The U.S. IT giant isn't turning its back on corporate consumers, retailers and suppliers in China. But Mr. Seow, the director of marketing for HP's Personal Systems Group, the company's PC division, has become a champion for leveraging new media marketing and user-generated content aimed at teens and college students.
"We want to be the leader in this space, across all industries," Mr. Seow said. "I do think that's what the new generation is keeping an eye out for, now and in the years ahead."
The sophisticated platform he has developed in China, called "My Computer, My Stage," could become a template for HP marketers in other countries. Already HP has adapted the concept into a reality show, "HP Space," that ran last year on News Corp.'s Star World entertainment channel across Southeast Asia.
"My Computer, My Stage" lets consumers interact with the company on its Chinese website, hpmystage.com.cn through complex challenges and contests relying on user-generated content.
The program was created with one of HP's agencies, Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, Beijing. HP also works with Omnicom's PHD media division in China and two PR agencies, WPP's Burson-Marsteller and Hill & Knowlton.
The goal of "My Computer, My Stage," said Charles Sampson, Saatchi & Saatchi's managing director in Beijing, "is making HP a cooler and more desirable brand among young Chinese. Three or four years ago, it wasn't seen as a cool brand. Now, in terms of purchasing intention, brand image and sales, the needle has moved significantly."
HP is No. 2 PC-maker in China
Playing games with tech-savvy young Chinese has turned HP's Personal Systems Group into the company's fastest-growing division in Asia -- mostly from gains in China, where HP is the No. 2 player in market share after Chinese PC-maker Lenovo Group.
The two other top players in the PC segment are Dell and Acer.
HP's share of the PC market stood at 10.4% in the fourth quarter of 2007. By the third quarter of 2009, HP's share had reached 18.4%, according to IDC's Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker. China is the second biggest market for HP globally after the U.S.
In China, "you must be obsessed with the keenness to look at new technologies and new media" said Mr. Seow, a Singaporean based in Beijing. "It's pretty clear that over 80% of netizens value and look seriously at user-generated content before they make a purchase or even do word-of-mouth discussion."
In the first phase of the "My Computer, My Stage" platform, launched in early 2008, HP encouraged consumers to express dreams, achievements and goals through writing or illustrations on a dedicated site. A second stage later that year let them write and post hip-hop songs online.
Film contest based on four themes
The latest component is far more ambitious and interactive, Mr. Seow said. "When we conceptualized the third phase, it needed a very strong tie-back to the element of user-generated content."
Starting last fall, Chinese were invited to submit film script ideas to the site based on four themes voted on by consumers -- holidays, student dormitories and bedrooms, love and dreams.
Visitors can also put their names forward to be actors. A panel chosen by HP and led by Chinese film director Ning Hao will select the best script for each theme, then HP will create and upload a story board to the site. The online community can shoot and upload films for each story based on the winning script.
The online community will vote for Academy Awards-like prizes such as best film, actor, actress, film treatment and musical score. When the third phase is completed later this year, Mr. Ning will put together a short film using the best elements from the four finalists, one for each theme. Each finalist will also win an HP notebook computer.
Courting Chinese bloggers with events
Mr. Seow is also courting China's blogger community -- now numbering more than 50 million -- by sponsoring gatherings bringing influential netizens together in an engaging, competitive format.
"We wanted to create a platform that is very neutral and fits with how bloggers want to be seen in China," said Mr. Seow, who moved to China from Singapore, where he was general manager of HP's Personal Systems Group.
Mr. Seow joined HP in 1995 as a technical consultant in Singapore, but his next position could take him even further from home.
"Robin [Seow] is very much the bridge between HP's top management in the U.S. and China. He could end up having a big global role but with a special interest in China," Mr. Sampson said.
Mr. Seow, however, says China offers enough challenges for now, and that 2009 was tough for all marketers. "HP has been able to strike a good balance and develop a good business and at the same time to develop the brand. At the end of the day, we put in investment and we hope to see a return."