In­tro­duc­ing a gi­ant

Pre­sent­ing

Finweek English Edition - - INSIGHT - SIMON DINGLE si­mond@fin­week.co.za

LEN­OVO IS THE world’s third largest man­u­fac­turer of per­sonal com­put­ers, with a mar­ket cap just shy of US$46bn. The Chi­nese com­pany is con­sid­ered by its own in­dus­try to be one of the most in­no­va­tive in the mar­ket. How­ever, that’s an im­age Len­ovo desperately needs to share with the broader mar­ket – one that’s in­creas­ingly fill­ing up with com­peti­tors. Strangely, given the size of the com­pany, Len­ovo isn’t very well known glob­ally.

Len­ovo does have one mas­sive ad­van­tage over other com­puter com­pa­nies – es­pe­cially new ones. It bought IBM’s PC di­vi­sion in 2005 along with the ThinkPad brand, which was al­ready well es­tab­lished in the mar­ket. But Len­ovo needs more – and it needs to dif­fer­en­ti­ate it­self from its chief com­peti­tors in the form of Hewlett Packard, Ap­ple and Dell.

Along with the need to con­vince the mar­ket of its in­no­va­tions, Len­ovo also needs to spread the fact that it’s a world­wide com­pany. It may be head­quar­tered in Bei­jing but it has op­er­a­tions in just about any coun­try worth men­tion­ing, plus ma­jor devel­op­ment cen­tres in the United States and Ja­pan.

To help bring co­he­sion to its brand­ing and tackle the chal­lenges out­lined above, Len­ovo has em­ployed the skills of David Ro­man, whom it nabbed from chief com­peti­tor HP. Ro­man was re­spon­si­ble for HP’s “The com­puter is per­sonal again” cam­paign. Fin­week sat down with him at the Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show in Las Ve­gas last week.

Ro­man has been with Len­ovo for just un­der a year, deal­ing with an es­tab­lished mar­ket­ing bud­get dur­ing that time. As chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer he’s look­ing at dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing Len­ovo and, for­tu­nately, the com­pany has a lot to say in that depart­ment.

“Dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion has al­ways been a chal­lenge,” says Ro­man. “The key thing is: when there’s a lot of growth, things hap­pen. When busi­ness stag­nates, that’s when it be­comes re­ally tough. Right now there’s growth – and growth in the PC space specif­i­cally.

“Len­ovo is in an un­usual po­si­tion, in that it’s the fastest grow­ing com­pany and has been for the past four quar­ters. So we’ve said: ‘Let’s lever­age that mo­men­tum to start to move into some of those new spa­ces.’ For ex­am­ple, we’re now show­ing the Chi­nese ver­sion of the LePad.”

The LePad is Len­ovo’s en­try into the tablet mar­ket kick-started by Ap­ple’s iPad. Now ev­ery­one has a tablet to show off. Len­ovo’s ver­sion is a big 10” and runs Google’s An­droid op­er­at­ing sys­tem. It can also be docked with an at­tach­ment that turns it into a Win­dows 7 lap­top. It will hit the Chi­nese mar­ket soon and de­riv­a­tives are ex­pected world­wide be­fore year-end.

Com­ing up with new prod­ucts has never been a prob­lem for Len­ovo. Con­vinc­ing peo­ple about qual­ity, in­no­va­tion and cool­ness is a dif­fer­ent story. “What we haven’t done well is build a per­cep­tion of what Len­ovo stands for – what we rep­re­sent. And that’s why I was brought in, with my back­ground,” says Ro­man.

Build­ing that per­cep­tion will be­gin with the younger el­e­ments of the mar­ket. “To be a cool technology com­pany you have to put out cool prod­ucts. I mean, that’s the way it works... So when you’ve got the prod­ucts peo­ple start to talk about them,” says Ro­man.

“We want to build the brand in the youth space specif­i­cally; we think that mar­ket is the one that de­ter­mines tran­sient technology any­way. And the young mar­ket is very in­ter­est­ing from a mar­ket­ing stand­point, be­cause it’s ef­fec­tively a very global mar­ket. In fact, I’d ar­gue it’s the first truly global mar­ket. If you think about it, a col­lege stu­dent in Cape Town has more in com­mon with a col­lege stu­dent in Bei­jing than with his par­ents in Cape Town. Just in terms of mu­sic, videos, etcetera. So it’s a very con­sis­tent mar­ket to go af­ter.”

DAVID RO­MAN

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