Great marketing is about demand creation. It’s about filling an unfulfilled need, or creating a need and then filling it. When done right, it’s magical to experience.
Marketing has many elements, of course. There’s:
- inbound marketing which helps define customer requirements into the technology group, or
- product marketing that makes sure the product is well positioned with a clear value proposition, or
- corporate marketing which does some brand and pr “aircover”,
- and field marketing which helps generate leads.
So when I say marketing, I’m using the big “M” of marketing; all of these pieces that connect the user interest to the product technology.
And it’s with that context that I want to take a look at HP’s recent campaign of “Computer is Personal Again”. I’m not sure how many of you have been paying attention to it. Actually, I’m wondering how long ago you have started to tune out. It’s been in every major magazine (Wired, Fast Company, Business 2.0, Fortune, Forbes), daily publication (WSJ, London Times, etc) and every relevant online website. It even got several articles on the campaign itself. It is by far the biggest advertising expenditure I’ve seen in the tech field since the boom (pre-2001). In case you haven’t seen it, here’s an example:
And then there’s this one:
There I just helped create another 2 impressions.
HP: Is the hand really personal?
If money is the measure, it’s clear that HP is trying to do something grand. But the question for me is whether it is working, if it is real, if it will create an enduring value …
Let’s look at this against some criteria:
1. Does it communicate a solid value proposition?
2. Does it connect with people at an emotional level?
3. Is it Real. Is what the company says really who they are and will the experience of the product / solution / service be that of the “promise”.
Marketing can be defined as all the actions you take to increase sales without lowering the price. This is critical in the PC market, where manufactures have to fight the price game and escape becoming a commodity. How do you avoid this fate? I think they need to relate themselves to a higher value that customers care about and associate it with their product through a compelling story. “The Computer is Personal Again” campaign focuses on the higher value of the personal computer. The advertising claims, “Your personal computer is your backup brain. Its your life and the life of your business.” They go on to say, “Today HP is making the entire experience of owning a computer more personal than ever before. We are designing products that offer you ever greater power, simplicity, and security.” They boldly claim, “When you own a personal computer from HP, you own something more than the right to demand that the personal computer will finally live up to its name.”
Okay. That’s great! I’m in. (am I the only person who wants to fall for these ads?)
Demands go running through my mind:
- Will it remember my passwords so I stop fighting as I go to each unique site?
- Will it make blogging easier?
- Will it enable dictation tools so I can use my drive time more effectively?
- Will it protect me from losing files?
- Will it integrate in many things so I don’t have to think about add-on devices and related compatibility issues?
But then, I look at the rest of the ad. I get sad.
Right below the hand, they list hardware specs of speeds and feeds. Huh? Does this make sense? That’s not personal. At least not to me; feeds and speeds of hard drives and chip sets while top of the line have always been a part of the promise.
I will suggest here that there is no connection between HP’s personal computer attributes, and the advertising campaign’s messages. It’s a malfunction between product design and marketing decisions. HP does little to back-up its claims. Their personal computers don’t feature any hardware or software improvements that actual makes the computer a more powerful personal tool. Oh, and for all of you HP fans, let me share an alternative that could have made it true.
If HP were to fulfill the promise of “a pc is personal” I think they would have done something different. One idea that my very own non-technology mind could come with is this. Perhaps HP would think about what people use their computers for today and could technology that HP enables create more connection. In this day of social networking, blogging, flicker etc, we all have multiple sites we go to interact and engage with others. But in each of those of different applications, consumers like myself need to log in with different identities. As a blogger, I need to log into Movable Type, then to Linked In with a different user name and password is used. Every day, millions of people like myself are doing redundant tasks because those web apps require a new identity for each one. A hardware vendor that cared about making the computer personal might find a way to create an identity link through all of those networks. With their R&D budgets, how much product development would it take for HP to create a tangible product difference that would not only deliver on the campaign’s promise, but also support the corporate tag line: Invent?
The power of a Marketing Promise.
When a company does marketing well, it provides a “decision short-cut” that connects the philosophy of the company with specifications that make a promise real. Consumers today have too much choice; when product differentiation is lost or confused, marketing makes the choice easy or at least easier.
Is the ad working or is Dell just weak? All that said, HP and Dell products are perceived close to parity in web polls, although Dell has had strong share position. Dell, of course, has had a series of mishaps including their battery issue and now most recent management turnover. With this advertising, HP has done something to Dell by reducing Dell’s share of voice. So even when the ads focused on features, they are still putting HP prominently out there at a time when Dell is vulnerable.
The PC campaign uses two communication strategies simultaneously. HP couldn’t make its mind up which one to use — a promise story or product story. – so it used both of them. As a product campaign the print executions include model numbers, product features, pricing and a purchase call to action. Unfortunately, it never gets around to telling the promise story.
A hand graphic and a tag line – the computer is personal again – is not a story unto itself. HP simply doesn’t know how to dialogue with consumers and tell them a story that’s believable on a rational or emotional level. If they could, it would be a very powerful reason for consumers to consider HP during the purchase decision process.
With the last few weeks, HP is using an old-Apple trick of bringing out cool people to talk about their advertising. I’ll be interested to see if those carry on the story or are more smoke and mirrors to simply position a commodity product.