Lenovo's challenge: to click with customers

Lenovo, the world's third-largest PC maker, is trying to boost its brand recognition in the Middle East and Africa. Jack Lee, the company's regional general manager, discusses the company's strategy - with gallery.
IdeaPad, Dh2,299 to Dh3,299: This brand of computers is more geared at style-conscious consumers who tend to play video-games, or those who like multi-tasking such as social networking and watching online videos. Courtesy Lenovo
IdeaPad, Dh2,299 to Dh3,299: This brand of computers is more geared at style-conscious consumers who tend to play video-games, or those who like multi-tasking such as social networking and watching online videos. Courtesy Lenovo

Jack Lee, the regional head of Lenovo, admits he faces a big challenge.

Unlike Sony and Apple, the electronics company based in Hong Kong, suffers a lack of brand recognition from shoppers in the Gulf states.

"Some of our competitors don't have the strongest of portfolios. Lenovo does, but how many people know about it?" says Mr Lee, Lenovo's regional general manager for the Middle East and Africa (Mea) and the chief operating officer for the company's emerging markets group.

"Lenovo may not have the brand equity of some of our partners," adds Mr Lee, but, he says, it has the "numbers".

The figures are impressive. Lenovo is the largest maker of PCs in China.

During its second quarter this year, the company's computer shipments increased nearly 23 per cent globally, helping it overtake its rival Acer as the world's third-largest PC manufacturer, according to a new report by the research firm IDC.

But how does the gadgets giant convince shoppers in the region it deserves the same attention as better-known competitors?

Last month, Lenovo announced a global marketing campaign to strengthen its brand perception as it continues to expand from business notebooks to a wider range of laptops, smartphones and tablets.

Regionally, the company employs about 60 staff and recently opened new offices in Cairo and Riyadh. Here, Mr Lee, who works at Lenovo's Dubai headquarters for Mea, discusses the company's strategy.

When did Lenovo first push into the Mea region?

We came here six years ago but really did not make any meaningful impact. We started in the Middle East and Africa, but all of that business was enterprise and commercial, and not much consumer business. I honestly felt we did not have the focus here. We had an office in the UAE, but really not the presence.

How are you using Lenovo's branding campaign to change that?

It is about educating the public [about] what is in this portfolio. Some of our competitors don't have the strongest of portfolios. Lenovo does, but how many people know about it? When you go to buy a PC from Carrefour it's somewhat of a commodity.

How do you get your brand noticed on the front lines in Carrefour or elsewhere?

First of all, you have to understand this is a relationship [with salesmen and promoters] and not just Lenovo. Everyone is approaching Carrefour or big hypermarkets. Why does our product stand out other than price? What is our support from retailers where we can get a better placement or slot? Maybe we get better promotion. If the promoters understand the difference [between our product and a competitor's], he can give an educated explanation.

Many companies launch branding initiatives. What's unique about Lenovo's?

It's the first time we've come under a unified brand. With our acquisition [of IBM's personal computing division] in 2005, and a recent one in Germany [of an electronics retailer], it's about time. We used to go under the Think-brand and Fun Ideas products. "Lenovo" in a way has been in the background.

How much is the company spending on its new campaign?

I feel that if a company can spend more than 1 per cent of revenue on marketing that's pretty good. For us, it would be north of that because it's a new campaign. We're a US$500 million (Dh1.83 billion) company in Mea; $21bn-plus [globally].

What are some of Lenovo's best-selling products in the region today?

The Think laptop does really well. It's the one companies trust, and we have customers such as Etihad Airways, Emirates Airline, Mubadala [Development, a strategic investment company owned by the Abu Dhabi Government] and colleges. We also do well with our Idea-brand and products that are much more fun.

Which electronics have struggled to catch on here?

You know, we are looking at the netbook. Some of these are priced so competitively. We still have a responsibility to make a profit, or at least break even. The netbook is one category where I've always thought strategically: "How do I attack this market?" Everyone now is talking about the tablet. Will it cannibalise the netbook? Is it a second PC?

And what is your opinion on the tablet versus the netbook?

I think the tablet is in a category of its own.

Tell me about the demographic you're going after with Lenovo's tablet.

Commercial [businesses]. We have our ThinkPad Tablet, which we sell to the commercial sectors. It's secure, and I think this is what big [companies] will be using. I think the security feature is a reliable feature.

Is Lenovo trying to compete with popular premium players such as Apple?

We spend a lot of money on research and development with our own design and innovations. We need to produce good products to make sure the users like them. But at the top range, I think we can stand on our own - based on design, price range and innovation. Lenovo is still the number three PC maker, and Apple is still a way away.

Have you tried out the iPad, and if so, how does it compare with Lenovo's tablets?

I've played with the Apple iPad. I don't own one. I've looked at a couple of other competitors' tablets as well. Everyone has their own features: some are light; some battery lives are longer; some designs may please other shoppers. It's really a personal thing.

What features are most important to potential customers?

It's important for a user to connect to other devices. As for the weight, when the Apple product came out I thought it was a bit heavy, but I looked at the second generation [and there were] some improvements. There are people who go for a specific colour, or price range. To each his own.

nparmar@thenationl.ae

 

Published: July 28, 2011 04:00 AM

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