Lenovo's lead gen strategy: Banking on social conversations and comic strips

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly resulted in marketing budget cuts across companies with about 30% to 40% of marketing budget on average is assigned to trade show sponsorship, travel, expenses, attendance and collateral, marketing management software NewsCred found. Trade shows, one of the main platforms for B2B companies to get valuable face time with prospective clients to connect, build trust and convert deals have also taken a massive hit. However, all is not lost for B2B marketers. Many marketers in the B2B space are now having to think out of the box in their attempts to reach new audiences. 

One such brand is Lenovo. Lenovo Data Center Group's (DCG) Asia Pacific CMO Sachin Bhatia (pictured) told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE that the networking never stops for B2B firms despite the lack of trade shows and offline events and virtual conversations have still aided B2B companies such as Lenovo in lead generation, fitting right into the marketing journey. “At Lenovo DCG, we have spoken to executives, briefing them about the importance of their social media presence and how they should orchestrate themselves. LinkedIn content from our executives resonate with present challenges. We do less of a brand push and production,” he said.

Going beyond the norm, Lenovo DCG also came up with its own in house comic strip Tech Tonic in September. Bhatia said the company uses it to talk about its software-defined and hybrid cloud offerings from a humorous and entertaining perspective. To date, it has seen more than 4,000 subscribers for Tech Tonic and Bhatia said: “I can’t stress enough that thinking out of the box is crucial in a pandemic.”

He explained that the pandemic has resulted in audiences consuming a lot more serious, and perhaps even negative content. As they are bombarded with news around the pandemic, the attention span in the digital space is now dropping to mere seconds.

"We wanted to create content that people would be happy to consume and excited to share with peers. The series of comic strips helps Lenovo DCG customers understand the importance of tech, while engaging with them in a light-hearted manner," he added.

lenovo dcg tech tonic

The main focus for B2B firms in the current climate, Bhatia explained, is digital strategy and how to deliver effective content online to stay engaged with customers. According to him, content marketing has evolved from merely blog posts and editorial strategies to a holistic approach that relies on a wide range of digital marketing strategies.

They include email, social media, SEO and paid media to continue engagement with consumers. Meanwhile without a doubt, the social media space has also become a lot more cluttered due to the amount of content brands are putting out to engage consumers. From Lenovo DCG’s perspective, Bhatia said it wants to ensure that its engagement with customers is done with their challenges, priorities and needs in mind.

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“Marketers need to think of how to adapt both paid and organic activities to not only match the current zeitgeist, but also drive efficiencies that will allow businesses to maximise their potential during the coming weeks and months,” Bhatia added. He added that if marketers were to learn one thing from the current climate, it is that they should not wait for problems to develop or for the market to point in a clear direction before making plans and taking action.

Define your scenarios, monitor your customers and plan for marketing changes by working closely with other departments.

“Among marketing’s greatest challenges is predicting how customers’ wants, needs, expectations and purchasing decisions will evolve - and with the landscape around us in constant flux, CMOs need a proactive plan to adjust and adapt how they lead their teams, speak to their customers, and manage their brands,” Bhatia added.

At Lenovo DCG, for example, the sales and marketing teams collaborated to quickly roll out a virtual desktop infrastructure campaign as it knew businesses were prioritising getting their teams up and running remotely. Various collaterals were developed and shared with sales teams to equip them with material they needed to speak with consumers.

Additional strategies besides virtual events

Virtual events have become a commonplace nowadays, as companies quickly adapted their offline events. Besides embracing online events, Bhatia said marketers can accelerate account-based marketing (ABM) communications. One of the key benefits of a trade show is the focused audience, he said, adding that targeting through ABM tools helps to reach out to customer profiles that make sense for the businesses, while tailoring messages to suit them.

“Another tip would be to go back to basics and review some fundamentals such as the SEO of the website, or ensuring social channels such as LinkedIn are up-to-date. With more people spending time online than ever before, cleaning and refining your own online profile is critical,” He added.

