Lenovo-branded wheels set in motion

PC maker is all set to market Lenovo-branded products outside of China, starting with a new branding campaign to win over the small and midsize market.

Lenovo is ready to execute its global push this year, according to a senior company executive.

The Chinese hardware manufacturer is embarking on a phase to establish its brand outside China, its home turf, using both the Think and Lenovo product lines, said Ou Shian Wei, general manager for ASEAN and South Asia at Lenovo, during an interview with ZDNet Asia.

The move, said Ou, is to capitalize opportunities in the growing small and midsize market (SMB) as well as "non-metro" areas or the relatively untapped regions in South Asia, such as Chiang Mai and Hatyai in Thailand, and Cebu, Philippines.

It's a two-pronged approach--we'll continue to innovate [on] the Think brand, both in terms of ThinkPad and ThinkCenter," explained Ou. "At the same time we're launching the Lenovo brand outside of China, sometime this year. That would also address the growth of the SMB and the non-metro [space]."

Ou said that Lenovo-branded desktops and notebooks will be launched globally in 2006, but did not give a more specific timeframe.

ZDNet Asia understands that Lenovo will be making a major announcement at the end of February, but the company declined to confirm the nature of the announcement and if the new computers will be launched then.

What is confirmed is a major advertisement campaign to promote the Think brand, said Ou. The campaign will commence Wednesday, with television commercials in Malaysia and Singapore, and outdoor and print advertisements in the region.

Ou added that the ongoing winter Olympic Games in Torino, Italy, will be instrumental in the company's branding efforts. Lenovo's partnership with the International Olympic Committee bears testimony of the company's people and technology, and will propel Lenovo "onto the world stage", he noted.

"The timing is perfect. We executed the first phase to stabilize the business…now we want to come out and launch the Lenovo brand worldwide," said Ou. "We said 'Let's build the Lenovo brand' and suddenly [there is] the Olympics, which I would say is the single largest event in the world."

"In China, we [command] 37 percent of the market share, so we are definitely a very dominant player. We want to build our global branding, and the Olympic event helps to [kick-start this]," he added.

According to Ou, the company has worked towards merging separate units that perform similar functions in the IBM division and Lenovo, into a single unit, to achieve "operational excellence" since May 2005, when Lenovo finalized its purchase of IBM's PC division. The drive towards operational efficiency also resonates with Lenovo's CEO William Amelio, whose "core competency" is in that area, he added. Amelio, just two months into the job, was formerly president of Dell's operations in the Asia-Pacific region.

Ou said Lenovo will leverage on and continue to expand its distributor network to target the focus markets, instead of adopting a direct-selling approach akin to Dell's.

"We do have direct customers--some of these global customers who dealt with IBM PC previously--we now support them directly," noted Ou. "But those are the global accounts where we have special requirements or where they do not need any distribution."

"Those are the exceptions; otherwise we focus very much on our business partner strategy. We continue to build [on] that strength [for] the SMB and non-metro markets," he added.