Chinese telecoms equipment and smartphone supplier ZTE will use 2016 to build brand loyalty and brand awareness by consolidating their smartphone portfolio and involving consumers in the product development process.

“We are shifting to a model where we are working directly with the consumer and trying to build the ZTE brand with the consumer,” says Waiman Lam, the Senior Director of Technology and Partnerships at ZTE Mobile Devices.

Specifically, ZTE will focus on cultivating the “ZTE Community,” where consumers can give feedback and have a direct impact on product, says Mr. Lam. As an example, he cites the release of the 64GB Axon Pro last November, which was a result of consumer feedback after the launch of ZTE’s 32GB version in August.

“We treat [consumers] like a partner these days, showing them our designs, trying to get their feedback, [and trying] to improve on the features that we think are important to them,” he says.

ZTE has chosen voice control as one of those features. In 2014, ZTE formed the Smart Voice Alliance, which includes companies like Nuance, Audience, NXP, and Sensory. According to a survey conducted by the Smart Voice Alliance and GfK China, 80% of Chinese smartphone users reported wanting voice control, and voice control was ranked just after brand, price, and quality as an “important influencing factor” when purchasing a smartphone.

System level voice control is a feature that will differentiate ZTE from its competitors, says Mr. Lam. Unlike other solutions such as Apple’s Siri, ZTE will develop localized voice control that doesn’t require network connection.

“For a lot of things that you shouldn’t have to go to the internet for, we want to embed inside the phone,” says Mr. Lam. For example, if users want to play music or open certain applications with their voice, they will be able to do so without being connected to the internet.

In addition to voice control, ZTE will also continue to improve its biometric features in 2016, such as the fingerprint sensor on the Chinese version of the Axon Pro. According to ABI Research’s Biometric Technologies and Applications Research Service, fingerprint sensors for smartphones are expected to reach 1 billion shipments by 2020.

“Unique features like voice control, biometric security – all of these are important to differentiate you as an OEM,” says Mr. Lam. “From the hardware perspective, everybody’s probably about in the same boat. What differentiates you as a vendor is your design, your unique features, your services,” he says. For example, ZTE will appeal to consumers through services like the Axon Passport, which includes a two-year warranty and free advanced exchange of devices.

ZTE will also continue to push its sports marketing strategy to consumers worldwide. ZTE is currently sponsoring 5 NBA teams, including the Chicago Bulls and the Cleveland Cavaliers, as well as athletes in other sports, like hockey, softball, and rugby.

Though ZTE ranks as number eight in the Chinese smartphone market, the company has done well in the U.S market, where the company has partnerships with carriers like T-Mobile and AT&T and a strong patent portfolio. According to World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), ZTE has ranked within the top three in filing international patents between 2010 and 2014.

However, as ZTE faces continued competition in its established markets, it will expand and focus on Japan, Indonesia, and India, as well as European markets like Germany and Spain, in the upcoming year. In addition, ZTE’s higher end Axon Series will see a “refresh”, according to Mr. Lam.

The company is also investing in smart watch technology. Last October, ZTE launched the Axon Watch, which runs Tencent’s smartwatch operating system TOS+, which it will showcase at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Eva Xiao

Eva Xiao is a tech reporter based in Shanghai. Contact her at eva.xiao@technode.com or evawxiao (wechat & twitter).

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