The ability to maintain a personal touch during virtual events is important to building relationships and forming long-lasting impressions. In a world now filled to the brim with webinars and online recordings, the lack of a personal touch can mean that a virtual event is easily lost in the crowd and forgotten. According to Bhatia, simply uploading pre-recorded videos is insufficient. Instead, having a live Q&A segment or breakout sessions with smaller groups can facilitate more interaction and excitement. Features such as polls can also help encourage participation from attendees.

Bhatia’s team, for example, conducted a virtual C-Suite Chat Show in June, which not only featured spokespeople taking questions in real-time, but also included a breakout segment covering three specific topics with different speakers. He said this allowed participants to choose and join the group discussion that they found most relevant or interesting to their business.

“While it may be challenging to replicate the same levels of engagement and interaction as physical events, technology has definitely allowed businesses to maintain effective communication with their customers and stakeholders,” he added.

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What digital transformation means and where can brands start?

The pandemic has propelled companies to accelerate the digitisation of their customer and supply-chain interactions and of their internal operations by three to four years, McKinsey Global Survey of executives released this month said. The survey added that the share of digital or digitally-enabled products in the companies’ portfolios has accelerated by “a shocking seven years”. For Asia in particular, COVID-19 has accelerated the digitisation of customer interactions by four years, compared to Europe and North America which each saw three years.  

According to McKinsey, executives surveyed said funding for digital initiatives “has increased more than anything else”, i.e. more than increases in costs, the number of people in technology roles, and the number of customers. Furthermore, most executives recognise technology’s strategic importance as a critical component of the business, and not just as a source of cost efficiencies, the survey added.

While companies have jumped on the digital transformation journey as a result of the pandemic, Bhatia said firms must also be careful not to rush into implementing any and every digital solution available in the market. Reason being, each organisation has its unique needs and requirements and there is no one-size-fits-all strategy or solution.

“Proper planning and analysis must be conducted before IT projects are adopted. This means assessing and understanding both current and future needs of the business. Ideally, the digital projects that companies choose to pursue during this pandemic period will continue to be useful and relevant post-pandemic. The last thing any business wants is to find itself stuck with IT that does not meet its business demands in the future,” he added.

Furthermore, companies that embark on their digital transformation journey must also have the right mindset.

True digital transformation is a long-term process and not just a stop-gap temporary solution. It is not the lone responsibility of the IT department, nor just the leadership and management.

Bhatia added that for businesses to enjoy the full benefits and advantages of successful digitalisation, commitment and buy-in should be achieved throughout the organisation.

“For starters, let’s be clear - all business leaders, CMO included, should be invested in the entire organisation’s digital development, and not working in silos to ensure their department alone is moving ahead,” he said.

A successful digital transformation requires a multi-department approach and this entails cooperation and commitment from throughout the organisation. As such, the heads of each and every department must first come together to strategise and see the bigger picture. Bhatia explained that with a clear understanding of how digital transformation will benefit the company, and clarity on the role that each department plays, the respective business leaders will be better positioned to motivate and guide their teams towards achieving this common goal.

Meanwhile, while the internal process is important, marketers must also look at customers and what their needs are - a multi-disciplinary approach needs to be planned to ensure digital transformation benefits an organisation internally and externally.

Technology does not hold the key for businesses to achieve transformation - it is only a tool to get there.

“By embracing digital methodologies, business models and opportunities, businesses can put their customers at the heart of the business transformation and, where marketing plays a key role in leading the way,” he added.

Bhatia also addressed the concern among marketers that as technology develops and solutions become “smarter”, digital transformation presents a threat to their livelihoods. However, he believes that while technology will develop and become capable of doing many tasks, digital solutions are built to complement human workers, and not replace them.

For example, the rules for machine learning and codes required for AI solutions to function still rely on humans, and the application of insights derived from data analysis need real people to connect the dots.

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