40 years ago, my father in law, who had grown up in the countryside north of Hong Kong, just over the border into mainland China, went back to the village of his birth. I remember him telling stories of a simple life, playing in the rice fields, and faded photographs of him riding water buffalo as a young boy.
Having moved to Europe he wanted to retain some presence in the small place. He bought some land, and built a small block of apartments which he hoped might grow in value and some day be a good pension for him and his family.
Over the past 30 years, the fishing village of Shenzhen has been reborn as a futuristic metropolis bursting with factories. It is the heartland of China’s tech revolution, dubbed the Silicon Valley of hardware. Now it is a boom town, the likes of which the world has never seen before.
In 1979, the Chinese government turned it into an experiment to grow capitalism in a test tube, designating it as the country’s first Special Economic Zone. The city is driven by an influx of workers from the countryside who make everything from real iPhones to fake Chanel bags. Shenzhen — and the surrounding Pearl River Delta — has become known as the world’s factory floor.
If you own a smartphone or computer, odds are parts of it came from here. It is now a megacity of over 12 million people. It has also become an incubator for cutting-edge design, a bastion of next-gen urbanism, and a leading cultural capital. Welcome to Shenzhen, the manifestation of China’s economic miracle.
To see why Shenzhen is called a rule-breaking tech hub, wander the endless wholesale kiosks of Huaqiangbei’s malls, where tech entrepreneurs, hackers, and makers gather. You will find every electronic component and gadget imaginable, laid out like so many spices in a bazaar.
This is ground zero for the production of shanzhai — “pirated” goods that are often less knockoffs than remixes, like an Apple Watch that runs on Android, has a removable battery, and is a quarter of the price. Naturally, the West frowns on shanzhai, but experts like David Li, a Taiwanese technologist and cofounder of Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab, argue that these bootlegs drive innovation. Hoverboards, he points out, evolved in the wilds of shanzhai production to become a global hit.
Meanwhile, the Chinese government is using Shenzhen as a showcase for its move from “Made in China” to “Designed in China” — a program to rebrand the country as a place that can invent, not just copy and mass-produce.
Another draw is Shenzhen’s distance from the capital. As the old Chinese saying goes: “The mountains are high and the emperor is far away.” Though the government engineered Shenzhen, its location in the Pearl River Delta, more than 1,300 miles from Beijing, gives it a more relaxed atmosphere. “Freedom is a really big word, but there is a sense of Shenzhen being more open in every way,” says Jason Hilgefort, an American architect and educator who leads the local urbanism academy Future+.
Schenzen is also home to some of China’s leading companies including the world’s leading electric car business BYD, and world’s leading drone maker DJI. And then add Huawei and Tencent.
Chinese tech infrastructure giant Huawei was founded in Schenzen in 1987 by Ren Zhengfei, a former engineer in the People’s Liberation Army. At the time of its establishment, Huawei focused on manufacturing phone switches, but has since expanded its business tremendously. It is the largest telecommunications equipment manufacturer in the world and the second largest smartphone manufacturer after Samsung.
Tencent is another leading business from Schenzen. QQ is a social media platform owned by Tencent with 850 million monthly users. WeChat even has 963 million monthly users. Tencent does not stop at these platforms. Their services include music, web portals, e-commerce, mobile games, internet services, payment systems, smartphones, and multiplayer online games All these services are among the world’s biggest and most successful in their respective categories.
More by Peter Fisk:
- Read my article The Future is Asia: 5 billion people is just a starting point
- Read my article Taming Tigers: Learning from Asian Business Leaders
- Read my article 17 Lessons from Asian Business: What we can learn from Alibaba to Softbank
- Read my article The I Ching, the oldest guide on how to deal with uncertainty
- Come to my event Learning from Asia in Oslo, Norway or in Copenhagen, Denmark
- Come to my event Peter Fisk Live in Seoul, South Korea exploring the future of business
- Come to my event Thinkers50 European Business Forum 2019 all about Learning from Asia
- Download my keynote “Learning from Asia: What can we learn from Alibaba to Bytedance, and 20 more Asian leaders”
What are best new ideas for brands and marketing in 2016? … How can you apply the ideas to your own business?
