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How Lenovo got big results by placing small bets

3 min read

Brands & Campaigns

This guest post is by Jeremy Epstein, founder and chief marketing navigator at Never Stop Marketing, and Jay McBain, head of Lenovo’s small- and medium-business sector.

For six consecutive quarters, the small- and medium-business team at Lenovo had trailed its industry by an average of 10%. That changed significantly when Jay McBain, the director of the group, and his new team decided to try something different.

Instead of targeting on demographics, as had been traditionally done, they targeted based on behavior. But not behavior as in a “Like” button or a purchase, but as in “where” and “how” do people spend their time. “Targeting” is what they did only in the loosest sense of the word.

The Lenovo SMB team members employed the principles of Dandelion Marketing, taking advantage of the cost structure of digital, to spread their efforts to as many communities as possible. Instead of a few “big bets,” they made a lot of small bets, and more often. Much like a dandelion distributes its seeds — amid the reality that many of them will fail — this approach assumes that enough will succeed as to make it worthwhile.

How They Did It

McBain and his team identified 30 communities in which they thought their customers might be active. Then, they committed to executing 30 different marketing activities per community. Three of the most effective were:

  1. Instead of doing the traditional room drop or lunch sponsorship at a major convention, Lenovo gave away a Harley-Davidson, which cost half as much, but drove 50 times as much attention.
  2. Using a coveted keynote slot at a major industry event to pitch a Wi-Fi toothbrush — not because Lenovo was announcing one — but to illustrate the point of pervasive computing and positioning itself as the hardware vendor of the future.
  3. Embedding with a mobile cupcake vendor in New York City for the day.  The mainstream media became interested in a location-based business using Twitter and Facebook to make sales.  Lenovo was the technology enabler and received dozens of media mentions.

Once they began the “conversation” with potential advocates and customers, they worked to cultivate those relationships, earning people’s trust and attention. Among other things, the Lenovo team members fully committed to participating in a genuine and authentic way. They added thought leadership to the communities — as opposed to selling to or through them.  They fully engaged in forums, guest blogs, podcasts and webinars, as opposed to just advertising.

What about ROI?

Measuring success for Lenovo was a challenge. There isn’t the instant feedback that a direct mail or coupon code gives.  So they took a “barometer” approach to measuring the business, rather than the traditional thermometer approach.  For example, measuring the impact of a tweet would be foolish, but the underlying momentum of the community and the resulting behaviors are easier to gauge.
Lenovo’s success provides a glimpse into the future of how organizations must rapidly identify, test, and adapt their efforts to a highly fragmented world. Numerous small bets really can, in concert, generate big results.