“Branding is not about communications. It’s about the thousands of pixels in the raindrop of a weather app. HTC’s brand is built on a culture that does not put the company at the center; it puts the consumer at the center.”
Where did HTC’s most recent success start?
Four years ago, we committed the company to building a brand. HTC’s roots are as an engineering company. Operators knew we were innovative, but consumers did not. So when we started to change, we knew we would need to transform our culture, from the top down to every employee throughout the company.
We began by formulating our brand strategy. Our competitors had many advantages. Nokia, Motorola, and Sony Ericson were better known for innovation. LG and Samsung were making good quality products. The iPhone had just launched. And they all had deep distribution, long heritage and huge marketing budgets.
Ultimately, in a world where everyone was shouting, we knew we could not spend enough. We wanted to do the antithesis. When so many brands are bragging about themselves, no one looks different except the quiet guy. And when he finally speaks, everyone listens. This was not just good marketing; this was who we are. The vision emerged from our culture.
Can you explain the meaning of “Quietly Brilliant”?
When we looked at ourselves, we said, “We are quiet. And we are committed to innovation.” “Quietly Brilliant” is about doing great things, in a humble way. This has a universally good meaning around the world. It was our personality, and the idea emerged naturally from there.
But we also understood that people spend $400 to own a phone, not to own a personality. At the center of “Quietly Brilliant” is the consumer, not HTC. So we emphasized the phone, and looked at the world through the consumer’s eyes. When the brand is at the heart of the company, you start to use the substance of the brand, not just the communication of the brand.
Execution is the key. In our case, we focused on quietly brilliant moments. For example, an HTC phone will ring louder when it is in a woman’s purse, and will reduce its volume when she takes it out. Or when you miss a call, you can see the Facebook status next to the caller ID so the conversation starts before you return the call. It only takes one second to answer a phone, but even in that one second, HTC phones are “quietly brilliant.” Anyone can appreciate it.
How did you create a brand culture?
When I first presented our brand strategy to a group of employees in our Seattle office, one of our long-term staff told me this was nothing new for HTC. Then I knew we had gotten it right. The brand we created came out of HTC’s culture. This is the only way it could succeed. The boss can never tell someone how to innovate. Innovations are like a piece of art, where the inventors stay up all night to get it right.
Branding is not about communications. It’s about the thousands of pixels in the raindrop of a weather app. HTC’s brand is built on a culture that does not put the company at the center; it puts the consumer at the center.
Once the transformation took hold, it took less time than we expected. It was pretty phenomenal and completely invigorated the company. I think this is because we were set up to be a global company. From the beginning, we were built to work with global customers, to be their preferred partner. Our culture, our organization, our processes, our offices – all built around this vision. When we started to build the brand, it was easier to rollout consistently because we were already doing it.
We do not train every employee to be “Quietly Brilliant.” We talk about it in interviews, but it really takes shape over time as they think about their job and their contributions. Is my idea quietly brilliant? You just become aware of it in everything you do. We don’t need to measure it in a forceful way. The culture reinforces it. Market response is the feedback. Everyone feels like they are part of a bigger cause.
What is next for the HTC brand?
The moment you try to leverage the brand, you assume it is fully defined. We still have a long way to go. Brand is respect. You have to earn it; you cannot buy it and it only emerges over a long period of time.
So for us, it is not so much about how to capitalize on this brand, but how to make it more emotional. If you go to work, and you forget your wallet, you might not go home and get it. But if you forget your smart phone, you will go back.
When consumers want to buy a smart phone today, they have many choices. We want the HTC brand to be highly differentiating. It is not about the speed of the processor or the quality of the screen. When they choose HTC, we want them to think they are buying a highly personal device. Therefore, we think of ourselves as a personal experiences company. We will stay very focused, but you will see lots of innovation around future consumer needs.
ABOUT JOHN WANG
John Wang is the Chief Marketing Officer of HTC. John is responsible for the company's business strategy, marketing strategy, and product strategy, as well as for brand building aimed at expanding HTC’s global presence. John also founded HTC’s MAGIC Labs, an innovation center for creating market-ready, breakthrough products.
John has a history of executing breakthrough business ideas. Prior to joining HTC, John was CEO of Quickdot Corporation, where he grew the company to a Web and wireless service with over six million users. Previously, John was a founding member of iMarket Inc., a maker of information-driven marketing software. During his tenure iMarket became one of the few companies in the United States to be listed for three consecutive years on Inc. 500’s annual list of America's fastest-growing private companies. Prior to iMarket, John was product manager for creating new products at Lotus Development. John also started Digital Media Publications to pioneer the publishing of one of the first electronic magazines in the 80’s.
John holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from MIT.