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TikTok China Huawei

The top brands to watch in China

By Leon Zhang, Partner

March 21, 2019 | 7 min read

We are living in an exciting time—economic growth, increasing spending power, digitalization and new technologies are constantly changing the way we live and behave. Though there will be uncertainties in the future, some notable brands are able to outperform competitors and achieve outstanding growth because of their strong category expertise, unique customer experiences, and their abilities to distinctively inspire consumers.


As a leading strategic brand and marketing consultancy, Prophet continuously tracks market trends and dynamics through initiatives such as the Brand Relevance Index (BRI) and META. After starting the Lunar New Year last month, we would like to share our perspectives on some of the top brands to watch in China this year.


In terms of both business and brand growth, Huawei has undoubtedly had the most success among Chinese brands in establishing a solid global presence. Its continuous innovation in the telecommunications industry has brought the company into uncharted territories. Moreover, the strong performance of Huawei’s consumer business has helped it evolve from a “brand known by most consumers” to a “brand preferred by most consumers”. Following the launch of the Mate 20 series in 2018, Huawei came in at a close second in terms of total shipments and gained great praise from consumers—helping secure its strong position in the mid-to-high-end mobile phone market. With the launch of 5G technology, further enhancements in chip technology, and the rapid growth of its brand among global consumers, we fully expect that Huawei will continue to reach new heights in 2019.


One of the unsung heroes of the consumer electronics industry, BOE has always kept a low profile. Despite being the world’s leading producer of semiconductor displays, BOE’s brand is relatively absent from the daily lives of ordinary people. The general public tends not to pay too much attention to “invisible champions”. However, with the implementation of BOE’s general transformation strategy, we have seen that BOE is steadily transforming itself from a traditional display supplier to a far more diversified and versatile brand—covering areas such as semiconductor displays, smart systems, and healthcare. As BOE’s brand becomes increasingly visible in consumers’ lives, it will help both the company and the brand enter a new stage of development.


It is clear for all to see that Midea has grown its brand substantially in recent years. The home appliance giant has steadily transformed into an innovative, technology-driven brand. Moves such as the acquisition of KUKA and Toshiba’s white goods business, its partnership with Electrolux, the operation of the AEG brand on the Chinese market, and the launch of its high-end brand COLMO in the fourth quarter of 2018 are a testament to the dedication, strength, ambition, and confidence of Midea going forward. Midea is primed for a fruitful 2019.


Li-Ning, which had seemed to be stuck in a lengthy “rejuvenation” process, finally began to reap the benefits of these changes in 2018. With their outstanding performance at New York Fashion Week, along with their improving sales performance, the “National Fashion Brand”, has gradually found success through its focus on new generations of consumers. We are delighted to see that this leading sports brand in China has gradually been able to regain its confidence. Li-Ning has also amassed a strong following among younger consumers. There’s still a long way to go for Li-Ning in 2019, but so far the results look promising.


NIO is one of the few brands that has been able to turn its wild visions for futuristic new-energy cars into a reality. Over the last two years, NIO has established strong brand recognition among mid-to-high-end consumers through its exceptional offline brand experience and service. Its NIO Houses—swanky clubhouses for NIO users and their friends, located in major city centers—have become a distinctive platform for customers to interact with the brand. In addition to the outstanding in-store environment and leisure facilities, NIO has also set up play zones for children, demonstrating its understanding of its target consumers and the depth of its services. Growing a brand is not an easy task, and if NIO can continue to excel at its customer services system, it will have a bright future.


Despite continuous efforts to diversify, Suning remains a “home appliance supermarket” in the eyes of many consumers. In reality, is already one of the biggest e-commerce platforms next to Tmall and Moreover, the new business models of offline retailer Suning Plaza are booming, and Suning convenience stores have also begun to expand rapidly. 2019 is an important year for Suning’s transformation; in addition to existing operations, Suning has also shown us its determination to become a “lifestyle brand”. After the launch of its new retail experience, themed “Global Community of Curators” in late 2018, we expect that Suning will continue to dig deeper into creating a better consumer experience in 2019. We are very much looking forward to seeing Suning’s future endeavors.


A favorite among Digital Natives, TikTok has achieved rapid success in China. Moreover, under its parent company ByteDance, TikTok has even attracted millions of active users in the United States. As of the end of 2018, TikTok was ranked the second most downloaded app in the global App Store and Google Play Store, while the other four apps in the top 5 were all affiliated with Facebook. 2019 is a crucial year for TikTok—on one hand, it’s user base will become increasingly diverse so it will be more difficult to deliver an experience specifically targeted for its core/original user base, and on the other hand, its competitors will undoubtedly be fighting hard to prevent it from getting even bigger. However, we expect that TikTok will continue to go from strength to strength.


Xiaomi, with its ambition to be omnipresent in people's personal lives and home spaces, is undoubtedly a brand to watch in 2019. Xiaomi’s excellence in smartphones has been widely acclaimed, but its recent efforts to occupy the home appliance market and create an entire ecosystem have made an even greater impact. Many well-known home appliance brands have begun to seriously regard Xiaomi as the biggest threat to their future development. However, what frustrates them, even more, is that no one really knows how to compete with Xiaomi. The “Ecosystem” is a great idea and can be brought to life in many ways. Perhaps, we may have better visibility on what Xiaomi is evolving into.

We cannot predict the future, and the paths of the eight brands above may not always be smooth. They are only a representation of the numerous Chinese brands vying for relevance in an increasingly globalized world. 2019 will indeed be a year full of uncertainties, but what we can all be certain of, is that we will see more stories of success or failure. We will witness more Chinese brands either break through or be reborn. Let’s wait and see!

Leon Zhang is partner at Prophet.

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