Chinese Giant to Global Powerbrand

LenovoIt’s strange to describe a brand as enormous as Lenovo as having a recognition problem. The world’s fastest-growing PC company, it’s also No. 2 in worldwide shipments. And in its native China, it isn’t just a well-known entity, it dominates an impressive one-third of all personal computing sales.

But despite extensive ad spending in the rest of the world, it is often the brand no one can recall, confesses Tracey Trachta, Lenovo’s vice president of brand experience. “We are the brand no one has heard of,” she says. “Businesses around the world choose us over the competition, but as of yet, we haven’t broken through as a consumer brand and a household name.” Expensive marketing campaigns, including a sponsorship of the last Olympic games, failed to move the needle, and she says the company entered a quiet period as it rethought its game plan.

The new strategy hinges on a global marketing effort, launched back in April, themed “For Those Who Do” campaign. But just as important as the overall positioning, she says, are the multi-channel efforts that deliver the same message, targeting not just any old consumer, but the “Doers” most likely to love Lenovo’s computing prowess. For example, because it knows women influence some 80 percent of all tech purchases, Lenovo has partnered with New York Fashion Week’s Fashion Night Out to get its sleek U300s Ultrabook in the hands of chic style influencers.

Part of the shift in strategy, she says, is a corporate acknowledgment that “while word of mouth may not always be more powerful than advertising, it is certainly more accessible. And since we know something like 1 percent of the Internet population account for 80 percent of the product reviews, we decided the best approach is to create content and experiences that will inspire these influencers.”

Its biggest push so far is a digital effort aimed at a key group driving current and future purchases: Teenage science studs around the globe.

In partnership with YouTube and Space Adventures, and in cooperation with such space agencies as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the global contest encouraged kids to come up with a science experiment — any experiment — that could be performed in space. “We challenged kids around the globe to come up with an idea for an experiment, and since our computers are the only ones up there, it is our technology that enables it to happen.”

What the company wasn’t expecting, she says, was the onslaught of scientific brilliance from teens around the world, with thousands of video entries submitted from more than 80 countries, including demonstrations and animation of their proposed experiments. (The U.S. led with 10 finalists, followed by India with nine. Poland, Canada and Spain led in the number of entries.) Creative teams met with each finalist, creating documentaries about the students and the ideas, “and that branded content also bolsters our ‘doers’ message. In turn, finalists have to activate their social networks to win, creating further awareness.” The YouTube community and a panel of judges narrowed the 60 finalists down to six regional winners. (With two teams from each of the three regions, all six are scheduled to be flown to Washington, D.C., for the final winners to be announced.)

Up next, based in part on the success of Space Lab, is even more input from those influential doers. “You’ll see us crowdsourcing ideas and creating some fun programs that are engaging people to help us build the brand. If there were an avatar for the brand, for example, what would it look like?”

She concedes the approach — asking consumers what they think the brand should be — is the complete opposite of rival Apple, which has always prided itself on telling tech users what they need even before they know they need it. “This is what is working for Lenovo,” she says. “This way, consumers have some skin in the game. And for us to win, consumers have to love us as much as they love a brand of shoe or a brand of car.”

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