I recently visited Guiyang, one of China’s fastest growing cities. You could call it the centre of the world actually. Over half the world’s population live in a circle 4100km around this place!
The Asian tiger is still roaring, and whilst growth is not quite what it was, China and India are still racing ahead, 7% growth in 2016, and on course to become the world’s most important markets. Alongside Indonesia and South Korea, they are incredibly vibrant spaces, where entrepreneurs are thriving, local businesses testing their wings, and western companies are venturing ever more. I love working in Asian markets – there is such a passion for doing better – for learning and innovating, and nowadays less about learning from America, much more about outthinking them. The vast majority of consumers now have disposable income, with a tremendous thirst for fashion and gadgets to demonstrate their progress, and indulge life to the full. Whilst Asia now has a well educated and hard-working workforce, it still lacks some of the confidence to develop new strategies, and aesthetic creativity to develop winning brands. When it does, it will dominate the global economy.
Here are 10 treasures from the Asia Pacific region, to help inspire your thinking:
Aussie Farmers Direct
AisleOne was launched recently as the world’s most advanced shopping aisle available anywhere anytime on your smartphone. Australia’s farmers have come together to do things which retailers traditionally could not, offering the widest and freshest range of food, delivered directly to your home. Since 2006, the network has grown from a three people and one milk float, to a company with 250 franchisees who provide 250,000 households across Australia.
Aussie Farmers Direct is one of the 100 case studies in Gamechangers.
In rapidly growing markets, its easy to take shortcuts. And some restaurants have been known to not always use the freshest produce in their woks. Baidu, the Chinese internet company, has found a solution, but making Chop Sticks smart. The intelligent sensors within these hi tech implements can tell a piece of meat that is past its best, or beansprouts that have lost their crispness. An example of how technology is now finding practical applications in our physical daily lives, and not limited to interactions with a screen.
In Shanghai recently, I was struck by how many local Chinese are now talking English. I asked them how long they have been learning, and where the best schools are. The result was a surprising one. Disney. Not watching Mickey Mouse, but going to local branded schools – for everyone from young kids to business professionals. Language teaching is big business, but with few known or trusted brands. Disney has recognised that it can help bring the world together with the same voice, and maybe have fun learning too!
Frank by OCBC
Frank is the hip, stylish and trendy brand dripping with obvious youth appeal, that comes from one of Singapore’s largest and most traditional banks, OCBC. The concept was based on deep research into the emerging banking needs of Generation Y, innovating new products, designed a cool new store and did it all with heaps of style. Most visible is the vast range of colourful and personalisable payment cards, displayed in the shop looking more like the latest vibrant collection of Swatch watches. The name stems from the phrase “frankly speaking,” and is intended to convey honesty, sincerity and simplicity.
Taiwan’s Gogoro is building the “Tesla of scooters” … The SmartScooter promises a ride like no other … Awesome performance, easy and fast battery swapping, endless personalization possibilities are just the beginning … And from a marketing perspective, whilst the product oozes lifestyle design, and is also good for the environment, the brand proposition focuses on what matters most to the rider, speed … And finally, if the style of the bike doesn’t catch your eye, just look at the website … beautiful!
Haier is the world’s largest white goods business. The Chinese company was born out of old and bankrupt manufacturing business, but used a spirit of entrepreneurship – and a structure that created hundreds of profit-sharing small business units – to revitalise itself and grow rapidly. From affordable cookers and fridges, it has stretched far and wide, from robotics to new ways to do life’s essential tasks. One example is Codo, the world’s first “pocket washing machine” along with a rapid stream of innovations.
When my plane landed in the middle of the Kazakh steppe I was expecting very little. 10 years ago it was cold barren earth, nothing but an old landing site for Soviet spacecraft. Now Astana, the new capital of Kazakhstan could be mistaken for the wealth, scale and amition of cities like Abu Dhabi. At the heart of Eurasia, between Russia and China, and with a nation the size of Europe, it is important too. On meeting the prime minister, we discussed the opportunity for the nation to be a “gamechanger”, both in the way it serves its citizens with the most digitally connected social infrastructure, and also plays a new pivotal role in geopolitics.
