Sure, ThinkPads Sell Well, But What About Brand Lenovo?

A Chinese Brand With Little Marketing Heritage Seeks Status Among Tech-Obsessed Youth

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Earlier this year Ad Age published an article titled, "What do you do when your business outpaces your brand? Lenovo may soon have the answer." It's an interesting problem to have. The Chinese electronics firm continues to grow at a breakneck pace, but CMO David Roman says it's now "closing that gap."

David Roman
David Roman

"We have more and more growth coming from the consumer space," said Mr. Roman, a speaker at Ad Age 's upcoming Digital Conference in San Francisco. "The fact that we're succeeding and growing so much faster than the market overall is in itself a major message about the company. It empowers us and enables us to take a stronger position than we would otherwise."

Take, for instance, the gutsy "Boot or Bust" campaign which showcased Lenovo's RapidBoot technology. The only way the computer could save itself was to boot up in 10 seconds, which deployed a parachute and saved it from, well, destruction. Not exactly your typical PC spot.

The stunt was chronicled both in TV ads and a short film about the creation of the ad. For the record, four computers ultimately "planted in the ground," Mr. Roman admitted, chuckling. "The issue was not the 10-second boot," he said. "The issue was it wasn't heavy enough to open a parachute, so we had to adjust for that ."

Ad Age : Do you view the company's Chinese heritage as an advantage or disadvantage?

Mr. Roman: I think it's an advantage. Fundamentally, the business balance is moving from the traditional multinational to this new type of company that is really set up to be a global company right up front. It's a next-generation global enterprise. We don't see ourselves as a Chinese company in that sense. We see ourselves as a global company.

But there is an element of intrigue about China. China is cool right now. It's trendy, interesting at all levels. We haven't yet understood how to make that an asset and relevant, but it's something we've challenged our agencies to do. We want to take that China chic, cool element and bring it into our materials.

The converse of that applies in China, where Lenovo is a well-established, huge brand. Refreshing Lenovo in China, in some cases, means ... playing around with things, like taking some global communications, even English-language taglines and using that in some of the tier-one cities, because it plays very well.

Ad Age : Tell me about the "net generation" and how their expectations of brands differ from previous generations?

Mr. Roman: Technology is very close to them. It's a very personal thing. They take the brands associated with them very seriously and expect those brands to follow their same values. It may be environmental, social, design. They hold those brands to high standards. Brands they like or love, they endorse very strongly. On the other hand, if a brand deceives them, they'll lash back. From a marketing standpoint it's brought even greater focus to being authentic. There's no way you'll get away with trying to be manipulative. ... It means as a company we have to be more open. You don't craft your message carefully and then protect it.

Ad Age : Has it been difficult to get other executives at the company onboard with that ? It can be scary, I'm sure.

Mr. Roman: Yes and no. We don't have a strong marketing heritage as a company. Our biggest challenge was reconciling Lenovo the brand -- a high-value commercial brand with ThinkPad -- with this consumer brand of Lenovo that 's being more aggressive, dynamic, with more of an attitude. There was some concern that would take away from that perception of solidity and reliability in the enterprise space. That hasn't happened at all. We've had the opposite.

We went through the consumer campaign with our advisory council. And what the CIOs are saying is they want to see the brands they're recommending be brands their users want that are cool and interesting. The consumerization of IT has gotten to that point. If you're running IT for a large college, you need the computer you're recommending to be the computer your students and staff want.

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