Minnie Wang
Sep 29, 2023

Tecno's global CMO on how to build a global brand with local storytelling

From traveling around the world to better understand local consumers, and adapting to the ever-changing needs of Gen Z, Chinese mobile brand Tecno's global CMO Laury Longfei Bai shares why he'll "stop at nothing” to build a global brand

Tecno CMO: Laury Longfei Bai.
Tecno CMO: Laury Longfei Bai.

Chinese mobile brand Tecno—a high-end brand under Transsion Holdings— has won the hearts and minds of international users over the years, not just with its brand spirit of “Stop at Nothing”,  but also with its highly localised marketing and 'go premium' strategy. 

Founded over a decade ago, the brand has become known for its ability to offer affordability, a wide range of products, tailored and localised marketing strategies, as well as an assurance on quality control, making it a consumer favourite. The company actively and regularly seeks user feedback and incorporates it into its design, distribution and end-customer experience ecosystem, allowing them to consistently innovate and outperform rival products in the market.

According to data shared by Tech Insights, as of the second quarter of 2023, Transsion surpassed Vivo and ranks as fifth amongst global smartphone vendors.  

International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker also indicates that even though global smartphone shipment declined 7.8% year-over-year in the second quarter of this year, Transsion remains the only one among the top five that achieved double-digit growth. 

Last Friday, Tecno unveiled its new Phantom V Flip 5G and Megabook T1 2023 14inch in Singapore

Explaining why Tecno chose Singapore for its flagship products launch, Tecno’s global CMO, Laury Longfei Bai, told Campaign, “Southeast Asia and South Asia are the strategic markets for Tecno.” 

“Singapore, as an international metropolis, is connected with key regional markets and may have a ripple effect in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand as our fast-growing key markets,” he added. 

In an exclusive interview, Bai also covered a number of topics with Campaign from Tecno’s glocal marketing in Asian markets to his vision of AI, how to connect with global Gen Z and leverage social media, as well as his team’s global experiences with delivering local storytelling.

Campaign: Tecno launched the #Don’t stop exploring campaign in India earlier this year. What are the advantages and challenges of the South and Southeast Asia markets?

Bai: In fact, for Tecno, our advantage is still consumer-centric technology and innovation strategy, which is the core strategy that keeps us maintaining a relatively steady pace of development worldwide. It allows us to continue to bring cost-effective products and better experiences to more users so that they can enjoy the benefits of technology, especially flagship technology, as soon as possible. 

In addition to the localisation of technology, we also focus on the localisation of operations. Our staff from Chinese headquarters work together with local teams and research the local markets, such as the habits and needs of local users from the product side to the media side, as well as local consumers’ values, emotions, and travelling behaviours. In this sense, we will be able to achieve a seamless experience with more localised products effectively. 

Indeed, [there are] lots of challenges. Generally speaking, mobile phone market competition is no longer the same as it was a few years ago. For the mobile phone industry, incremental growth as a whole is gradually slowing down. The mobile phone replacement cycle is getting longer and longer as the global economy is slipping into a downturn. Moreover, we entered the markets later than competitors in India, South Asia and Southeast Asia. Our competitors are quite strong and have invested much effort into these markets. Also, we have to face various regulatory policies in multiple regions and differences in each market. Of course, these challenges also change the environment in the market, which may also bring more opportunities.

For you, what are the most impressive ways of storytelling for campaigns in Asia-Pacific?

Several marketing approaches are more globalised, partly because Southeast Asia is a more culturally diverse region. Several years ago, Puma and SK-II launched virtual idols, which were innovative back then. In recent years, brand collaborations and crossovers, such as Starbucks and Blackpink, and IP-based marketing campaigns in Southeast Asia have been pretty impressive. The other way is going deeper through marketing localised content and telling the stories about local users that resonate with them. This kind of localised storytelling is exactly what we have been pursuing, exploring and practising.

How does Tecno tell localised stories, and what are your marketing plans to use technologies such as virtual idols and AI?

