The recent launch of Huawei’s flagship P20 series smartphones was significant in many ways, reflecting Huawei’s ambition to reinvent itself as an innovator, premiumise its brand and support the need to expand into Europe in light of mounting roadblocks in the US.
Huawei P20 Pro
Source: Huawei Technologies Co Ltd
Showing potential to be a market disrupter
Partnerships with respected global brands such as Leica Camera AG, Google and Porsche Design have been instrumental in growing Huawei’s brand equity among consumers over the last two years and Huawei continues to capitalise on its partnership with Leica, highlighting mobile photography technology during the launch of its latest P20 and P20 Pro devices.
However, with the P20 series, Huawei seems to be no longer banking on just the Leica brand name to sell its flagship phones and is slowly instead leveraging its own research in artificial intelligence (AI) and the AI-powered Kirin 970 chip in its phones to make it easier for novice photographers to take good photos. Using AI, the camera on the P20 phones are able to automatically identify more than 500 scenarios in 19 categories such as food, text, fireworks and flowers. The camera will select the correct photography modes and adjust the settings automatically.
Huawei built-in camera AI
Source: Euromonitor International
While AI-driven photography is still in its nascent stage, the use cases are clear. AI-driven photography will appeal to more consumers, millennials and Generation Z in particular, who are active on social media platforms yet may not possess the technical knowledge to be professional photographers. As Huawei continues to invest in its own R&D, it may no longer need to rely on the Leica brand to sell its phones. This is similar to how Lenovo bought IBM’s PC business and brand in 2005 only to phase out the use of the IBM logo three years later, reaching a stage where it no longer needed the IBM brand to establish credibility.
Europe as the next battleground for Huawei
With its long standing struggles in penetrating the US market, Huawei will be diverting most of its marketing budget previously set aside for the US into Europe where consumers and the local government have been more receptive towards the brand. In Europe, Huawei’s brand profile has increased considerably as a result of its aggressive marketing campaigns and numerous high profile football sponsorships with Atlético Madrid, AC Milan and FC Barcelona. This has helped the company see major share gains in markets like Spain, Italy and France over the last two years.
Huawei’s Smartphone Retail Volume Share in Western Europe
Source: Euromonitor International
A work in progress in Europe
The brand still has work to do in major European markets such as Germany and the UK where Samsung and Apple combined still account for over 50% market share in 2017. Consumer awareness of the Huawei brands is improving and its partnerships with established global companies added credibility to the quality of its smartphones. The P20 series might just be the much needed breakthrough but it needs to be supported with strong marketing campaigns to build awareness and an equally or rather more impressive P30 series going forward. The heightened brand awareness that it will gain with the P20 will also act as the catalyst to drive volume growth of its mid-range and more affordable Honor brand in emerging markets, which will be key in helping it to close the gap with Apple and Samsung.
Disclaimer: I was invited by Huawei to attend the Huawei’s P20 series and the Mate RS Porsche launch in Paris on 27 March.