Jennifer Risi
Q&A With Lenovo CMO David Roman

This piece was originally published on The Huffington Post.

This week, Ogilvy participated in The Holmes Report #PRovoke17 conference, a high-level forum that aims to engage senior marketers around the critical issues facing the profession and the companies it serves. As part of the conference, Ogilvy Worldwide Chairman and CEO John Seifert spoke with Lenovo Chief Marketing Officer David Roman on the increasing importance of brands and how digital communications is enabling the depth of engagement needed to drive growth today. Yesterday, I sat down with David Roman at the conference to get his perspective on the state of the industry and preview his keynote discussion.

Question: You’ve lived and traveled all over the world, how have these experiences shaped the marketing leader you are today?

Answer: Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to live and work in many different places and experience a variety of cultures. One of the things I noticed early on, and one of the lessons I’ve carried with me, is that when I was in a market I was less familiar with, I tended to be more cautious about making assumptions on what the local consumer audience might want. I listened more.

As marketing people, sometimes we fall into the trap of assuming that we know our audiences. But in reality, we should be approaching all of our projects like we’re in an unfamiliar environment and take the time to look, listen and learn to figure out the best ways to market to local audiences.

And while I know there is a lot of commonality across markets now, due to advances in digital technology, it’s important we as marketers approach our work this way to ensure our messages resonate in an authentic way.

Question: You often write about the importance of digital marketing and how it’s transforming brands today, can you share your perspective and offer some advice to folks that are going to read this column?

Answer: There is an opportunity to do marketing in a completely different way. When we first got into digital, it was like taking what we were doing with traditional media and providing a different way to deliver it – a little bit faster, more efficient, and customized.

The real power of digital allows you to have a deeper engagement with all audiences. Many of us were trained during a time when marketing was largely controlled – you crafted a clear story about the company, the brand, the products, and you controlled how that story went out, making it look as exciting and relevant as possible. Now the audience wants to be a part of crafting that story, which automatically provides us a way to make it relevant for them. Digital media gives us the opportunity to look at the whole marketing approach in a different way.

Question: Based in this new world where everyone wants to voice an opinion and everyone has an opinion, how do you manage that, especially for a major brand like Lenovo where you sell so many of your products direct to consumers?

Answer: Consumer opinions are very valuable. It’s a matter of engaging correctly with your audience and customers – looking for the ones who want to help you, as well as the ones that are giving you critical feedback. For example, customers look for peer product reviews on a brand’s website, and it’s important for brands to make all reviews available – good and bad. Our role as marketers is to engage with our audiences in a way that is relevant to them and that makes sense to them, and that means giving them the information they want and really listening to what they tell us.

Question: Like your peers, measuring the success of your campaigns is key. Now more than ever, marketing campaigns all over the world are under more increased scrutiny. How do you know a campaign is successful, and how do you measure success?

Answer: That’s the eternal question for marketing, because we’re spending a lot of money and everybody wants to see the return. When it comes to short-term sales promotion campaigns, it’s easy to measure the results in terms of sales. The longer-term ones are always more difficult, but now we have a number of tools that allow us to look at campaigns in real time and see how audiences are responding. Shareability is one of the biggest metrics for success for a piece of content, so asking is it disruptive or is it sharable becomes a critical factor.

As marketing people, we also can be overwhelmed by this permanent return on investment analysis because it’s pushing us to do things that are not easy to measure. As marketers, we have to stand firm and say we’ve got short-term goals and long-term goals; we can be very specific with some of the metrics for the short-term goals, but with the longer-term goals there has to be an element of trust and patience, because some of these things do take time.

Question: We are working in a new world facing so many challenges, what do brands need to do today in order to compete?

Answer: The key thing is we have to focus. At Lenovo, we use an internal catchphrase which is “fewer, bigger, bolder” in the sense that if you do fewer things – if you have fewer features that you talk about and do fewer things in the creative with the messages – and the more focused you can make it, the bigger you can make it. And because it’s big, you can make it bold.

If you want to create something that is disruptive and sharable, starting with fewer, bigger and bolder is a big help, and focus is the key thing. It’s so easy to go all over the place and to describe all ten different features of product, but it never really works. Focus is key.

Question: You’ve been in the industry for some time, and you’ve done a lot of really great things, if you could give advice to your former self just starting out, what would that be?

Answer: One thing that I learned years ago was this notion that we all want to focus on the customers – by definition we’re customer-centric – but not all customers are the same. And there’s an idea of good customers versus bad customers, and obviously any customer who pays for our product is by definition good. However, there are customers who are aligned with your brand, customers who buy the product for the right reasons, and customers who believe in what you’re doing – those are the ones who are going to become your advocates. The customers who buy your product for the wrong reasons, because it was cheapest one there or whatever it is, will always have problems and won’t become repeat customers.

It’s essential to model our marketing activity and growth around the needs of the good customers. Through the new tools that we have in digital media and social media, we have the ability to speak directly with those customers. We need to be very clear in our own minds on what we focus on and who the ideal audience is for what we’re doing. Then, let’s build things around them, not around the customers who ultimately will never be our best customers.

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