When it comes to technology, Chinese brands cannot be ignored. If any doubts remain about the viability of brands from the Middle Kingdom, Alibaba's world record IPO last year erased them all.
But Alibaba is not even the most valuable Chinese brand. According to the recent BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Chinese Brands report from Millward Brown and WPP, that distinction actually belongs to Tencent, the country's leading Internet portal. Alibaba, the e-commerce giant, comes in at No. 2, with search provider Baidu ranked fifth. That means three of the five most valuable Chinese brands operate businesses grounded in technology.
No brand can be successful without understanding what really motivates consumers. Harking back to Harvard Business School Professor Clay Christensen, consumers are motivated only by the things that they need or want to do and they measure the value of any potential solution primarily by its ability to deliver against their "jobs-to-be-done." Choosing the solution that best accomplishes these jobs is what matters most.
It goes without saying that China's so-called BAT — Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent — brands have excelled in accomplishing consumers' tech-related "jobs-to-be-done" with their flagship offers. With World of Convergence, our comprehensive investigation into these jobs and the ability of current solutions to deliver against them, TNS has pinpointed the greatest strengths of the BAT brands from the consumers' point of view. Even more importantly, we have identified the gaps that still remain. These tensions represent opportunity for the BAT brands to improve or for other tech players to exploit and disrupt the status quo.
At the core of Tencent's business is the popular messaging platform WeChat, which also provides a gateway to other Tencent services for shopping, gaming, payments and more. According to World of Convergence, Chinese consumers consider WeChat most aligned with their need for a "portable life tool" — technology to help them keep in touch with others and stay up-to-date with what's going on no matter where they may be. Consumers love that WeChat allows them to connect more personally and build closer bonds with others around the world.
But not all is ideal. Consumers think the WeChat experience could be more streamlined, and they wish it didn't leave them at the mercy of the connectivity of the device they are using it on, which may not be all that reliable on the go. These tensions represent an opportunity for a better solution to move to the forefront in serving consumers' needs for a portable life tool — one that gets things done with fewer steps and can be used on the go without risk of a dropped connection.
When it comes to Alibaba, the Taobao marketplace and the related payment function Alipay, are the primary consumer platforms. Taobao/Alipay is best aligned with consumers' need for a "safe basic diversion," a digital experience that's fun and easy enough to use every day, but with enough customer support and security to be worry-free.
Taobao/Alipay indeed stands out for its high level of security in conducting financial transactions online, while consumers also appreciate its clarity on costs and 24/7 customer service. At the same time, however, they find Taobao/Alipay too transactional, not as fun or engaging as they wish. They also feel bogged down at times by delays from streaming or buffering. A solution better equipped to deliver these ideal requirements has the opportunity to get ahead in serving consumers' need for a safe basic diversion.
Search is at the heart of the Baidu proposition, and consumers therefore consider it most aligned with their need for a "secure efficient assistant," technology that offers a versatile, efficient way to accomplish what they need to do. They laud Baidu for always finding the best answers they are looking for and for helping them gain immediate access to the content they need.
However, security is a tension for consumers. They wish Baidu would do more to protect their personal information, allowing them to hide more private content and limit outside access to their searches. Opportunity therefore remains for a solution that raises the bar on security in serving consumers' need for a secure efficient assistant.
World of Convergence has made it clear that the BAT brands offer many distinct advantages to consumers, but they are not without vulnerabilities and there is still plenty of room for other technology companies to differentiate their offers and build more innovative solutions designed to mitigate the tensions that still exist between the jobs consumers want to accomplish and the ability to get the help they seek. Companies that successfully tap into those tensions may be poised to become the next big up-and-comers in China's technology scene.
Jenny Matsui is the associate director for Innovation and Product Development of Matrix Centre of Excellence, TNS Global.