This year, our ChatGPT-like AI model debuted globally, integrating speech semantic AI modelling into our products. Tecno’s avatar, Ella, is built into our products and connected to the ChatGPT function module. When users are chatting and communicating with the voice assistant, Ella can interact with them more smartly, and also enable them to enjoy the early benefits and convenience of the AI technology. 

How do you target Gen Z audience in South Asia and Southeast Asia?

My thoughts on Gen Z marketing are: On the one hand, we need to connect with them. On the other hand, the worldviews and values of global Gen Z are changing. For example, they are shifting from group values to individual values, and their preferences are becoming more and more personalised. So, we express and present personalisation or customisation in [our] Gen Z marketing.

For Tecno, we want to target young people, especially Gen Z, to keep the brand young. We call it keeping “the sense of engaging online” in China, which means continuing to incorporate the latest technology and trendy products into Gen Z marketing and services. 

How do you localise strategies for your teams in different markets?

In fact, there is no shortcut both for the company and I.

An effective way is going deeper into the local markets and closer to users. You will get to know how they use mobile phones and interact with media, their way of life, and how they spend a day. In that way, you can understand what it's like to present localised products or marketing content.

For Tecno, our whole team travels around the world all year round. We spend more than half of our time each year travelling to various overseas markets to learn new local trends and see new ideas from local consumers and how the trends have changed, and then come back to redesign global marketing plans more efficiently to match with the consumer trends. It is actually quite a hard-working and time-consuming process.

Did the pandemic and travel restrictions affect the frequency of travel for your team, and if so, how did they continue to conduct market research?

As a result of the pandemic, the team still travelled over the year, but to fewer markets. Given a longer period of quarantine, we also travelled to a place for two months at a time, and not as frequently as we did in the past few years. We visited strategic markets.

On the other hand, we also worked with some local research teams to conduct online research with tech support, like livestreaming, interacting with the local teams and talking to consumers. In the process of livestreaming, where we had questions, we messaged the moderator and then engaged with users on behalf of our team. Though we travel worldwide, we also work in this way to improve efficiency.

Which social media channels are at the core of Tecno's overseas marketing strategy? How do you think social media can contribute to the marketing plan of your brands?

The key channels for overseas marketing are still Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, which are traditionally popular platforms with the most active users.

In recent years, the fastest-growing platforms have been short video platforms, including TikTok and Kuaishou, so we will present large-scale campaigns in fast-growing markets on these new platforms or channels.

Social media means two things to us. The first is to be a platform for users to receive information. Users in some regions, especially Central and Eastern Europe or Latin America, have gradually changed their search habits, moving away from search engines to social media platforms or short video platforms. Search behaviours have actually changed, which means, for users, that these social media channels have become a primary source of information.

For us, in addition to presenting information, there is also influencing, converting and trading. Social media platforms are actually powerful for influencing, as users will trust and learn from influencers’ endorsements or introduction in no time. 

Finally, it is a place for brands to interact with users. For instance, we have official accounts on all major social media channels. We also have Facebook fan groups to interact with users. User interaction will generate more understanding, better memory and greater impressions for our brand.

In the post-pandemic era and with uncertainties in the global economy, how do you think Chinese brands going global need to adjust their strategies?

The international market for Chinese brands going global is quite different from ten years ago, or even just a few years ago, [whether it's] exporting products from more industries to more markets, or expanding from digital products to clothing, FMCG, and pet products. All kinds of enterprises are involved, and the whole ecosystem—from talent to resources—has improved. 

I think the next step would be going deeper into the field, with specialisation and verticalisation becoming mainstream for outbound brands. In particular, the Belt and Road initiative will help drive up growth in emerging markets as a powerhouse for outbound brands. It also means that in the past, good value (for money) was a leading factor. Now, for the users, a brand they know better will have a larger impact. 

In China, demand and preferences from overseas markets are quite different from those in the domestic market and are changing fast. I would say that brands should focus on the differences in various local markets, leveraging local trends to produce marketing content and transform the trends into touchpoints for brand communication. Branding can build better impressions and awareness by shaping cross-cultural communication with innovative and diversified content marketing, especially through localised storytelling. 

(This interview has been translated and edited for brevity and clarity).

(This article first appeared on Campaign Asia) 

Campaign Asia

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