For computer marketers, there's a clear trend toward establishing a consistent branding strategy-and in some cases, creative product-that crosses borders.
This year, the nation's No. 1 and No. 3 computer marketers, IBM Corp. and Digital Equipment Corp., plus the second-largest software producer, Computer Associates, consolidated corporate accounts at single worldwide agencies, dismissing more than 100 agencies in the process.
Also, the biggest software marketer, Microsoft Corp., picked its first global shop for a worldwide branding campaign that begins today.
These companies are following the other major players, including Apple Computer and Unisys Corp., that have one agency to lead global communications.
Computer marketers have little choice but to play the booming global market, expected to grow 31% by 1998. Although the U.S. is the biggest single computer market, its share of worldwide sales is expected to drop slightly. Dataquest, a market researcher, estimates that the U.S. will account for 36.7% of worldwide sales in 1998, down from 37.6% this year. To grow with the world market, companies must act globally.
In addition, technology standards like Microsoft Windows operating system software and model names like IBM's ThinkPad notebook PC are universal. Corporate computer buyers worldwide see the same trade publications, work for the same multinationals, know via the Internet what's new and demand equal treatment.
"There can be geographic variations in messages," says Sally Fundakowski, Intel Corp.'s director of processor brand marketing. "[But] there are a lot of commonalities between people around the world. It's important to look at the planes on which you can find common ground."
Those commonalities necessitate a consistent, well-defined global brand image.
IBM consolidated its $500 million global account at Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, New York, in May, axing 50-odd agencies. Digital dumped more than 50 agencies last month, awarding DDB Needham Worldwide, New York, all of its estimated $90 million account except for the PC division, which remains at Young & Rubicam, New York.
Both marketers are facing trouble in their traditional larger-computer markets and are trying to promote their expertise in smaller computer segment, which has more market growth potential. Such brands as IBM and Digital, if not in trouble then in transition, have the most incentive to centralize advertising and brand management, even when such a move can create dissension in the field.
"We're still a brand under construction," explains Charlie Holleran, Digital's VP-communications. So Digital is relying on "much more rigid central planning."
Mr. Holleran wants DDB Needham to craft a single global image for Digital as an aggressive, no-nonsense technology company that's got solutions for internal and customer problems.
Mr. Holleran says Digital is entrusting DDB Needham with the role of "brand steward"-a lofty concept popularized by IBM's new agency, O&M.
IBM already has started O&M's first global campaign, for IBM's revamped PC line, and is readying a brand campaign. But O&M since has hired the ultimate brand steward: Steve Hayden, who worked on the Apple Computer account at BBDO Worldwide, Los Angeles. He joins O&M next month as president of worldwide brand services on IBM.
As a marketer of PCs to business and consumers, market leader Compaq Computer Corp., along with its many competitors, need to reach a wide range of customers. Companies serving the corporate arena may be more successful with the one-size-fits-all approach.
Computer Associates took this approach when it consolidated worldwide advertising at little-known Schell/Mullaney, New York.
The decision was hardly democratic: headquarters took back its brand and advertising specifically to keep subsidiaries from influencing or changing management's chosen course.
Unisys, which in 1991 consolidated worldwide advertising at Bozell, New York, as part of a massive restructuring, last year began a campaign that's now well-known to globe-trotting computer managers.
Playing off the coined word "customerize," Unisys promotes how its technology can improve its clients' customer service to make them more competitive.
Robert O'Leary, VP-PR and advertising, says the campaign is working because Unisys and Bozell took the time to sell the company's and agency's people around the world before rolling it out.
"Therein lies the key: Participation. It's the magic," Mr. O'Leary says. "You can't launch and then sell [a campaign internally]. You have to sell and then launch."
Mr. O'Leary offers three lessons from the frontline of global computer creative:
Do the market research up front to validate the reason for the new approach to field personnel.
Establish "listening posts" in the company and agency, making it clear that ideas are welcome from the field.
Assume worldwide creative is attainable while recognizing that a campaign must also have enough flexibility to adapt to local markets.
Some marketers have decided global advertising isn't as important as a consistent worldwide branding strategy.
The "Intel inside" logo might be universally known, but three foreign shops assist Dahlin Smith White in Salt Lake City: Publicis in Europe, Ball Partnership in Asia/Pacific and Dentsu in Japan.
To oversee global communications, Intel-along with Compaq-created a world communications post this year.
Jim Garrity, formerly director of marketing communications for Compaq in North America, is now VP-communications, running worldwide strategies. Ann Lewnes, formerly consumer marketing manager at Intel, has moved up to worldwide advertising manager.
Both Compaq and Intel bring together headquarters and field management to create communications strategies. The concept might be more laborious than barking orders from the main office, but proponents argue it keeps everyone on course.
Compaq now asks its agencies to fax copies of approved campaign concepts to its other agencies. A shop wanting to use an ad can ask the idea-generating agency to produce a spot for its own use.
Apple's market position varies by country, so global creative isn't the goal. When strategies and local needs merge, global ads can result; much of Apple's fall TV campaign is running internationally.
Despite choosing Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., to create a global branding campaign, Microsoft leaves product advertising up to regional marketing groups that employ local agencies.
But to others, such as Data General Corp., a $1 billion computer marketer trying for a turnaround, global creative is common sense.
The company began a campaign this fall themed, "Bringing common sense to computing."
The campaign, from Pagano, Schenck & Kay, Boston, makes the nervy point that Data General sells a "commodity," hardly a point of differentiation, but closes the loop by saying the company makes sense out of a confusing world of lookalike computer technology.
Jim Murphy, director of corporate communications at Data General, believes the "common sense" theme will offer the flexibility to tailor local creative where needed.
"The positioning concept has to be simple, clear and transportable across international lines."