Q&A with Paul Xu
Paul XuVice President, DJI
DJI is a pioneer in developing and manufacturing innovative drone and camera technology for commercial and recreational use. Paul Xu joined DJI as vice president in 2015, after serving as Vice President, Asia Strategy and Marketing, for the Mersen Group, a France-based industrial company.
Drone category pioneer brand sees its business evolving to robotics
Customers help tell the story of aerial products they trust
Many consider DJI a pioneer of the drone category. How did this development happen?
We started with a group of dedicated hobbyists that like to fly fixed-wing vehicles or helicopters and pod copters. We saw that these devices made aerial photography much easier. Many professional photographers and cinematographers then became our customers. For the past few years we’ve seen an increase in customers, other than photographers, who are interested in this technology. This change represents the evolution of our products from hobbyist products to consumer electronics that target a general population.
What is the next step?
We want to make flying easier for people so anyone can enjoy flying, or taking photos from a different angle and seeing the world from a different perspective. This is the vision of our founder, Frank Wong. Our growth is driven in part by the market, but also by the company vision and the technology that DJI develops. Our core business now is around building safe and easy-to-use airborne platforms. But we see ourselves more and more as a robotics company. People now talk about not only taking photos, but also about putting more sensors on the drones.
As you continue to develop the company, how do also build the brand?
DJI is a very product-driven company. We have always wanted to invest to make the best product that we can for the customer. And we want to make our products easier to use. Awareness of our brand happened naturally as we became known first to hobbyists and then to photographers and then to the public that likes to fly. We have communicated to customers about the brand primarily through the product. The product tells the story.
How do your customers describe the brand?
They talk about quality and reliability, a product they can trust when they have it in the air. We started with the hobbyists, and these are the people looking for the best and safest product. When other people see these serious hobbyists using our products they become interested and wonder how our technology could be used in their daily lives. This chain effect helps as we move into the mass market.
Along with product reputation, what marketing activities help DJI build the brand?
Building products that people believe in and trust is a marketing tool in itself. People use our products and create stories around them. That works because, ultimately, our products are tools for people to tell stories. This user generated content has worked well for us. At the same time, we have an extensive creative team around the world, because of how we position the brand as an innovator that empowers creators. We communicate this with our online assets, including our YouTube channel, Facebook channel, Instagram, and in traditional channels. We work hard to project the brand in a way that is consistent through all these different channels.
In what parts of the world is the brand best known?
We started our business in the United States. Our first group of customers was Hollywood cinematographers. Then we came back to China. This may be unique among Chinese companies, which more typically start in China and do most of their business in China before expanding overseas. Because of our start in the US, the US remains a key market, and the majority of our sales come from outside of China. However, China is our fastest-growing market. China is our biggest market in Asia-Pacific, and the US is our biggest market globally. We have users of our products in over 100 countries.
BrandZ™ research has found the image of Chinese products improving outside of China, but old perceptions linger. Do you encounter any resistance as a Chinese company?
The landscape for Chinese brands outside of China has changed. We receive many overseas visitors at our headquarters in Shenzhen who want to learn about what we are doing and about our entrepreneurship. And Chinese brands, especially in technology, are coming up with innovative solutions that are making huge impacts on people’s lives. DJI is one of many examples of Chinese brands that people see as delivering high quality technology.
Do you position DJI as a Chinese brand or as a global brand?
Many of our customers don’t know that DJI is from China, at least not initially. The perceptions that people have about Chinese brands in some product categories may not apply here. DJI created this product group. And we’ve continued to be the technology leader in the market. We are the brand that tells people around the world what a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) is; what a consumer drone is; what it feels like to take aerial photography. We created the concept. It comes back to innovation and who tells the story first. And we are the first ones to tell the story.
What should be the top priority for entrepreneurial Chinese brands that would like to replicate the kind of success that DJI has achieved?
Building a brand starts with a belief that you can achieve something great or different from what other people are already doing. From day one we wanted to create compact aerial technology and make it easy for anyone to use it. Ten years later we’re still doing this and we want to take this industry to the next step, which we see as aerial robotics. We’re happy. We’re proud. But there is always more to do.
How do you get customers to share your vision?
Building up trust with the customers, and making them believe in what we’re doing, results in a community empowered to help us tell the story. As we expanded the business from photographers to hobbyists to consumer electronics, we constantly expanded our customer community. And we empower them to tell their own story about using DJI products. We’ve created a good product experience along with communication between DJI and our customers and among customer communities. This is our emotional connections with customers. We enable them to see the world differently. We want to inspire people, open their imagination and invite them to co-create with us.
How do you keep the vision fresh?
It is critical to stay true to our belief and vision. It is also important to listen and learn. A brand is as much about the product as about the people who buy the products and services. It’s about collaboration, understanding what customers need and working with them to improve the offering. We’re exploring and defining standards. We always look to use our technology in ways people would never have experienced. For example, we’re exploring ways to use the drone technology in search and rescue, in wild animal protection, and in infrastructure inspection. In exploring these initiatives, we show society our vision.