Could David Roman Enable Lenovo to Rival Apple?

With fresh talent at Lenovo, the scrappy PC maker just might challenge Apple. Yet there are important caveats.
This morning I had a Holy Crap moment when I read that David Roman had left HP and joined Lenovo. Of all the folks in the PC space that do marketing, David Roman stands alone as the only executive that has executed a program that matched if not exceeded Apple’s best.

Even more amazing is he did this with a budget that was a fraction of what Apple uses. The fact that he is ex-Apple himself shouldn’t surprise anyone. But PALM is a showcase of the fact that a lot of folks came out of Apple who couldn’t repeat Steve Jobs success.

Lenovo, during the 4th quarter of last year, outgrew all of the other major PC vendors and that was without any CMO. A few weeks ago I wrote on how David Roman was the magic sauce that could turn the HP Tablet into an iPad killer and clearly had no idea he was about to jump shop for Lenovo.

Could David Roman be the silver bullet that will move Lenovo to the top of the PC pile?

Maybe, let’s explore that.

Apple and the Power of Marketing

Apple is the only truly marketing-driven PC company in the segment. They design their products so that they can be easily marketed and sold. They focus on fewer products and larger marketing budgets, simplicity over complexity, and their customer satisfaction and loyalty scores are envied, much as their margins are, by companies in and out of the technology segment.

Apple uses marketing to herd customer to the few products they build – as opposed to the more common practice of having broad lines in a shotgun approach to customer’s existing wants and needs.

Apple’s competitors are largely engineering driven companies with product names that are made up of letters and numbers that are hard to pronounce and remember as opposed to simply memorable names like Power Mac and iMac. The result was a firm that exited the last decade with a CEO that was so highly regarded that he was identified as the CEO of the decade. Granted Steve Jobs was already legendary but this made his unique success even more enviable.

Recently I’ve been watching Apple move into the enterprise at an impressive rate and, apparently, they are already taking over the top executives’ desk at an alarming rate from companies like Dell, HP, and Lenovo.


Lenovo had been struggling with their Chinese-based products that, while interesting, had been largely unsuccessful outside of China. Their ThinkPad brand, once considered the highest quality in the segment, had declined after separation from IBM.

This changed dramatically last year when a strong line of consumer products and better targeted business offerings helped them grow at an impressive rate by year end. However, they were still far from being able to challenge the kind of success that Apple has enjoyed. They demonstrated that they could match on product. Yet they did not have the marketing chops to compete with Apple on image and demand-generation.

At one time they even had Smartphones that would position well against the iPhone, but divested that business. However, they recently bought it back – setting up for what could be a Battle Royal between the two companies.

Marketing the Missing Link

What David Roman brings to the table is a mix of marketing expertise and creativity, particularly when it comes to using small budgets that may exceed Apple’s. Granted he won’t be able to do this alone and his success will depend heavily on the support he gets from his new company. But for the first time in a decade we may be watching the rebirth of a company that has the potential to truly go toe-to-toe with Apple – and win.

There is clearly a big “if” in this because Lenovo is still largely an engineering driven company and one that is largely run out of China now. While that may give the firm an edge on price and manufacturing resources, a battle with Apple is on image, product quality, and unique experience.

Still Lenovo is experimenting with a Linux-based platform where they focus on the user experience (much like Apple uses UNIX to create the MacOS) and they have Android-based products coming, both suggesting they are willing to create products that could have similar potential to Apple’s own.

If these efforts can be driven from a marketing perspective – using David Roman’s unique eye for what showcases well in the market – then the result could be magical and Lenovo would be truly reborn.

Wrapping Up: We Should Know By the 4th Quarter

Potential doesn’t assure success, it only showcases the strong possibility. Lenovo is different from Apple and HP both in terms of resources and cultural makeup.

David will be new and won’t initially have the political clout that he naturally will need to be successful. And the company will need to adapt to his capabilities at least as much as he will need to adapt to it. This all goes to the point that a positive outcome isn’t certain and Lenovo’s last CMO left before even really taking on the job.

Still, Lenovo’s recent success coupled with David Roman’s capabilities could create that perfect storm result that has the potential to put the company at the top of their segment. While this outcome isn’t certain it is more likely with Roman on board and we’ll likely know by the 4th quarter of this year whether David Roman’s magic can transform Lenovo into a star that has the potential to challenge Apple. This is a big move for both Roman and Lenovo – here is hoping that the result actually achieves its potential. Holy crap, indeed.

Tags: PC, iPad, Apple, PC sales, Lenovo

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