Huawei and Arsenal team up to gun for success
Updated: 2014-02-11 07:17
By Mike Bastin (China Daily USA)
Branding | Mike Bastin
As the dust settles on another incredible Chinese New Year celebratory festival, the ink is still drying on the latest international sponsorship deal featuring one of the growing number of rapidly internationalizing Chinese companies.
This time, it is the turn of Shenzhen-based telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies Co Ltd (which recently signed a global partnership deal with Arsenal Football Club, an English Premier League soccer team) that will run until the end of the 2015-16 season.
Huawei's exhibit booth at a 4G cellphone purchasing conference in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, on Dec 23, 2013. Provided to China Daily
Partnership is a far more appropriate term for this tie-up, much more than sponsorship, because both brands will benefit immensely from the agreement.
Under the terms of the deal, Huawei will become the official smartphone partner globally of what is still referred to as the "establishment" (soccer) club.
The deal will see leading, world- famous Arsenal players, such as Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere, feature in Huawei's communications and promotional activities both in the UK and overseas.
The partnership will also include exclusive offers, content and brand presence during Arsenal matches, as well as promotional opportunities via the club's digital and social media platforms. Furthermore, Huawei will have access to the club's customer database and exclusive match-day hospitality for competition winners at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium in London.
For Huawei, further penetration of the lucrative UK and European markets is the prime motivation behind this strategic move while, for Arsenal, this represents a wonderful opportunity to increase further the team's fan base across China and Asia.
But what makes this a particularly shrewd brand-building initiative on the part of Huawei and its management team is the choice of this north London club over other equally famous soccer and other sports teams in the UK and Europe.
Of course, strategic brand- building starts with a solid, reliable reputation for the highest product and service quality standards. But while this is, and always will be, a necessity, it is rarely sufficient in building a lasting, sustainable competitive advantage. Increasingly emotional forms of brand association are required in order to build such competitive advantages. Sport often provides an extremely important element toward this end.
Huawei's partnership with one of Europe's, if not the world's, leading soccer clubs is, therefore, a perfect example of excellent strategic thinking.
Despite recent seasons without winning a major trophy, Arsenal is perhaps rivaled only by Manchester United with their soccer-playing footprint dating back to the early 1900s. Once known as Royal Arsenal, the "establishment" club is still often referred to as The Arsenal, and the club's heritage has contributed a brand that transcends football and even sport.
As a result, Arsenal's brand image conjures up associations such as "exclusive", "superior" and "authoritative" as well as the values common to other successful sports clubs such as "exciting", "stylish" and "fun". The club's nickname is The Gunners
In a nutshell, Arsenal Football Club is the "gentleman" of UK and European soccer. Arsene Wenger, the head coach for the past 16 years, has reinforced this perception significantly with his suave appearance and effortlessly erudite manner.
This tie-up is, therefore, highly likely to contribute to Huawei's position in the smartphone market very positively with a contrasting combination of a young and lively image as well as one of maturity, decency and, above all, trust.
It is also of strategic importance that the deal allows Huawei to access Arsenal's fan base directly via the club's customer data base. Far deeper engagement with the Huawei brand and future developments will become a key feature of future marketing initiatives.
At precisely the time when the "low cost, low price" business model, for so long a central plank in numerous Chinese businesses' corporate strategies, requires replacement with a more sustainable "high quality, high value-added, premium brand" approach, Huawei's international brand-building strategy should be followed and repeated by other aspiring Chinese companies.
Expect more strategic and creative brand associations from Huawei and its management team as we enter the age of the international Chinese brand.
The author is a visiting professor at the University of International Business and Economics, Beijing, and a senior lecturer at Southampton Solent University's school of business.
(China Daily USA 02/11/2014 page15)