CMO 2.0 Conversation with David Roman, CMO at Lenovo

Written by on October 22, 2012 – 6:51 pm -

My CMO 2.0 Conversation with David Roman, the current Lenovo CMO, was a great one. I had spoken with the previous CMO at Lenovo and needless to say that many things have changed at Lenovo in the past few years.

Like many CMO’s I spoke with recently, David is a true marketer. He spent 14 years at Apple in a variety of marketing jobs, had a few stints with startups, and returned to the corporate world to run marketing communications for Nvidia and HP. He joined Lenovo 2 1/2 years ago.

Branding is one of the top three initiatives at Lenovo and so that was one of our first points of discussion. David explained how Lenovo, driven by the industry-wide consumerization of IT, where employees increasingly bring their own devices to work, is now trying to become a leading consumer brand — not just a B2B brand which is what they have historically been known for. To be a leading consumer technology brand means that you need to appeal and be relevant to the youth market. They are the ones that care about technology in an emotional way, and they are the ones who determine what’s cool and what’s not. According to David they are also the generation that cares the most about their brands — they expect their brands to not just enable them to do what they want to do, but also to share their social values.

To appeal to the youth market and be relevant to them, Lenovo focuses, not on the computer itself, but rather on what you can do with it. A lot of the attitude and personality of their latest branding campaign centers around celebrating the cool things that people can do with the technology. Interestingly enough, they can have a somewhat uniform campaign around the globe because they found that culturally youth have more in common with one another worldwide that they have with their local cultures.

Because consumers prefer to get their recommendations from peers rather than from companies, Lenovo had to rethink how they communicate with their audiences. David told a real cool story to illustrate his point. They have computers that will now boot up in 10 seconds and had this idea to throw a computer out of a plane with the computer controlling the parachute. If the skydiver could not boot up the computer in less than 10 seconds, there would not be enough time for the parachute to deploy and it would hit the ground. In the old days you would have faked the scene and produced the ad as cheaply as possible. They actually did the whole stunt and had two guys that had done a lot of films for MTV document how they did it. That movie went viral. So in effect they got people to watch the ad by having the meta-ad go viral. Pretty nifty if you ask me. Marketers now have to develop content in such a way that it will be used and travel as part of peer-to-peer recommendations.

Just as in past interviews, David too believes that you have to live the brand inside before you can credibly portray that brand in the marketplace. Their aim is therefore to have a unified employer and consumer brand.

David then explained his three principles of marketing. The first one being balance — with the need to balance between short term and long term impact. The second one is simplification — where the simpler something looks from the outside, the better it is. The third one is that you should always try to “wow” the customer — and they have to notice it. It has to stand out, and it has to be differentiated. If you cannot have the wow factor, don’t do it.

Next we switched to the topic of culture — a topic near and dear to Lenovo. Being a truly global company and growing through mergers and acquisitions all over the globe,  it has always been important for Lenovo to have a unified culture — they call it the Lenovo Way, which is embodied in the slogan “We do what we say and own what we do.” It is a culture of commitment and one steeped in the Human 1.0 characteristic of reciprocity. As with other successful companies that have strong internal cultures, Lenovo makes the four shared values that lead up the culture part of the annual HR review process.

As with most technology companies, innovation has always been a big part of the Lenovo culture. It has changed over time in two aspects. First, by recently becoming the leader in the marketplace, they had to start thinking about doing things differently. As a challenger you tend to focus more on execution whereas a leader you need to focus more on innovation — which also means having a different risk profile. The other cause for change is that they now want to rely on all employees and customers for innovation, not just the technology geeks in R&D.

As usual, we closed out the conversation with a discussion around metrics. At Lenovo they track the usual metrics for demand generation — number of leads, price point at which you’re selling, etc. For branding, which has a longer term consequence, they use two metrics — purchase consideration, with the goal of being in the top three, and brand premium, which looks at what percentage of the dollars you are getting in any market category.

Other things we discussed include:

  • How content that you put out about your brand has to be genuine and authentic — and what that actually means
  • How to let go of the need to control the message as a marketer
  • How Lenovo leverages its 27,000 employees, who in many cases are also customers, as part of their marketing efforts.
  • How companies have to focus on tribes rather than market segments
  • The importance of keeping a balance between ongoing continuous improvement innovation and breakthrough innovations.

