It’s an exciting time to be in Huawei’s smartphone division. It’s now the world’s third largest and it’s basking in the glow of the launch of the P20 and P20 Pro flagships – arguably the first of its handsets to penetrate the mainstream consciousness.
According to figures from IHS Markit, Huawei has increased smartphone shipments by 14 per cent over the past year to 39.3 million and now controls 11 per cent of the market.
Anson Zhang is the man tasked with capitalising on this momentum and building its business in the UK. Having joined the company in 2009, Zhang has served as country manager for the Czech Republic and Finland before becoming the managing director for the Huawei Consumer Business Group in the UK two months ago.
“I think my major responsibility is how to bring the best products and quality of service to the UK,” he tells TechRadar Pro. “[To establish] Huawei as a premium brand in the UK market.
“The UK is a [key] strategic market. The UK is one of the biggest countries in Europe and we are already well recognised [across the continent] as a brand in some other countries like Spain and Italy.”
Huawei’s attempts to differentiate itself in a crowded Android marketplace have focused on innovation, with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and advanced imaging features strong selling points of its recent flagships.
Zhang wants Huawei to have a reputation for innovation in the UK, but accepts that marketing will play a key role in making its products desirable
“It’s not about tech versus fashion,” he explains. “It’s our role to build the brand. On the one hand we insist on the innovation, but on the other hand, we’re trying to build up the fashion side of the brand. [It’s not just about] performance but also [things like] photography.”
It’s difficult enough building one brand, but Huawei has two. Alongside it’s high end devices under the Huawei banner, it also produces more affordable smartphones under the Honor brand too. Is this not too difficult to explain to consumers? If anything, Zhang argues, having the two ranges makes it easier to break into new markets.
“I don’t think there’s a conflict. We have a clear brand message for Huawei [and Honor],” says Zhang. “Huawei is more focused on innovation and is the premium brand in which we put most of our leading technology.
“People’s lives are going be different and people in different countries are going to be different and we need to understand the end user and und what they want and what their preferences are. With two brands we can do this more easily.”
Operator and retailer support is essential for any such expansion. With only so many devices they can stock, promote and train their staff in, keeping good relationships with partners will also be on Zhang’s priority list.
“I think it’s about trust. We are very comfortable with our products, otherwise we [wouldn’t have had the growth]. We need to do the proper communication to our partners, as well as our end users. [We will] talk to partners professionally and build their confidence.”
In the days before our meeting, Chinese rival Xiaomi (the world’s fourth largest smartphone maker) has agreed a deal with Three’s parent company CK Hutchison that will see its handsets stocked in the UK. When asked whether multiple Chinese players – unfamiliar to UK consumers – will harm Huawei’s own plans, he is nonplussed, stating his belief in the Shenzhen-based firm’s plan to be known as a company which produces high quality, innovative devices.
“If we can deliver this ambition, we can win the UK market,” he says.