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19 July 2017

China’s emergence not a surp’RISE

Written by: Justin Westcott, General Manager at Edelman

Innovation, Technology

It’s palpable at every turn. It pulses through every surface, along every sidewalk. It’s visible in the sheer volume of people, the velocity (or not so much) of traffic. Energy.

Hong Kong, the mouthpiece and gateway to China and SE Asia has been my home for the past week, as I’ve attend the event RISE. It’s a gathering of the region’s brightest and best technology companies and investors. I’m sure the term RISE was apt when the event started four years ago – but I leave knowing that this region has well and truly risen. As one panellist eloquently said, “the window of opportunity to ignore China is rapidly closing.”

More money, more people (educated) are leading to more ideas, more businesses and some great innovation. And yes, more money and more people can also lead to more problems (the region has a few). The reality is we are living through what will be one of the greatest stories of our generation; the rise of China.

So much to share, but here are 10 take-outs from the event:

  • The ethics debate in self-driving cars (decision-making on who to protect in a crash) “is a fake-dilemma, created by media”. A computer is a much better driver with much less variance – so the scenarios we imagine will be handled differently, and much more safely, than if there was a human behind the wheel. China is also much more likely to have full Lv5 autonomous cars on the road than the US so said the panel (perhaps because of their attitudes to the ethics debate)
  • Alibaba needed to buy the South China Morning Post to have a mouthpiece to the West for China and so that its business decisions were being understood. Hong Kong having a free press, plus heritage of the brand and being written in English was key. And, much like Bezos has done with the Washington Post, the tech-led approach is already having a real impact on the publication’s reach.
  • AI can make pretty good adverts (if adverts are still your thing). We heard from Shun from McCann Erickson who had built an AI-powered Robot Creative Director who can respond to creative briefs. We were shown an example where it had been pitted against a human creative director. The AI’s effort was pretty good, and only just lost out by a few percentage points to the human led creative. It shows the speed at which this technology is hitting our own creative industries
  • In a great talk from the head of BASE, a global branding firm, we heard why they believe the future of branding is debranding. He spoke about how the brands of the future will care less about branding and more about the people they serve and how he sees budget shift from marketing to product design. In this world we’re heading into, the answer is, to his mind, better – honest – product and authentic tone of voice.
  • Over 75% of the Bitcoin miners in the world live in China. Is this fair? (Access to cheap power and cheaper hardware gives them an advantage) and is this fuelling some of the perceived trust issues around crypto?
  • China is winning in FinTech; and has leap frogged the credit card straight to mobile from cash. The population is widely trusting and familiar with using mobile for all money matters: manage, lend and pay. By way of context there were 85 billion transactions in just five days on Alipay during Chinese New Year.
  • We’re all wrestling with education and the skills of the future – even China. The Chinese education system is still quite traditional and rote in approach which is concerning the educated class as automation is hitting China hard already and must create a million new jobs a month to sustain economic growth. Wow!
  • China has now moved from copy-cat to creator; huge middle-class demand for consumer technologies, massive amounts of liquidity, large numbers of educated people and a history of great manufacturing now means they are leading in areas like drones, FinTech, hardware, social media and AI.
  • There is now more venture capital money heading into China than there is in Silicon Valley. In a great talk from Crunchbase’s Jagger McConnell, we heard his perspective on why this is (historic outsourcing of tech jobs to China from US) and how we are likely to see the cycle repeat, but next will be Africa. He left us with the question: Is Africa (already getting lots in trade from China) going to be China’s China?
  • In my favourite talk of the week, the CEO of 1More told us in such an authentic and humble way how he’d created the one of the world’s most successful headphone ranges, selling 38 million in just three years. His journey to being an unlikely CEO as he worked his way up the ranks at Foxconn (they have a million employees). He was the guy that helped Apple figure out how to make the iPod, the iPhone and iPad and Amazon the Kindle before being fired due his inability to attend a meeting with his boss as he’d gone to see his daughter in Japan. His philosophy is about making the very best product possible; and is the anthesis of the former expectation of “made-in-china”. His team at 1More worked to challenge the former design principles to make devices that are affordable but also superior. They’re critically acclaimed around the world and top many reviewer charts. A real impressive person, company and, as a result, products. 1-to-watch.

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