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CMO 2.0 Conversation with John Kennedy, VP of Corporate Marketing at IBM

Written by on October 2, 2012 – 7:38 pm -

My CMO 2.0 conversation with John Kennedy, the head of corporate marketing at IBM, was a truly great discussion. John started his marketing career at one of the best on-the-job training companies for branding — Proctor & Gamble, where he worked on some well known brands like Downy, Spic and Span, and Cinch. Following that he joined IBM’s consumer division in the mid-90s, and subsequently, spent 8 years with IBM in Tokyo in a variety of product marketing, geography marketing, and sales roles.  So, John is another true and true marketer in this ongoing series of  CMO 2.0 Conversations.

According to John, the main causes for the recent changes in marketing come from the digitization of business and the increased interconnectness of people. The fundamental change that marketing has undergone is that it has once again become a social science — it is about understanding how people connect, what they aspire to, and what motivates them to do what they do.

At IBM they use three lenses to understand how the marketing function is fundamentally changing — knowing the customer, knowing markets, and knowing audiences. In the past marketers were mostly limited to understanding their customers in terms of big demos and big psychographics. Now, big data allows marketers to understand their customer at the individual level. Big data also gives marketers the ability to serve market segments better — moving from a transactional focus to a much more customer-centric conversation around the benefits of products and services.  The last lens relates to the fact that both companies and customers now have a much higher visibility and transparency into one another’s business —  with customers who now being able to see behind the firewall and assess whether the way a company operates actually matches with what it promises through its marketing.

Like other leading marketers that I interviewed recently, John too believes that the brand is not just embedded in the promise that marketing makes about its products and services and how well those products and services deliver against that promises, but it is also embedded in the culture of the company — how the company actually behaves behind the firewall. Along those lines, IBM has done a lot of work in humanizing its brand by allowing the IBM brand to be defined by the IBMer. They see themselves as an intellectual capital company, with their employees delivering the value that gets created and offered for their customer.

Next we talked about the shifting advocacy role that marketers need to embrace. They increasingly need to take all the learnings that they develop about the customer and bring that back to the C-Suite rather than think of themselves as the corporate spokesperson in the marketplace. While marketers will continue to have the need to communicate messages to the marketplace, a majority of the content about a company’s products and services now flows through word-of-mouth.

Once again, marketers need to become more inter-disciplinary, and be concerned about more aspects of the company’s operations than they have traditionally been involved with. With the brand being impacted by so much more of the company’s operations, marketers need to think way beyond the four P’s when they think about their role. Not only do they need to become more knowledgeable, they also need to rely on more of their C-Suite counterparts to help execute the brand. And with marketing becoming increasingly technology-enabled, which is especially true of their relationship with the CIO.

Marketing in the future will not feel like marketing. It will increasingly feel like a welcome service. With marketers developing a better understanding of consumer behavior, both through social sciences and data, marketers will be able to deliver a whole new level of value to their customers. In order to so, however, marketers will need to develop a level of “digital empathy” — by not only contacting customers with the goal of achieving commercial results.

Following this conversation on the changing role of marketers, we switched to the topic of culture. According to IBM research, leading marketers are focusing more on corporate character than on the products they sell. As I said before, marketers have to become concerned with not only how a company comes across in its marketing, but how the company actually operates — and that is called culture, or in IBM parlance corporate character. Culture, of course, is the externalization of shared corporate values and beliefs.

We closed the conversation on the topic of measurements and ROI, which is increasingly tricky as marketing contributions spans both the range of hard things and soft things. Marketers are going to have to be careful to select those key analytics in this growing amount of information that best represent their contributions.

Other things that we discussed include:

  • How market researchers need to shift their thinking from consumer segments to consumer tribes.
  •  How to leverage social media and communities as part of marketing.
  • The importance of listening to what is being said about your brand and gauge the sentiment of those conversations.
  • The importance of matching internal tribes with external tribes.
  • The changing need for talent within the marketing department.
  • How the promise of gaining actionable insights from big data is still very much in the early stages.
  • How to transition from a transactional customer relationship to one that is focused on the customer journey.
  • How to balance an historic/iconic brand like IBM with having a brand that appeals to new generations and consumer tribes with the example of Smarter Planet as a platform to make that happen at IBM.

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