Lenovo leaps into global small business PC fray

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The three big Ps – productivity, price and performance – continue to powerfully influence PC purchasing trends among Canadian companies, recent research indicates.

That being the case, last week’s unveiling of the first ever Lenovo-branded PCs to be offered worldwide is certainly interesting news for small and midsized (SMB) companies here.

Related article in PCWorld.ca: Lenovo goes small (business)

Researchers, scientists and product design teams from China, Japan and the U.S. reportedly collaborated to create the new Lenovo 3000 product line, targeted at the SMB segment, where some of the greatest growth is expected – globally and in Canada.

Specific products in the line include the Lenovo 3000 desktop PCs (J series), and Lenovo 3000 notebooks.

The latter fall in three categories, all aimed at the SMB market: the 15-inch mainstream C100 notebook; the N100, a 14- or 15-inch widescreen featuring dual-core processor technology, and the V100 12-inch widescreen, “ultraportable” notebook.

With these new offerings Purchase, N.Y.-based Lenovo Group Ltd. is making its first forays into the global SMB PC market.

The company is attempting to garner marketshare in a space that – as one Canadian analyst points out – is already pretty crowded, with out-standing room only.

“There are tons of products and manufacturers out there,” said Michelle Warren, a PC market analyst with Evans Research Corp. (ERC) in Toronto. But she added that for small business PC customers “productivity factors” such as reduced total cost of ownership (TCO), and exceptional reliability are vital. “The support relationship is another area of importance.”

These factors, Warren said, are even more vital when it comes to notebooks.

It does seem Lenovo has taken this into account when designing its new 3000 product line, ancillary offerings (such as support) and the marketing game plan around these.

For instance, Lenovo’s marketing strategy relies on the “halo effect” viz. the company plans to capitalize on the reputation of its Think branded line (geared at mid-sized and larger enterprises) to give a marketing leg up to its new SMB-oriented 3000 products.

This was something that emerged from the presentation of Janice Dawes, business unit executive with Lenovo Canada at the launch event last Thursday. The overreaching brand will be Lenovo.Janice Dawes, business unit executive, Lenovo Canada>Text

“The overreaching brand will be Lenovo,” Dawes emphasized. “How we will brand Lenovo…is through our products: Think as well as our 3000 platform.” She said Think products are positioned as the “ultimate business tool” with associated qualities such as success, prestige and lower TCO. The slogan for the 3000 family is “the smart choice” – with associations such as worry-free computing, great value, and stylish design. However, Dawes said there is a “middle ground” of elements common to the Think and the 3000 brands that “represent our key attributes as a company.” She identified these overlapping attributes as: innovation, high quality and reliability (“our legacy coming from IBM”).

Other things being equal, it’s just possible this focus on the Lenovo brand may pay off, given current customer trends and preferences in Canada. “Brand name” is important to Canadian SMB PC customers, according to an ERC survey, last October, which polled more than 600 Canadian organizations across industry sectors.

Canadian PC market stats – presented by Warren at the Lenovo 3000 launch – project strong growth in the Canadian PC market, much of it happening in the consumer (21 per cent) and SMB (25 per cent) segments.

The Evans analyst cited two key growth drivers in these sectors:

• The ‘mobility’ push – exemplified by growing popularity of wireless connectivity and wireless e-mail;

• Demand for improved productivity – Canadian businesses, she said, are upgrading their PCs in a bid to improve efficiency and take advantage of new features and capabilities.

“The message from all this is technology matters,” Warren said. “[From a vendor perspective] improving customer response time and staying competitive is [also] really important.

Lenovo execs say they’ve heard the message loud and clear, and have designed the 3000 series desktops accordingly.

For instance, they point out that the new 3000 desktops include Lenovo care – a “productivity portal” that enables users to easily find information about the system and also provides one button system recovery.

“In the past, if users had a corrupted system, they may have had to start from the beginning, reloading their apps and their operating system (OS),” said Ryan Wires, a national sales specialist at Lenovo Canada.

“With one-button system recovery, in a matter of minutes, they can very simply recover all of their data, their apps, their OS.” Automatic updates, he said, is yet another feature that contributes to hassle-free computing by regularly “updating the included software and device drivers to ensure the system is always running at its peak.”

Lenovo also announced a marketing and sales strategy for the new 3000 products quite distinct from that of the Think line.

Dawes pointed out that traditionally, the Think products (targeted at larger enterprises) are marketed through face-to-face contact with sales reps. With these companies, she said, the emphasis is on customization, including customized service, cofig to order, and (potentially) 24×7 support.

Conversely, she said, small businesses (the target segment for the 3000 brand) are product driven, want standard configurations, and while they appreciate new technology, seek machines that help them get the work done – quickly and easily.

Lenovo is adopting a “channel neutral” strategy for this group, Dawes said. “We will sell via the Web, we will sell direct, we will sell via the channel – but there is a propensity for small business to go through the channel more often. They like to feel, touch observe the product.”

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