Lucky Iron Fish
In Cambodia, a considerable proportion of the population is iron deficient. This has increased rapidly since people have moved from cooking in iron pots to stainless steel, and can lead to anemia, weakness, impaired child development. But one little fish can change all that. The fish symbol is lucky to many, and so throwing it into the cooking pot was deemed a positive thing to do. Within 9 months of the campaign being launched, there was a 50% reduction in reported illness, showing that the best solutions can sometimes be incredibly simple, practical and physical.
Josh Scott comes form the Marlborough region of New Zealand, where his father developed one of the island’s best wineries. When it came time to have over the business to Josh, there was a problem. Josh didn’t like wine. So he started brewing beer. Great, premium beer made in the finest wineries, and the detail normally associated with wines. The Breakfast Beer kicks off the day, followed by 8 different flavours. Even the IPO in 2012 was different, with the prospectus featuring a rather sophisticated lady, in fishnets and heels, pouring over the economics of kiwi beer.
Moa Beer is one of the 100 case studies in Gamechangers.
Who says the Japanese can’t make great advertising? The flying shrimp commercial was certainly one of the craziest in the world this year, with 6 million views. It was also won of Asia’s few success stories at Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity this year, the annual awards for the advertising world. Whilst many phone companies emphasise “speed” DoCoMo go further. “Three-Second Cooking: Explosively Fast Fried Shrimp” is a one-minute story featuring two “TV chefs” who load up a highly-pressurised double-barreled canon with shrimp, to fire through bread crumbs, egg, oil and a flamethrower. The action is set to a suitable death metal soundtrack. Their meal cooks in three seconds flat.
Tsutaya Bookstore, Tokyo
In 1983, conceived as a lifestyle store by Muneaki Masuda, Tsutaya began as a shop renting and sellingbooks, videos, and music. Since then, it has become an all-encompassing Japanese pop culture platform. In 2011, the company behind the Tsutaya project, CCC, introduced an evolved form of the Tsutaya bookstore in Daikanyama. Based on its “T Point” membership program, the brand continues to suggest a new lifestyle concept.
Lei Jun is often called the new Steve Jobs, not least because of the way he sees the future, and inspires the crowds to come with him to explore innovations they never realised they needed. 3 years after launching his first smartphone, the MiPhone, Xiaomi is now the world’s third largest smartphone brand. But that’s not even Lei Jun’s business, he sees himself much more in the knowledge business, harnessing digital media and information to make life better. The $10 MiBand fitness tracker is just one example, available now worldwide at a fraction of the price of the Jawbone or Fitbit. Health and fitness is addictive, and the data that flows from the user, is a highly accessible way for consumers to start exploring the Xiaomi ecosystem.
Xiaomi is one of the 100 case studies in Gamechangers.
Around the World in 80 Marketing Ideas
This is part of a larger project to find the best marketing ideas from around the world, real and practical solutions which work in one place – and (with relevant adaption) could work in your market too … Copy Adapt Paste! They were sourced through my personal travel experiences (I visited around 50 countries in 2015 as a keynote speaker and expert consultant), through a crowdsourcing program and with the help of friends Anouk Pappers and Maarten Shaeffer. You can download all 80 marketing ideas in the presentation below:
Read more about
- Kaleidoscope 2016 … the 7 big ideas that will shape customers and markets, drive brands and innovation
- Marketing in Europe in 2016 … from healthy chocolate to digital cosmetics and millennial vlogging
- Marketing in Asia Pacific in 2016 … from flying shrimp to Aussie farmers and intelligent chopsticks
- Marketing in The Americas in 2016 … from cool carrots to cardboard 3D headsets and superhero supplies
- Marketing in Africa and Middle East in 2016 … from farms in boxes to walking a marathon for water