Exploring how Honor forges its path to global prominence

Not long ago, the data analytics firm IDC released the smartphone market figures for Q1 of 2024 in China. The rapid rise of Huawei to the second position is admirable. However, it is impossible not to be astonished by Honor, who, with a 17.1% market share, managed to surpass Huawei to claim the top spot. Honor’s “first place” after the complete return of Huawei to the smartphone scene is undeniably significant.

In 2023, the number of domestic smartphone shipments was around 271 million units, a decline of 5% from the previous year, marking a new low in nearly a decade. The main brands in the domestic market include Apple, Huawei, Honor, OPPO, vivo, Xiaomi, and their sub-brands. The downturn in market demand has intensified competition among these brands. Coupled with Huawei’s gradual return in the second half of the previous year, the domestic phone market experienced a significant level of “involution,” or internal competition.

For Honor and other domestic smartphone brands, exploring international markets has become an inevitable choice given the difficulties of further growth in domestic market share and sales.

Honor’s journey abroad: Starting from scratch

The international market has always been highly attractive for Chinese brands, including Honor. Thanks to technological and distribution advantages, the Huawei+Honor partnership was once among the top two brands in the Russian market in 2018, and made it to the top four in six countries across Europe and the Middle East—exemplifying the successful expansion of Chinese smartphone brands overseas.

In August 2021, following the domestic launch of the Honor Magic3 series, CEO Zhao Ming stated in an interview that after Honor became independent at the end of 2020, capabilities in production, supply, and R&D were not sufficient to meet market demand. Honor’s market share had witnessed a significant decline both domestically, reaching as low as 4%, and virtually hitting zero in international markets. During that period, Chinese smartphone brands faced various challenges in their global expansion, with some needing to downsize or exit the European market entirely.

However, 2022 could be called the inaugural year for the new Honor in global markets. The brand took proactive steps in technology and product development, as well as establishing overseas market channels. Data showed that in 2022, Honor shipped a total of 59 million handsets globally, with 52.2 million units sold within China and the remaining 6.8 million units overseas, resulting in an international market share of about 11.5%, nearly half of what it was before the brand’s independence.

By the third quarter of 2023, Honor smartphones had expanded into Europe, Eurasia, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and the Asia-Pacific region, with international sales nearly accounting for 30% of the total and the brand reaching 200 million active smartphone users globally.

Zhao Ming also mentioned in the interviews that Europe has become Honor’s second-largest market after China. Thanks to the success of the flagship Magic series and foldable screen products, Honor’s average selling price (ASP) in Europe exceeds that of other international regions. In Latin America, Honor smartphones have seen a 200% growth in 2023, maintaining a growth rate of over 100% in the first quarter. Over the past three years, Honor has firmly established its standing in both domestic and international markets.

Right from its early days, new Honor had prioritized establishing a foothold in international markets. Following its new independence in 2021, the focus was on recovery in terms of personnel, technology, and products. While concentrating on revitalizing the domestic market, Honor also resumed overseas supplies to maintain brand visibility and reduce the gap and challenges of later brand construction in international markets.

Whether it’s the flagship Magic series, the numeric series, or the mid-range X series, Honor has consistently included plans for overseas launches and market presence, ensuring that its smartphone products remain competitive and relevant internationally.

As Honor’s market share grows in various regions, the pressure from competition and expansion also mounts. To confront this, the brand is leveraging co-branding with “Porsche Design” and its AI technologies. At this year’s MWC, Honor introduced the Honor Magic V2 RSR Porsche Design and the Magic6 Pro flagship models to global audiences, challenging big names like Apple and Samsung

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