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What Do You Do When Your Business Outpaces Your Brand? Lenovo May Soon Have the Answer

Lenovo Might Be the World's No. 2 Computer Maker, but It Is Still a Relatively Unknown Brand in Most Corners of the Globe

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Lenovo is the No. 2 computer maker in the world. But when it comes to overall brand awareness and consumer affinity, it trails rivals. Lenovo has yet to crack Interbrand's annual Top 100 global brand list, while some of its chief competitors, such as HP and Apple, have been on the list for years.

Chief Marketing Officer David Roman is on a mission to change all that . He's intent on building Lenovo into a power brand, and he's got the rest of the company onboard. Building the brand is now one of three key strategic priorities for Lenovo.

Besides strong company backing, Mr. Roman has other assets. Lenovo is already global and is a force in its home country, China, as well as India. It's also popular in certain market segments, such as business-to-business, where its high-end ThinkPad line is well-regarded.

Most important, it has sales momentum, bypassing Dell and Acer in recent months, according to IDC. Lenovo recorded sales of $7.8 billion in its most recent fiscal quarter, ending in September, an increase of 35% from the year-ago period.

Mr. Roman, a former top marketing exec at Apple and HP, recently assembled a team of about 15 people to focus on the brand experience, which he defines as including social media, design, branded content, retail experience, event and strategic engagement and partnerships. The team, half located in Singapore and half in Raleigh, N.C., is a combination of new and veteran employees with a variety of titles, from art directors to brand strategists.

David Roman, Lenovo CMO
David Roman, Lenovo CMO
Tracey Trachta, Lenovo VP-branded content
Tracey Trachta, Lenovo VP-branded content
"The business is way ahead of the brand," Mr. Roman said. "We're No. 2 in the industry; yet outside of key countries like China and India, and outside of key markets like industrial, the brand is not well-known. … There is a tremendous opportunity for the brand to catch up."

Targeting the 18- to 35-year-old consumer market and leveraging partnerships to gain credibility, particularly with that audience, are two areas of focus.

Like its target audience, Lenovo is young, created less than 10 years ago when China's largest PC maker, the Legend Computer Group, decided to expand globally. The 2-year-old Lenovo made waves in the PC industry when it bought IBM's consumer PC division, and its ThinkPad and ThinkCentre line of products, in 2005.

"The consumer market is a new market for us in many places, and when we look at the consumer space and who determines brand there, it's the youth market," Mr. Roman said.

"They decide who's hip and who's not, who's cool and who's not from a brand perspective. That's different than from a product perspective, where we do well with different [demographics]. The youth market is very consistent around the world. A college student in Beijing has more in common with a college student in New York than he does with his parents in Beijing."

To that end, Lenovo is connecting with many of the brands that resonate with younger consumers. Google and YouTube are key relationships, as are Southwest Airlines and MTV .

Lenovo is also reaching teens where they live, with an onslaught of online content, competitions and promotions. The company is sponsoring the annual HopSotch independent music fest, was a tech partner with "Transformers 3" and even showed up at Fashion Week in New York with designer partnerships and the Lenovo Lounge.

"We're very big believers in working with marketing partners. As a marketing community, in general, I think we're all getting used to that ," Mr. Roman said. "Especially with this youth market, where you don't have control of your brand anyway."

Tracey Trachta, Lenovo's first VP-branded content, added that "partnerships are a jump-start to gain recognition. ... There's something their brand has that we're hungry for, and their brand halo extends to us."

Lenovo's philosophy for targeting the youth market is decidedly open-minded and acknowledges that group's digital prowess.

"We really recognize that we don't create our brand -- they do," said Ms. Trachta, who worked with Mr. Roman at HP. "It's how they interact with their friends and what they say about us when they're not talking to us."

"For Those Who Do" is the global brand umbrella theme. It was created by Publicis Groupe 's Saatchi & Saatchi and is intended to appeal to young consumers.

"The youth market values most what they're doing with technology. If you look at the ads, you'll see that the focus is not on the product or even on the users, but what they're doing with it," Mr. Roman said.

While celebrating action is the overarching theme around the globe, creative executions vary from region to region. In Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America, for instance, Lenovo held a competition called "Los Doers."

In Japan, the campaign has a celebrity spokesperson, former soccer star Hidetoshi Nakata, at the center of its "Do Project."

In other countries, including India and Russia, Lenovo has created a "Do Network" that engages "doers" with projects such as the YouTube Space Lab partnership. High-school students compete to have their experiment conducted aboard the International Space Station. (Lenovo is an official technology provider to the space station.)

In the U.S., the campaign kicked off with a 60-second TV spot that laid out the "do" theme, while smaller, subsequent campaigns focused on specifics such as its Rapid Boot technology. In one ad, Lenovo throws a PC out of an airplane and it must "save itself" by booting up quickly and deploying a parachute.

Some of the brand-building efforts have been under way for almost a year, and the needle is beginning to move in Lenovo's quest to make Interbrand's Top 100 list. Consumer purchase consideration, for instance, was relatively flat from November 2010 through March 2011, but doubled from March through November 2011, Mr. Roman said.

For future growth, Lenovo is banking on its relatively new line of tablets, its ultrabooks (high-end superthin laptops) and its smartphones, currently available only in China.

"We're still in the early stages [of building the brand], but it's a good beginning," Mr. Roman said. "And because the business is doing so well, we don't have some of the short-term pressures that marketing sometimes feels."

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