B2B Tech in China Must Set the Foundation for Innovation

1/25/2022
— Martin Xu, WE Red Bridge 

China is no stranger to fast-moving innovation, with “China speed” charging ahead at breakneck rates. Although countries around the globe are in the midst of deploying 5G technology, China has already begun testing 6G-level wireless transmission, with recorded speeds 10 to 20 times faster than 5G technology. Huawei expects 6G enter to the market around 2030.

The drive to innovate, the desire to be the first to land on “what’s next” remain critical drivers for technology brands in China and globally. But as our research has shown, B2B technology decision-makers are also looking to companies for something else: a sense of stability. Decision-makers expect a lot from the brands they support, beyond cutting-edge products. Technology brands must first build a strong foundation by deepening their connection and relationship with customers and society before customers join them on their innovation journey in the long run.

Here are three ways B2B technology companies in China and globally can use stakeholder engagement to lay the groundwork for innovation to flourish.

Balance Local and Global, Short- and Long-Term Action

B2B technology decision-makers expect a lot from brands. WE’s 2021 Brands in Motion report “The APAC Technology Mandate” shows that although the plurality of global and China respondents want brands to focus on local action, a significant portion looks to brands to balance acting on issues in the communities they operate in and contributing to global initiatives. At the same time, people expect brands to address both short- and long-term interests, frequently reevaluating and reacting on priorities while showing commitment to core issues.

Many Chinese technology enterprises have recently navigated this balancing act regarding climate change, including leading search engine Baidu. When several climate disasters devastated local communities across the country, including torrential rainstorms and typhoons, Baidu and others stepped up to support those affected by donating generously to support relief efforts. Their actions to help timely, local crises were praised by China’s government and citizens alike. The brand did not lose sight of its longer-term climate action either. Baidu Group also pledged in 2021 to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030, a move that positively impacted brand perceptions.

Encourage Leaders to Be Visible

Today, customers’ perceptions of technology brands are closely tied to corporate leaders’ values. From Microsoft’s Satya Nadella to Lenovo’s Yang Yuanqing, leaders exemplify brands, from how they treat their employees to the innovation their brands bring to market. According to our Brands in Motion report, “The APAC Technology Mandate”, 91% of respondents said that a technology company leader’s behavior influences their decision to support the brand. Additionally, over half of APAC respondents expect senior executives to convey their personal positions with very high frequency. Leaders cannot hide in their office or behind the scenes; they must be present and visible.

In the early 2010s, the media viewed Ren Zhengfei, Huawei’s founder, as a “mysterious figure.” He rarely attended media events, seldom accepted media interviews. Ren maintained such a low profile that you could not find a formal photo of him on the internet. Since 2019, when Huawei began facing global scrutiny, Ren has made more frequent appearances, contacted the media, expressed his views, and conveyed confidence to customers and employees. He often mocks himself by saying, “The PR department forced me to meet the media,” but the effort has paid off. As Ren became a more visible leader, his actions helped raise Huawei’s brand image among customers and the public.

Build Upon Your Brand Promise

Technology brands have played a critical role in keeping business running throughout the pandemic by mapping innovation to ingenuity. As the recovery continues, Asian companies look to technology brands to grow — 95% of APAC technology decision-makers surveyed planned to make enterprise purchases in the coming year. However, technology brands can do more than grow their business by giving back to the community, and fulfilling their societal responsibilities. For technology brands, creating innovative products and delivering stellar customer service are not enough — they must identify and commit to projects that build upon the brand’s products or services and showcase their authority in the market.

Alibaba is at the forefront of connecting over 1,000 rural communities, farmers and traders in China to the internet through its Alibaba Rural Vitalization Fund, providing people in rural regions with access to digital technologies and the country’s booming digital economy. As part of the program, farmers can access Taobao Live, Alibaba’s livestreaming channel, at no cost and benefit from other tools and resources offered by Alibaba’s digital economy. More recently, the tech giant announced over $15 billion in investment to finance 10 “common prosperity” initiatives, supporting the nation’s push toward becoming a more equitable society. This investment includes plans to help underdeveloped regions strengthen their digital infrastructures and economies. 

The Chinese economy’s transition to growth driven by technology and innovation in the years ahead presents both a challenge and opportunity for B2B technology brands. Decision-makers will continue to expect more, not less, from their partner brands. Having a good product at an attractive price is just one half of the equation. With a strong foundation in place, the brands built to succeed will exhibit authenticity in all they do and contribute to society today and well into the future.