Huawei launched its new flagship smartphone, the Mate 20, as only tech companies know how – at a huge event at the Excel Centre in London yesterday (16 October) that had the requisite pop star performances, product demos and fawning bloggers.
Ostensibly a press conference, it was clear the audience was at least in part made up of people already converted to the cult of Huawei. Each new product announcement was greeted with rounds of applause and whoops of joy, while features including its ‘matrix’ camera system, super-fast charging and the new ‘emerald green’ colour were met with gasps of excitement.
Fawning from fanboys aside, there is much to admire in the new Mate range from Huawei. Here is a phone that has been described by Wired as a “tech powerhouse” and “the phone the iPhone XS should be”.
Some of the tech is genuinely innovative. It has an in-screen fingerprint sensor that means owners can touch anywhere on the screen to unlock their phone, while some nifty tech that I won’t pretend to understand enables users two-way wireless charging, meaning the phone can actually charge other phones.
In some cases, it feels like tech excess. Most consumers won’t understand half the specs of this phone; I won’t pretend I did as figures about battery power, charging wattage and responsive screen engagement were trotted out.
The 3D live object modelling was fun, with the company demoing how a child’s toy panda could be made to look real using scanning technology and augmented reality. And the camera looks impressive too, with three sensors on the back that do something very clever to make pictures look great (read this if you’re interested).
Huawei has the products to compete with the best, now it needs the brand to match.
Huawei has some form in producing great phones. The P20 Pro, launched earlier this year, put devices from rivals in the shade and earned a number of five-star reviews from critics. The Mate 20 Pro has done the same.
Yet as we know, success in the smartphone market is not all about the product. Brand and marketing plays as big a role and it is here that Huawei cannot yet compete.
That might seem unfair; Huawei has neither the financial marketing power of Samsung nor the brand loyalty of Apple. But still it needs to up its brand game.
According to YouGov BrandIndex, Samsung has an Index score (which measures a range of metrics including quality, value and reputation) of 37.5. Sony follows on 24.3, ahead of Apple’s iPhone on 22.7, Nokia on 16.5 and LG on 14.7. Huawei’s score is just 6.4.
The brand is headed in the right direction. That Index score is up by 5.5 points over the past year, a statistically significant increase. And consumer impressions of brands aren’t everything – Nokia’s score of 16.5 shows that.
But phones are a high consideration purchase. Huawei needs to get people caring about the brand before they’re in the market for a phone to make it onto their long list. Consideration is rising, up 1.8 points to 5.2 over the past year, as is purchase intent. But it is still a long way behind all its rivals.
Huawei has the products to compete with the best, now it needs the brand to match. And to realise that marketing isn’t just about product porn but creating an emotional connection with consumers.
It is not there yet. The only promo video for the Mate 20 Series highlights features like the “high endurance 4,200mAh battery”, “15 watt wireless quick charge” and “ultra-wide angle Leica triple camera”. What it doesn’t do is tell people what these features mean or how they will improve their lives.
Huawei’s marketing up to now has done a great job of propelling it quietly to the number two spot in the smartphone market (although it is expected to go back down to third this quarter following the launch of the new iPhones). If it really wants to be the biggest global player it now needs to put brand front and centre.