Ask The CMO: How Lenovo Expanded Its Offerings And Global Presence—And Modernized Its Image To Match

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Here is another of our great interviews from Marketo’s “Ask the CMO: Lessons Learned” series with Mashable. This week, Mashable sat down with David Roman, CMO of Lenovo. I loved reading this one because he hits on one of the biggest themes in marketing: change. Over the past few years, I’ve discussed this theme repeatedly on stage at events around the world; marketing has changed more in the last five years than it has in the last 500, and will change even more in the next five years.

From its standing as a large, global organization, Lenovo is driving an incredible change in its brand and presence in market—but this topic is relevant regardless of a marketer’s company size or industry. All of us are trying to keep up with and drive change in all aspects of our craft, be it in the way we measure success, the way we reach new audiences, or in the way we carve a role for ourselves within the greater company. David speaks to all of these interesting change factors, including another one that has been near and dear to me for some time: marketing is fundamentally changing from “broadcasting” at an audience to engaging with them. Amen, right? I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did and that it inspires you to drive change.

The following interview originally appeared on Mashable.

Chinese PC purveyor Lenovo isn't just in the PC business these days, nor is it perceived as exclusively a Chinese brand. Over the past few years, Lenovo has expanded not only its product offerings (including the much-hyped Magic Watch with projection capabilities), but also its global presence. Several key purchases along the way—including 2005's IBM PC buy, and 2014's Motorola acquisition—have helped cement Lenovo as a key global tech player.

Now, number three in smartphones in addition to the world's leading maker of PCs, Lenovo has modernized its image to match its diverse offerings and reach. Via a 2015 rebrand spearheaded by CMO David Roman, Lenovo's logo was retooled, and a new palette of colors was introduced. This is just one of the many tactics Roman, who joined the team in 2010, has employed to craft the company's image and help the brand grow and redefine itself in the process.

Roman took the time to chat with Mashable, delving into the marketing strategies that fuel Lenovo. We started with a look back at Roman's advice to his younger self, and the unexpected past experiences he deems vital to his success.

Q&A with Lenovo's CMO, David Roman

1. If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self that pertains to your career in marketing, what would it be?

I would tell myself to focus on simplicity in marketing and relentlessly stick with it. The minute you stray from it, get confused or start to doubt yourself, your message gets cloudy and you move further away from the most important part of what you're trying to market.

2. What's the most unexpectedly important skill from your past that you've found plays into your success?

In Economics 101, we learned the principle of Ceteris Paribus, meaning "all else being equal." When looking at the effects of "laws" of economics, we make an assumption that all other variables will stay constant. In actual fact, they don't stay constant, but it helps us understand the variables we are studying. The lesson is that, when we want to do something truly disruptive and "game-changing," it's good to look at how we can change some of the variables that we would normally assume to be constant when we want to do something truly disruptive and "game-changing," it's good to look at how we can change some of the variables that we would normally assume to be constant. That taught me a different methodology to look for opportunities for what's going to change and be disruptive.

3. What are the three biggest trends that you see in tech marketing today?

In the past, marketers broadcast to their audiences. Today, marketers engage with them, largely online. In both models, you have to know your audience—the people you really want to reach. The difference is control. In the traditional model, you craft the message and very carefully control how it reaches your target audience. Today, we give up that control and co-create our message with our best customers and let them help us tell the story. While engagement takes many shapes, we're focused on three: crowdsourcing, influencer partnerships and user-generated content.

Crowdsourcing: Crowdsourcing is now a legitimate way to develop compelling creative. That wasn't the case several years ago, but now professionals are flocking to crowdsourcing platforms and communities, helping brands deliver unique programs in near real-time.

Influencer partnerships: YouTube now outranks traditional TV programming for millennials seeking entertainment. This surge in popularity has created YouTube stars who are remarkably different from celebrity entertainers. These online legends have cultivated large, loyal fanbases who engage regularly with the hosts, giving feedback and ideas and participating in programming in a new way. We've worked with YouTuber Ryan Higa to integrate him and his show in an authentic way around our ihackedlife campaign, where we show users tips, tricks and hacks that make life easier — both with our devices and more generally.

User-generated content: Technology and social media have changed the way we engage with consumers. Content is participatory, and users now drive campaigns with content they generate. A good example of this is our recent Hack the Logo campaign. After redesigning our logo, we invited fans to insert their best representations (photos and videos) of our brand attitude: never stand still. We got phenomenal results, and we showcased our fans' work at our booth at the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin.

4. How do your dual headquarters (in the U.S. and China) affect how your marketing department is organized? What's changed in your time at Lenovo?

Our company structure is a competitive advantage and allows us to create a global marketing framework that is flexible enough for regional teams to adapt to local tastes and preferences. While we have dual headquarters in Raleigh, North Carolina and Beijing, China, we truly are a global marketing organization with no geographic or time boundaries.

We have a core part of our team in Raleigh with others all over the world. We work closely with other marketers from our regions (North America, Europe/Middle East and Africa, Latin America and Asia Pacific) as well as marketers from our three business groups. As we continue to grow, it becomes harder to coordinate across all functions, so we're establishing some centralized processes that will help us manage complexity and efficiency.

5. Lenovo used to be perceived as strictly a Chinese brand — how have you reshaped and redefined your image using marketing? How has data informed and tailored your strategy and brand story to different countries/regions?

We have always viewed ourselves as a global brand since acquiring IBM's former PC business in 2005. Looking back 10 years later, we've made tremendous progress. We've launched our consumer business around the world. We've expanded beyond PCs—now Lenovo and Moto smartphones and servers—so more people are able to buy our products in more places. That's half the solution.

