When Arthur Wei took over as Lenovo’s China CMO, the brand’s image reflected its heritage as a three decades-old former state-owned PC manufacturer.
Today it is still mostly a PC player, but its growing business in mobile phones and smart TVs has driven it online to reach younger consumers. Over that period, customer perceptions have evolved from that of “a middle-aged man” to a thirty-something, Wei said.
As a PC firm the company had sought to build an image of being trusted and responsible, he points out. But that gets turned on its head when it comes to the red-hot smartphone market, some sectors of which have seen growth rates of 80 per cent in China. Whereas consumers might buy a new computer every three years, young Chinese change their phone as often as every six months. That recognition prompted Lenovo to refresh its brand and two years ago it began to consumerise its image “to be the brand packed with dynamics, energy and fashion”, Wei says.
Much of this thrust toward younger consumers has come from Lenovo’s digital marketing team, made up of about 15 in-house staff and another 80 agency employees.
They work across four domains: social, mostly Weibo and WeChat; search engine optimisation; a fan club; and portals and verticals. The focus is currently on socialising the brand with the customers on a regular basis, Wei says.
“This means that we tell them the story, they give us the feedback, and so this has turned interactive and will help us not only to form the brand image but also improve the products from time to time.”
In China’s intense online environment, this trend is taking communications and the whole sales process into new places.
In one current case, popular consumer IT site ZOL asked readers what kind of PC they wanted to buy, with what components and at what price point. The answer was a 14-inch laptop with a fast processor (i7), an independent graphics card and a large one-terabyte memory, all of which normally would sell for 5,000 or 6,000 yuan. But the punters wanted to pay just 4,000 yuan.
The editor posted a challenge to all the PC vendors to say: ‘I have 100,000 customers asking for this product, can you provide me with this?’
“So this kind of interaction is interesting because if we introduced the product, it’s guaranteed sold,” Wei says.
While Lenovo is unique in doing PCs, tablets and smartphones (and has strong business in each category), it is not so straightforward to leverage across segments.
Wei notes that the smartphone market is attractive because of its sharp growth, and going digital helps to cut marketing costs. In the mature PC market by contrast, costs have already been cut to the bone.
Yet online is not the best place for selling a smartphone, where “everything has been disconnected from the customer”, and they cannot touch or feel the products. “But with PCs, they just need to know the configurations and the price.”
Wei says his biggest challenge is sifting through the huge troves of customer data collected online, which reveal how many pages a person has visited and how much time is spent on each page.
Because of the volume of data it’s a massive task to interpret it. A single request to a data warehouse involves billions of data points and may take about a week to respond. The answers are still being digested.
“So data mining is the biggest challenge right now and the current infrastructure is not able to help you to do that. The current infrastructure analyses logical data, but when you’re talking about sound, photos, graphics, websites those are parallel computing materials.”
- 2007 Vice-president, strategy and business operations, Lenovo Greater China/CMO Greater China
- 2005 Brand director and general manager, HP North China
- 2002 Telecommunications manager, HP Global Partner Alliance
- 2001 Global sales manager, HP Solution Products and Consulting Services
- 1997 General manager, integrated circuit business division, HP China
- 1996 Affiliate business manager, HP China
Sophia Ong, national planning GM, Tencent Online Media Group
Mobile internet users in China currently account for nearly 90 per cent of the total online population. The comparable figure for the US is only about 60 per cent. Of all the mobile internet users, over 70 per cent of those in China have used mobile commerce compared to just 31 per cent in the US. WeChat is no longer simply a social media platform, but it has evolved into a new hyper economic ecosystem established by the mobile internet, for the mobile world.