For the last few years, Apple have dominated China's smartphone market. However with declining sales, they are needing to continually look over their shoulder with a number of very strong domestic brands lead by Huawei vying for top spot. According to the US data analysis firm International Data Corporation, Apple's share of the lucrative market in the last quarter decreased to less than 13% from 16% at the same time last year. Huawei's share however grew from 11% to 16% during the same period.
While part of this decline will be down to people waiting for the launch of Apple's next version of the iPhone which should be later this year, nothing should be taken away from Huawei who are certainly on the move. Many international brands entering the China market often over-look the domestic brands, wrongly seeing them as inferior. This is a dangerous assumption since it is the domestic brands who often have the best understanding of the local consumer and how to engage with them.
Huawei’s latest phone, the ‘P9’ shows their knowledge and understanding of the Chinese consumer on a number of different levels. First in a market where status still plays an important role, the P9 Plus retails in China for RMB 4,388 (USD 668 / GBP 460) which is an aspirational price. While it is cheaper than Apple’s iPhone, it is not so cheap that it puts off a number of target consumers. In addition with the price being lower than that of Apple’s flagship phone, there will be others for which the iPhone is out of their price bracket but will be able to afford Huawei’s offering. Price is a key consideration in China and this shows that Huawei are aligned with the local consumers' rationale. Price is only part of the equation and they have cleverly used other triggers that they know will resonate with their target audience and help them continue to grow market share.
The launch of the P9 has been done with two key items. First, they have collaborated with the German camera brand, Leica who have provided the phone's camera. Like with most markets across the world, Leica are regarded in China as an aspirational brand and by buying the phone, this provides the end user with an automatic link to the camera's manufacturer. The collaboration also provides an authenticity to not just the quality of the camera but by association, to the quality of the phone.
In addition to the camera, Scarlett Johansson is the celebrity chosen to endorse the product with her face appearing on advertisements across not just China but the world. Celebrity endorsements in China can be extremely strong, however many brands fail to appreciate the importance of this or how that certain international celebrities do not carry the same cache in China that they do in other markets. Scarlett however is the perfect choice - she has a leading role in Captain America: Civil War which is likely to be one of the highest grossing international films in China in 2016. She is also extremely well known across the world which will only help as the brand looks to grow brand awareness and sales internationally.
Despite Apple's popularity in the Mainland market, local brands like Huawei are catching up fast and may even overtake Apple's dominance in China.