During his talk Lau, senior executive vice president and president of Tencent's Online Media Group (OMG), pulled up BrandZ’s latest report that featured 14 Chinese brands in the top 100—compared with just the one in 2006. “China is taking her place at the table," he said. "I’m proud of the potential of China and the role tech has played.”
In his 20 years in China, Lau says, he’s seen a string of MNCs fail even as local enterprises achieve success. He attributes this to their grasp of the human face. “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insanity," he said. "You can have all the big data, but if your criteria remains the same nothing will change.”
Lau, who will receive the Cannes Lions 2015 Media Person of the Year award, offered three pieces of advice for succeeding in China:
- Think math men not mad men: While approaching the China market, be imaginative. “You don’t have to be an engineer to travel new frontiers of connectivity, but we do have to stretch ourselves with the right passions to amplify the power of imagination,” he said.
- Think of exploration not exploitation: Have the spirit of an entrepreneur. In Lau's view China is an economic powerhouse, but it’s complexity is understated and returns are magnified.
- Have a global-citizen mindset: Finally, Lau advised companies to have a cooperative mindset, not a competitive one. Resources are not unlimited and we have to find better ways to allocate them. “Our success is not about wiping out competition but about maximising the potential of companies by nurturing the ecosystem," he said.
Lau began his talk with a timely Father’s Day reference, recalling gifting his daughter a 3D printer on her 16th birthday. He added that he owes his kids for helping him see the true importance of technology.
“My kids taught me that a balanced view of tech revolution...it will continuously be about people," he said. "Because people will benefit from tech. it will always be about the human face behind the device."
An example of this, he says, is the more than 1 billion red envelopes shared by WeChat users at Chinese New Year time. According to Lau, while the internet hasn’t changed tradition or the act of expressing respect, it has altered how it is delivered by extending reach. What MNC marketers might take from that is the willingness of China's people to integrate traditional lifestyles with modern technology.
Internet connectivity is the engine that will drive improvement in the country and, he says, while it might seem like easy work it’s far more complicated. “It takes an evangelical zeal to embed the industry,” he said.
But Lau is quick to add that technology itself isn’t the final goal. Instead, it is about the free flow of information. “A critical mass will be achieved, the benefits of which are yet to be seen,” he said.