An analyst’s guide to business lifestyle marketing

Simon Yates is an executive by day and a consumer by night, and he’s tired of marketers who confuse the two.

A senior analyst with Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass., Yates recently published a note urging PC marketers

to reconsider how they approach the business community. While vendors commonly use segmentation and lifestyle marketing to reach consumers, he says the same techniques can and should be used to entice corporate buyers as well. That’s why he’s advocating what he calls “”business lifestyle marketing”” that will align all branding and messaging with an executive’s specific needs.

Yates spoke with Pipeline about what a business lifestyle marketing campaign would include, and how manufacturers can get started.

Pipeline: What exactly is the problem with the way PCs are being marketed to business versus the way they are to consumers?

Simon Yates: Consumers have historically purchased computers based on what they’ve been told by the vendors selling to them. They’ll tell you need a certain size of processor, you need a certain size of hard drive, from very small to 120GB. We’ve sort of been trained to look at PCs as this series of checklist features, where we expect to pay more for higher levels of functionality. So faster processors cost more, bigger hard drives cost more. The only way that the industry has figured out how to convey how two machines that look identical on the outside but have very different components and one is worth more than the other is by attaching these feature metrics to it. As opposed to tying in a usage model.

Pipeline: What do you mean?

SY: In other words, how is the person who buys this computer actually going to use it? Is it just for basic e-mail, Internet access and those kinds of low-compute applications? Then you don’t need the highest-end machines. But if you’re going to be playing games like Far Cry and Doom 3, you need faster processors with more memory and better displays. There’s a gradual shift, especially in the notebook market where concepts like mobility and battery life and carry weight are the new metrics.

Pipeline: Who would be a good example of lifestyle marketing done right?

SY: Apple has kind of mastered in general this idea of attaching lifestyle usage models to a particular kind of device that they’re selling. Whether it’s an iPod or iBooks, they relentlessly promote against that usage model. It’s for people downloading tunes, and you don’t tend to hear a lot from Apple about how big the processor, hard drive or display is. They promote to the lifestyle as opposed to the componentry.

Pipeline: Is it just that the vendors don’t have as good a grip on the lifestyles of the business community they way they might among consumers?

SY: There are two things, I think, in play. One is they’re all competing with each other on the same component lines. They’ve just gotten ingrained with the idea that these incremental feature gains are worth more money to the consumer, but the consumer isn’t necessarily able to equate those features with some new perceived value. For the true geeks among us, we can understand it, but for the mass market, the general PC buyer, they generally don’t know what these things are, and how one is better than the other.

Pipeline: How much of this is due to a disconnect between the marketing and sales within vendor companies?

SY: You could make the argument quite successfully that it’s their marketing that’s terrible, and it’s their sales who really know what people want and they simply don’t communicate those ideas. And the marketing department isn’t able to translate why people buy a certain thing into a compelling marketing message that would get someone else to buy. At the same time, the sales organizations are aligned around these stovepipes as well: more megahertz, bigger hard drives. It’s kid of endemic throughout the whole organization that they think and try to sell this way.

Pipeline: If an organization is to a adopt a business lifestyle marketing strategy, should they also be reconsidering the types of media they use to advertise?

SY: Not necessarily. Because the trend in PC purchasing is towards going direct from the manufacturer or going to a retail store, if you’re a consumer you either go to an online catalogue or go to a store and play with a bunch of different machines. Those two models are the ones where companies selling PCs should be focusing more of their marketing efforts, as opposed to one-page ads in magazines. Essentially all these PCs are commodity devices. They all have the same components. It’s very hard to convey a compelling message in a one-page ads.

But you can look at some interesting things, like what Dell has done in their consumer catalogues. Consumers are being pitched for notebooks of a certain weight level, but can you really tell the difference between a six-pound notebook and a four-pound notebook from a piece of paper? No, so Dell in their consumer catalogue is to equate carry weight with a gallon of milk. So their desktop replacement is about a gallon and a half of milk and they have little icons that show what the relative weight is.

Pipeline: Wireless technologies seemed to be aimed at both a consumer and business audience. Do you think that will help marketers get better at taking a lifestyle approach?

SY: There is the theory that the consumer buying at night is the business person by day, and vice-versa. You are seeing some vendors brand Wi-Fi across consumer and business. But what consumers want versus what businesses want is very, very different. Consumers want the latest technology they can get their hands on at the cheapest possible price. Whereas what IT departments want is a consistent product. If you’re refreshing 1,000 PCs a year in a large company, what you don’t want is to have a profile of that PC changing with each new one that comes in. Say the manufacturer puts in a new hard drive and then they have to have a new driver for that thing. Each change to the profile of a PC means that the company has to maintain a separate image for that machine. So they want stability. They want the same thing to come out for 12 to 15 months without any differences. Consumers don’t care how often Dell changes the image of that machine because they buy one every four years. It’s not like they’ve got another one coming for another user in their house in the next two months and they have to get them to work together.

Pipeline: What should be the first step towards creating a business lifestyle marketing strategy?

SY: Companies want to be treated right, no matter where they are in the purchasing lifecycle of their PC. When parts get recalled, they want to have replacement parts shipped out immediately. If they have a problem, they want it to get it resolved quickly, and they want someone who can escalate it through the organization. They want to have a PC manufacturer that they believe has an interest in their business and is trying to develop products best suited to that business, as opposed to selling them the highest-priced PC or overselling them on components. It becomes more of a relationship thing.

Comment: [email protected]

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