrate AI capabilities into practical features that would enhance the Huawei experience. For example, cameras in Huawei’s phone models recognize over 500 objects and categorize them into 19 individual scenes and each scene is associated with a set of optimized parameters. For instance, if the camera detects that a user is taking a photo of the sky, it will automatically trigger a “Blue Skies” scene and optimize the color saturation, enhancing the color of the skyline to make the blue look more vibrant.
The power unleashed by this new AI assistance is no doubt impressive, but Huawei made it a point to show that this new tech requires zero to little effort from users and is fully integrated as part of the Huawei experience. Automatic detection and identification of objects and surroundings enabled by Huawei’s AI technology requires minimal technical adjustments from users compared with a traditional camera. For Huawei, they have successfully proved that the point of high tech is not about fancy functions, but how the application of it can be made accessible. In the case of their AI cameras, even photography amateurs can easily take absolutely gorgeous photos.
Huawei is not alone in this pursuit. Many other brands are following suit and are elevating their user experience through practical applications of high tech. Nio (#21), for example, has invested 4 billion RMB in R&D to drive innovation through next-generation technology in autonomous driving alongside with 5G network connectivity. In June 2019, NIO unveiled an updated version of NIO Pilot with seven new features and a new NIO OS 2.0 smart operating system. The NIO Pilot update includes Highway Pilot, Traffic Jam Pilot, Auto Lane Changing capabilities and more, all aiming to bring an easier and effortless driving experience to its users. Taking it one step further to focus its technology around its consumers, the NIO OS 2.0 smart operating system is a comprehensive optimization-based entirely upon user feedback. Not only does the new OS provide a better UI/UX design for drivers and passengers by listening to their needs, but it now also integrates rich third-party content such as Baidu Maps, QQ Music in addition to NIO Radio, NIO’s online audio community, specifically catering to the needs of Chinese drivers and passengers. In describing it’s new technological capabilities, just look at how NIO’s Vice President of Autonomous Driving, Jamie Carlson describes the impact of its technology on consumers:
“As a smart electric vehicle brand, the research and development of autonomous driving technologies is absolutely vital to NIO. It is only through progressive research and development and mastering core technologies, that we can more quickly respond to user feedback and quicken the pace of product iteration. In this way, we can offer users an experience that exceeds their expectations.”
Another example is Haier (#29) which established the first 5G smart home R&D center in March and is expected to launch the first 5G smart home solution by end of this year. This smart home solution will go beyond home appliances and cover multiple living occasions through smart sensors and AI technology. Take the all-household water solution as an example, users won’t need products from different brands after they install Haier’s solution. The system can manage the water usage of the entire household, monitor water quality and alert users when a change of filter is needed. The same principle applies to all other solutions. Utilizing its advanced technology and data support, it can pay attention to the smallest details and sense the needs of users, including things like recipe recommendations and airflow regulation. The main purpose of all this is to bring convenience, health, safety and comfort to users in a set of solutions that requires no afterthought and is fully integrative into consumers’ home lives.
In discussing new and fresh technological advancements, the most relevant brands don’t let “high tech” capabilities such as 5G and AI dictate the conversation.
Instead, they focus their attention on bringing about tangible benefits and practical solutions in the consumers’ everyday lives. The most successful brands understand and leverage this to remain ahead of the game. In Prophet’s Brand Relevance Index™, brands like Huawei are credited for continually “delivering a consistent experience” and engaging with consumers “in new and creative ways”. The end goal of high tech is to deliver a higher touch – an enhanced experience that is relevant to consumers. If not, then it’s really more “low tech”.