Lifang Chen
Mar 16, 2016

Huawei focuses on the work before 'sudden' breakthroughs

BEHIND THE SCENES: Huawei's Chen Lifang explains what a fisherman casting a net, a high-energy particle collider and the world's fastest woman have in common, and what the brand is trying to communicate in its recent campaign.

Huawei focuses on the work before 'sudden' breakthroughs

'Behind the scenes' is a new feature where we invite marketers to explain the thought process behind a recently launched campaign.

A Congolese fisherman; a particle super-collider; the world’s fastest woman. What’s the connection between the images in Huawei’s latest brand campaign?

Appearing in airports and online, the ads consist of three panels, each capturing a breakthrough moment when focus, perseverance, and preparation yield extraordinary results.

What you don’t see in these images are the steps leading up to each breakthrough. Yet it is those steps that hold the key to understanding both the campaign and Huawei itself, the culture and the values that have led the company to where it is now.

When it comes to ICT (information communications technology), one can point to many factors that drive success: smarter people, more R&D, heavier ad spending, first-mover advantage, superior customer service. But whatever its ingredients, success is nearly always depicted in its most dramatic form: the champion hoisting the trophy, the entrepreneur clinching the big contract, the Eureka moment where a light bulb switches on to illuminate the darkness.

By their very nature, breakthroughs seem to come from nowhere. But what lies behind these moments of sudden brilliance?

The answer, usually, is years of painstaking effort. People who work in R&D know that innovation is an output: an end result that everyone can see. What remains hidden to most are the inputs: focus, patient investment of time and money, and dedication to a long-term goal.  

Those are the themes of the Huawei brand campaign. We felt it was important to show them because, as we go from being a B2B seller of Internet switching equipment to a global brand, we no longer have the luxury of merely selling gear. Instead, we must help people understand who Huawei is, and what it stands for.

The 'Huawei breakthrough' campaign is a first step in that direction. Each of its three images shows a separate phase of success. The first captures the moment when a Congolese fisherman lunges forward with his massive net to snare a fish in the raging waters of the Lualaba River. He chooses the right spot, stays focused amid the turbulent water, and at the vital moment catches his prey, all the while maintaining his footing to avoid being swept away by the current.

The second visual shows the world’s biggest particle collider. Scientists at CERN spent several decades and more than US$9 billion to build a machine sophisticated enough to detect the Higgs Boson, a sub-atomic particle so critical to our understanding of the universe that it’s popularly known as the 'God particle'. The quest began in the 1960s. CERN did not announce its discovery of the Particle until 2012, when decades of patient investment produced one of the greatest breakthroughs of modern physics.

The third image shows the world record holder for the woman’s 100-meter dash, Florence Griffith-Joyner, as she crosses the finish line, her arms raised in triumph. While the picture captures a moment of victory, what remains invisible are the years of dedication that led up to it.

Unlike our past ads, or almost any advertising by a Chinese company, the campaign reflects Huawei’s 28-year history: our lean years and false starts as well as our technical achievements and growth. The ads are based on a Chinese aphorism consisting of just four characters: 厚积薄发” (hòu jī bó fā), which means “to rise suddenly through accumulated effort.” Those characters tell a simple but powerful story about picking your goals, sticking with them over time, and eventually reaping the rewards.

The explosive growth of Huawei's mobile-phone business is a perfect example of focus, perseverance, and seemingly sudden breakthrough. Investments in ICT can stretch out over long periods. For example, a decade can separate the successive generations of mobile-phone technology (2G, 3G, 4G). This time lag requires companies to adopt a long-term vision and avoid being distracted by peripheral opportunities. If focus lays the foundation of breakthroughs, perseverance serves as its catalyst. The time needed to reach those breakthroughs—whether months, years, or decades—makes the eventual moment of victory all the sweeter. 

Chen Lifang is a corporate senior vice president at Huawei Technologies and a director of the company’s board. She oversees Huawei’s global public affairs functions.


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