Introducing a giant
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.”