IBM picks up PC share

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IBM Corp. is staging a comeback in personal computers.

With its strategy to tout specific solutions to ease users' "pain points," Big Blue is regaining market share in the PC arena for the first time in years. IDC's latest tally puts IBM at No. 2 in commercial notebook shipments, and another analyst said IBM is "closing in on No. 1" in several corporate segments.

"Marketing plays a huge role, first in defining customers' pain points and what capabilities we need to develop, and then in communicating to them through our advertising," said Deepak Advani, VP-marketing and strategy for IBM's Personal Computing Division.

The IBM PC strategy this year focused on touting the innovations it has created to differentiate itself from the competition. Features such as security, durability and one-button recovery were touted in TV, print, radio, Web and direct advertising in a campaign launched in January for its ThinkPad, followed by work for the ThinkCentre desktop system last month. WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, New York, created the IBM ads. One new component in the IBM PC marketing arsenal this year was the use of TV: ThinkPads hadn't been advertised on TV in three years, and IBM desktops were missing from the airwaves for much longer.

shifting focus

"The focus for the last few years has been on leveraging print," Mr. Advani said. "Our Think Strategy in print was about leveraging ThinkPad's strong brand in the IT space, into a strong desktop brand with ThinkCentre. TV was just appropriate this time to get the word out."

The most recent notebook work uses the tagline "Only on a ThinkPad." It highlights specific consumer issues and IBM's solution, such as security, hard drive protection and rescue and recovery software. However, Mr. Advani said the key was to use simple messages in the limited 30-second TV ad bite. To that end, hard drive protection was described as an "airbag" for the computer; security was explained with fingerprint readers; and a dual recovery operating system was the "blue button" users push to get data back.

space concerns

ThinkCentre desktop ads built on the ThinkPad attributes (and tagged "Only on a ThinkCentre"), but were tweaked to reflect desktop concerns, including space savings and loud operating sounds. The September print ad for ThinkCentre read, "23 years ago we took your desk away and today we're returning it to you."

"The new visibility has helped them tremendously. It's put them back on the map in an area where they originally led," said Rob Enderle, an analyst with Enderle Group. "By reviving marketing programs and focusing back on PC products, they're reminding customers that they're still out there."

The success of IBM's ad effort is being measured through increased sales-including phone and Internet-and also through IBM's follow-up for metrics such as brand awareness and recall, which Mr. Advani said has "blown past" expectations in every area.

And though IBM's advertising has a consumer tone, business users are still the target. "Strategy is all about focus," said Mr. Advani, "and we have competitors trying to be all things to all people and that's fine, good luck. But we are, and will continue to be, focused on business and individuals who do serious business with their computers."

IBM stopped advertising to consumers three to four years ago; the focus now is on businesses of all sizes and "productive individuals" who use computers for serious purposes. This year marks the 12th anniversary of the ThinkPad, but the late `90s were the halcyon days of the ThinkPad notebook. "The ThinkPad was the standard, and in fact, most analysts still think that," Mr. Enderle said. "But everyone just kind of forgot about it with the lack of marketing."

ThinkCentres, whose name plays off the ThinkPad brand strength, have yet to achieve as much attention or sales, but Mr. Advani said that has been an IBM strategy. "We were concentrating on where the growth was, in notebooks ... so we intentionally focused on ThinkPad. Now we're taking that focus and moving it to the desktop space."

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