Three tips for succeeding in China: Tencent’s SY Lau

sy_lau_cannes2015_614Tencent executive SY Lau took his Cannes Lions talk Sunday as an opportunity to decry development for development’s sake and the failures of MNCs to catch on in China, while also offering his tips for how they can do better.

Lau, senior executive vice president and president of Tencent’s Online Media Group (OMG), pulled up BrandZ’s latest report that featured 14 Chinese brands in the top 100—compared with just the one in 2006. “China is taking her place at the table,” he said. “I’m proud of the potential of China and the role tech has played.”

In his 20 years in China, Lau says, he’s seen a string of MNCs fail even as local enterprises achieve success. He attributes this to their grasp of the human face. “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insanity,” he said. “You can have all the big data, but if your criteria remains the same nothing will change.”

Lau, who will receive the Cannes Lions 2015 Media Person of the Year award, offered three pieces of advice for succeeding in China.

  • Think math men not mad men: While approaching the China market, be imaginative. “You don’t have to be an engineer to travel new frontiers of connectivity, but we do have to stretch ourselves with the right passions to amplify the power of imagination,” he said.
  • Think of exploration not exploitation: Have the spirit of an entrepreneur. In Lau’s view China is an economic powerhouse, but it’s complexity is understated and returns are magnified.
  • Have a global-citizen mindset: Finally, Lau advised companies to have a cooperative mindset, not a competitive one. Resources are not unlimited and we have to find better ways to allocate them. “Our success is not about wiping out competition but about maximising the potential of companies by nurturing the ecosystem,” he said.

Here’s an offstage video interview with La, from the Cannes Lions team:

This article originally appeared on Campaign Asia-Pacific


  • Vitor

    “Doing well by doing good” seems to be quite a trend nowadays. The way I see it, many companies are engaging in this kind of advertising, like Coke, for example, with the whole “open happiness” thing.

    Even though the point is always to sell more whatever-it-is and have more profit, I believe that that shouldn’t be frowned upon, since the ads may actually help people to be happier or, in this case, healthier.

    As I like to think, in this kind of advertising, the means justify the ends.

  • Tim Burley

    How should tobacco companies set their game up, so it works for everyone?


    They’ve been working on Tar-Free Cigarettes for years. However, I’m still not keen on inhaling someone else’s vapour. How about you? To me it feels like involuntarily sharing someone else’s soap who has just had a long soak in a bath.

  • Kate Lightfoot

    This reminded me of the Hope Soap campaign – similar idea (and almost 100 years late to the Lifebuoy party!) but instead of using advertising to educate, they tweaked the product itself to encourage use amongst kids.

  • It’s also worth noting that Massachusetts is about as Democratic as US states come. Seven out of eight sitting senators since 1980 have been Democrats, every Congressional delegate from Massachusetts is currently a Democrat (meaning all representatives and senators) and the Democrats hold supermajorities in both houses of the Massachusetts state assembly.

    In other words, Elizabeth Warren’s audience was alarmingly Democratic-leaning, meaning they were likely to find a tax redistribution story positive no matter how it was told (and the contrary for their fewer in number Republican peers).

    A better example would be (and I don’t know if one exists or not, to be honest) if a Democratic candidate was able to win support from a more balanced electorate – or even a right-leaning one – with this story.

    • Rich

      “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story” – getting ahead in a creative agency 101

  • Sean Peake

    This about the woman who pretended to be Native American so she could get into Harvard? That credible source? Why is it multi-millionaires are always lecturing people on how to live their lives?

  • Eccles9

    Talk to the audience in their own voice? If I had a fiver for every time I had to explain this concept to a client, junior or marketer over the years, I’d have long since retired on the proceeds and not be sitting here reading this.

  • Dave Trott

    Ryan and Sean,
    Just to be clear, I’m not a Socialist, Liberal or Democrat.
    I was moved by the language.
    It was meant to be an example of how to convey a complicated point in a simple way for ordinary people (we are in the communication business, not politics).
    IMHO other examples of appropriate language (as opposed to dumbing down) could be taken from Franklin Roosevelt and Bill Clinton.

    (Again, I’m talking about the language not the person)

  • Max

    This is my favorite blog -in the world- I love the way Dave writes and what he writes about.

    Now this article underpins the difference between Americans and Englishmen. (oooh are we still allowed to say that nowadays?)

    I know Dave is using Mrs.Warren as an example BUT, Dave also betrays which side he is on in the “zero sum game” mentality. That is Socialism vs. The American Way of Life.

    Notice the key *framework* and words:
    “If entrepreneurs were willing to take advantage of what everyone else had…”
    “…who gave you the break and paying it back.”

    This all implies the zero-sum game, which does not exist.

    The framing of Mrs.Warren’s argument is closed, and leaves the target (the rich entrepreneur) only one option: Be raped and stolen from or be labeled a bad guy.

    That’s like calling the person who doesn’t want to be raped the criminal.
    A perfect example of that is “tax evasion”.

    Dave’s article should be an example:
    In Europe the people expect something from the government, “grundsicherheiten”, i.e. basic securities. And they come FROM the government, it “provides.”

    In America, basic securities are provided by YOURSELF, not a nanny state.
    This is as deep in the American soul as is the nanny state in the English and European soul.

    But Obama said it best: “You didn’t build that!”
    That’s Marxism folks. No private ownership, no private businesses, etc.
    You didn’t build that, everything is a product of the state or some underlying foggy concept that can always be attributed to the state.

    A single person doesn’t “deserve” any credit.
    Basic jealousy – the basis of communism- at work.
    Deface and demean the target person before you kill him or steal from him.

    In some countries, despite the pretty words from savvy politicians like Mrs.Warren, this is still recognized as evil-fork-tongued lawyer work. Sophistry at its best.

    You didn’t build that.

    Teamwork and filling needs of the customer should never be conflated with communism and socialism.