Lenovo’s CMO on marketing its AI-powered technologies in a new and crowded market
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With so many AI-enabled devices arriving on the market this year, what will it take to stand out?
Last week, hundreds of companies showcased their wares in Las Vegas at the 2024 Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Tech giants and startups alike debuted an array of new laptops, smartphones, TVs and other devices powered by generative AI.
One of the major brands with a presence was Lenovo, which debuted dozens of new devices with AI features including for creativity, gaming and productivity.
Alongside new laptops and tablets, Lenovo also debuted new AI chips, new AI software for creators and a new Microsoft Copilot key for AI-enabled PC keyboards. Other new features are for subsidiaries like Motorola, which debuted a way to use AI-based image recognition to help retail teams. Lenovo also revealed a new AI-powered avatar to help people with disabilities, which was created in collaboration with the startup Deepbrain AI and nonprofit Scott-Morgan Foundation.
Creating new categories like AI-powered PCs requires both educating consumers and marketing against competitors, said Emily Ketchen, CMO and VP for Lenovo’s intelligence devices group and international markets. It also requires balancing the potential benefits of AI with how to develop it responsibly.
“We see [AI] as very much a rolling thunder,” Ketchen said. “It is starting now, it is here, and we have launched it with a number of our other industry colleagues. As technologists, we’re always defining the future and creating meaning for the future and lending what the possibilities will be.”
At CES, Ketchen sat down with Digiday for an interview about Lenovo’s latest innovations, strategies for marketing AI products and how the company’s experimenting with AI.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Digiday: Why is the new AI PC a big deal for Lenovo and what’s your plan to market it?
Ketchen: I think AI and AI PCs portend a huge future for PCs in general. We see it as several different things. First and foremost, AI has a very, very good future in how we think about creating that very personal interaction with your PC. So the PC being able to know you really well and to be able to sort of forecast the way that you behave. It learns your patterns and learns your rhythms… What’s important about [the newly announced AI products] is it’s all about differentiating what we think about an AI and what we bring to the table versus the competition.
You don’t want to get caught in the hype cycle. You want to make it benefit-oriented, because I do think there’s also some level of concern around AI. Not everybody understands it, not everybody wants it. And so we’re very committed to AI for good. We think that it portends good for the future. So that’s where we’re very focused in the context of that. And in the context of premium devices, why would you want AI? What does it bring to you? What does it give to you? And what does it help you to do? Those are the questions that we’re answering from a marketing perspective.
So you’re educating and marketing at the same time.
Yes. It’s category creation to some extent. That’s a very glib way to put it and I don’t mean to sound that way, but you are creating a whole new category. Several years ago, crypto was going to change everything. And then the metaverse was going to change everything. But I think AI really is here. And certainly at Lenovo, we’ve been using AI and working with AI for years and years. And we have announced a $1 billion investment in R&D anchored to AI over the next several years. It’s definitely something we see a commitment to.
How do new AI tools change advertising and analytics on different platforms?
It opens up all kinds of different opportunities in the context of how you run a campaign. In the old traditional way of marketing — and I don’t mean that in a pejorative way — it was all about an integrated campaign that very much looked and felt the same way. Kind of a matching luggage. Today, the hypothesis is you can put a whole bunch of different kinds of creative into the algorithm. You can see and test which one plays best, and they may not look alike.
If you talk to Gen Z, what they like is a story from a brand that with multiple different permutations don’t look anything like one another. But they’re on message and they’re on point. I spend a lot of time thinking about and researching and working with Gen Z. We have a whole panel that we tap on an ongoing basis. And for them, it doesn’t have to all look the same and feel the same, but it needs to speak to them. And they’re moving really quickly, right? They’re scrolling faster than we can so you’ve got to be dynamic and quick. I think that is changing marketing.
I’ve also heard from some CMOs that AI could help companies collaborate with their ad agencies. Do you see the potential for that?
I completely think that’s real. It’s going to actually change the briefing processes because the most difficult thing to do is to author a really compelling brief. You read it and it seems to [say] run, make the concept and go. I spent 15 or 16 years of my career in an agency as an account person curating creative and inspiring creatives and trying to simulate them. What if you can do that through a brilliant brief, if you can write the baseline of the brief? Just like the great writer Anne Lamont with “Bird By Bird,” which is one of my favorite books. Just get it out, refine, refine, refine. I can have [AI] give me a brief and I can refine it and make it clever and give an example. I think it’s going to transform that process… It gives me something to show the creative team [and say] ‘can you see this coming to life?’ and they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, now see it coming to life.’”
How do you break through the clutter at events like CES where so many major brands are competing for attention with their own product announcements?
If you put the customer at the center of it, it will break through. And then you just have to quantify. What breaking through looks like if you come here with the right level of expectation and you want to be part of the conversation and lead the conversation? Think about it: One in every three Windows-based PCs in the world is a Lenovo. So we have a great platform to be able to tell that story. Then the platform becomes the responsibility, becomes the opportunity and then you have to make sure you cut through. That’s a big part of a multi-pronged approach…It’s not about being showy about what you have. It’s about being smart and understated and refined about what you have so it actually does have a chance to break through.
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