We've had to transform from a solely business-to-business company to become both a B2B and a consumer brand. And along the way, we've integrated a number of mergers and acquisitions, bringing brands like Medion and NEC under the Lenovo fold. We've done this by defining the core of the Lenovo brand and appealing to the values that drive our customers. Simply put, our products help you get more done and make life more interesting—from our convertibles that flip and fold to our servers that store and process business critical data. Like us, our customers never stand still. They are constantly finding better, faster ways to do things. We think this fits extremely well with our DNA and engineers who relentlessly tinker to make each device incrementally better.

We've used data extensively to better understand our customers. We used our brand tracker across 33 countries and 32,000 participants to track our growth in awareness and consideration across markets where we see strong correlation of increased investment in the brand with higher market share growth. Additionally, we embarked on a broad consumer segmentation study across eight countries with 24,000 participants to more deeply understand our target audience. We also created a social health index for analyzing our fans' engagement and sentiment on global social platforms.

6. How do you measure ROI? How has that changed over the last five years?

When we think about ROI models, we break them into two types: short and long-term. Short-term ROI typically involves generating sales by acquiring leads, closing business, increasing margin, etc. This is pretty easy to calculate as the "return" happens shortly after the "investment."

Long-term, strategic marketing used to build the brand or position a new category is more complex. Just look at our YOGA convertible. Totally different from other PCs on the shelf, we knew launching YOGA would be a strategic move that would help us define a new category and build a premium position. But, it may take much longer to get the return and we need a more complex and broader ROI model. While access to the many data points we have today helps us measure ROI, we must be careful not to constrain our actions by metrics that are too simplistic. The temptation may be to focus only on what we can measure easily and lose the balance between short and long-term investments.

Either way, as marketing professionals it is key for us to determine the metrics used to measure the results of our proposed activities as part of our proposals.

7. In the PC world, brand loyalty is a strong factor, especially at the enterprise level where Lenovo is competing for big corporate accounts. How does Lenovo A) Keep longtime customers faithful, B) Convince new customers to make the jump to Lenovo products and C) Maintain a level of engagement after purchase?

We have a successful track record for business customers in PCs because we listen to them and deliver high-quality products carefully designed to meet their needs.

We spend a lot of time getting customer feedback through our customer advisory councils, and it's an iterative process as we're constantly fine-tuning a product for its successor. When we came out with the YOGA convertible, business customers told us they wanted a YOGA for business, so we created the ThinkPad YOGA, which borrows a lot of the same thinking of the consumer YOGA but with business-class features.

In addition to industry-leading ratings for reliability, we provide a full array of service and support for commercial customers. We've continued to demonstrate better ROI over our competitors when it comes to total cost of ownership, from purchase to maintenance to disposal.

8. Over the last few years, Lenovo has really expanded its focus beyond PCs — to tablets, phones, even data centers and CIOs. How are you using marketing to build relationships outside of your sweet spot, and what's your biggest area for potential growth?

We have a three-pronged strategy for balanced growth: PCs, smartphones and enterprise servers. PCs and smartphones are huge volume plays, and servers are highly profitable. In many countries like China, Russia, India and Brazil, smartphones are now driving the brand more than PCs, so we are prioritizing marketing investments in that business. Enterprise customers are different from consumers and our marketing reflects that. We use experiential tactics like events, workshops and tours to educate customers about those products.

9. Speaking of new relationships, let's talk influencers, like the NFL, Conan, Ashton Kutcher and more. Are these reflective of a bigger push into the B2C space? How do these activities benefit your enterprise business?

At a global level, we like to engage with strategic partners like Ashton Kutcher where we are able to have a deep relationship. Ashton has been involved in all aspects of our products. He has created one of our most interesting products, the YOGA Tablet 2 Pro, a multimode tablet with a built-in projector, and he's been involved in marketing and promoting it. Using our global-local framework, our regions and countries have the flexibility to engage with spokespeople that make sense for their business. For example, the U.S. team has a partnership with the NFL, which helps engage with consumers as well as enterprise customers.

10. Change has been a common theme throughout this interview. To also end on this note, can you tell us a bit about Lenovo's new logo and color palette? What parts of the marketing department played a role in the change and did marketing insights play a part in instigating the change?

Our new logo, and in fact our entire brand identity system, came directly out of a core customer insight: The world we all live in simply never stands still. It moves at an incredible pace, and every day it seems to pick up speed. Obstacles come at us from every direction and it's everything we can do to bob and weave to avoid them. Yet somehow, we each keep moving forward and making progress every day.

As we move through this world, we actively seek out brands that seem to '"get" it. Brands that understand the dynamic nature of the world and are committed to helping us navigate it more effectively. The new Lenovo identity is designed very specifically to deliver on this never-stand-still philosophy.

It's the reason we designed a logo with a containing shape. We wanted our logo to be able to constantly evolve, and to provide a dynamic window into the world in which it lives. The container is designed to hold an endless array of content—from colors to pictures to animations to film. So the logo on in India during Divali will be very different from the logo on a social site in the UK during the World Cup.

We've released the logo to our 60,000+ employees, and many of them are designing personal logos that give an insight into their specific world. And we're working with fans and artists to develop a very cool series of user-generated logos.

Our color palette is simply an extension of this philosophy. Our former palette consisted of red, black and a few grays. Our new palette reflects the dynamic, colorful world that people live in, bringing in blue, green, orange and pink.

This new identity development was lead by the Worldwide Marketing team. However, we shared its development early and often through a series of town halls with a broad range of Lenovo employees. In fact (and not surprisingly) some of our most insightful feedback came from a town hall with over 50 of our millennial employees.