Uniquely HP: How to preserve the dominance of a brand

June 1, 2010

By Tom

In evaluation of the broad concept of “brand power” one can easily get lost. Companies may begin with a spark of natural intuition for customer need, and therefore invariably become a wild success. However, as companies grow and continue to innovate, intuition alone is insufficient in reaching sustainability and growth. Eventually, the needs of the customer will be ignored or lost in the wake of the firm’s overshadowing efforts to learn what the customer wants. This is a phenomena that has led to countless wasteful marketing pursuits and eventual decline of many companies, large and small alike. I suppose the most relevant example of this can be exhibited through Dell Computers and their recent sales decline in wake of a huge youthful advertising campaign that was accompanied by the release of a series of colorful laptops. While I realize that HP is nothing like Dell, I want to make sure the average consumer knows this as well.

Hewlett-Packard has sought out and achieved the solidification of the “brand power” for decades. However, in the rapidly evolving tech industry, competition is always adapting through new marketing approaches that have muffled the impact that Hewlett-Packard has previously enjoyed within its market – I want to take it back. How do I purpose my value proposition? The answer is simple yet opaque: simplicity. I intend to contribute to the construction of a new marketing approach, within the realm of aesthetics and grounded in the value of simplicity of design.

The appearance and presentation of Hewlett-Packard product and packaging must convey a certain “aesthetic simplicity” unique to their brand. While my proposition may seem boring and void of any originality or significant thought, take a moment to consider the following: Apple. Does saying that name leave a bad taste in your mouth? Well, unless you’re thinking of the fruit, it should. Apple has gone from being a niche company that catered to the status-conscious high-end computer market sectors to a common fashion commodity that within six years, and they did this without lowering their price! How did this happen? I argue that Apple’s success has been due their strict adherence to simplicity. Apple has become a not just a fashion commodity, but a movement that a large percentage of customers identify themselves with and they did this because their products are “uniquely Apple.” Being unique has reinforced their brand and being simple has allowed them to avoid fashion-driven adoption and therefore; disownment.

Simplicity of design, within the technical industries, must not be defined from one product to the next. New designs that place graphics on HP laptop casings for example, may look appealing but they send a signal to the consumer that ‘this product is disposable or risky’ and therefore influencing them to buy the ‘safe and simple’ competitor’s product instead. While I assume that your marketing departments put a good amount of detailed consumer research into these products before releasing them, I believe such efforts placed too much attention to fashion trends. Creating a distinct computer product aesthetic according to fashion-driven parameters forces constant change in production, increases the likability that misjudgment of the consumer may occur, and it mitigates the power of brand reconcilability. To analogize HP Laptops to moderately disposable items, such a designer t-shirt, may win you quick business among the younger technically enthused youth, but it will also assure that your product will be discarded as soon as your aesthetic approach (or fashion) grows stale. A HP Laptop must share design commonalities with an HP Desktop and an HP Laptop today must share design commonalities with an HP Laptop five years from now. Placing an emphasis on uniformity and simplicity will allow HP to more easily find consumer adoption across age demographics, cultures, and fashion trends.

Apple follows the principle of simplicity and uniformity in regards to their aesthetic presentation because it leads consumer attention towards their software innovations and portrays a statement of maturity and exclusivity. Their simplicity has been the catalyst to their recognizably and growth. With the growth of Apple, the division between MAC and PC users is also growing; and the younger crowd is cowering under the Apple tree in overwhelming numbers. How does HP win the youthful market-share and keep them as they mature? In order to answer this, we must first understand why HP is not necessarily “the company of the educated youth” and why HP must fight for that reputation or forever sacrifice the power of the brand.

The process of increasing consumer loyalty and customer base requires a bit of sociological and psychological liberty. It is at this point that I assert that HP has stumbled. Before you discount my perspective as rudimentary, or perhaps brazen; consider the following; Apple stigmatized Microsoft…and it worked. In a series of television and print commercials, the operating systems of Microsoft were likened to a chubby, pasty, awkward, neurotic imbecile who wears a suit. Apple, of course, was the portrayed by the young actor (Jason Long) as a “cool, urban, college-educated guy who condescends down to the embarrassing character playing Microsoft. Apple made no effort to passively convey or suggest their negative stigma towards the competition. With that campaign, Apple stated to the consumer “We’re cool, we’re smart, and you’re dumb if you aren’t with us.” Insecure college kids rush to stores to purchase their MAC products just like they rush to support liberal political causes and hang Bob Marley posters in their dorm rooms. Apple has managed to define themselves not as a popular product, but as “the tech company of the informed, smart, and always fashionable” whatever the fashions of that year may be. Their simplicity has allowed them to become “the company that is too cool to bother with graphics on their laptops.” My apologies to HP – I won’t mention Apple again, but I felt that I needed to in order to convey how one can assert so many statements from a simple marketing approach that I believe HP can do better than anyone.

HP needs to change minds, specifically within the younger populous; and that will not be done by changing colors and graphics on plastic computer casings to match handbags and the various personalities of their consumer base. While computers are getting more affordable, likening them to clothing items only likens HP to a clothing commodity, and not the technical powerhouse that that they are. HP needs to listen to the ideas of the customer less closely in order to speculate what motivated these ideas in the first place. Simply put, the need of the consumer is not discovered by asking them, but by listening to them. I assure you that there is an enormous difference between the idea and what motivated the idea in the first place. When the HP marketing department polled consumers and read consumer feedback, perhaps they listened too hard and read to literally. While I was not in the HP Board Room (even though I would love to have been) I like to imagine a group of marketing executives proposing the idea of pushing laptops like expensive Gucci Handbags and everyone asserting that the idea was gold because “people really do like buy fashion items like Gucci Handbags”. However, HP is not Gucci and consumers realize this on a multitude of conscious and subconscious levels. Loud aesthetic designs only scream for attention and suggest insecurity to the consumer. I pay homage to old adage “stick to the basics” and make the HP emblem the most complicated design on the product, whatever it might be. I like the HP saying of “The PC is Personal Again” but HP must make it easier for the consumer to define themselves by the way they use their computer and not by the way it looks. The computer should serve as a frame does to a painting; beautiful, exact and yet; understated.

Consumers want to fit-in and stand-out; all at the same time. They want a machine that looks sharp, smart, and sleek. With computers and technical devices, it is all the more important to emphasize “smart” into design. If HP Product looks simple, than it suggests that HP is obviously “smart” because they have no need for surface designs and complicated color schemes. Simple is always in fashion and suggests confidence, solidarity and security. Like the machine, people desire these three things in themselves and will pay a premium to obtain it. Aesthetic simplicity and uniformity is the catalyst that will allow HP to become “uniquely HP.”

Signed:

Tom Nuth, MBA 2011

http://www.tomnuth.me

thomas.nuth@rady.ucsd.edu

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One Response to “Uniquely HP: How to preserve the dominance of a brand”

  1. Ethnie Says:

    These subtleties and nuances though so critical are often lost in the noise of the present as we chase the ‘next big idea.’ Very often it is sitting right there.


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