Laptop computers are no longer simply the desktop PC’s smaller sibling. After catching up over the past few years, shipments of laptops, or notebooks, surpassed those of desktop PCs for the first time in 2008, according to recent research, standing at a solid 55.2% share of the personal computer market in the third quarter of last year.
But while on-the-go consumers have made the portable convenience of laptops an everyday tool and a resounding success, there are a seemingly endless number of different customizable models on the market, not to mention a plethora of smartphones that sit in the category between laptops and phones. That means a highly competitive sector for marketers looking to stand out.
“I think there’s just an overwhelming amount of choice in the market for consumers,” says Chris Aarons, co-founder of BuzzCorps, a word-of-mouth agency that works with HP on various marketing initiatives, including a recent campaign for its stylish laptops designed by Vivienne Tam. “There are business notebooks, consumer notebooks, mini notebooks, and different features and specs on each one. It can be hard for the average consumer to really figure out what the best choice is for them and at their price point.”
Word-of-mouth marketing is one channel that works extremely well for computer marketing, he explains, because a laptop typically need explanation both about its functionality and how to use it properly. “For computers, having someone tell you whether this is a good one vs. not a good one is huge,” he explains.
In addition, people tend to research their computer purchases online – so word-of-mouth campaigns through blogs and social media can be a sweet spot for marketers. “You need someone who can say, ‘Listen — this is a good product for these reasons,”” Aarons adds. “Bloggers can really help you by giving you third-party credible information because they’ve used this notebook.”
User-generated content — particularly ratings and reviews — is also a prime research tool for consumers seeking laptop-buying guidance, so these options have become must-haves for computer manufacturers.
“Word of mouth is still the No. 1 influencer for electronics purchases – particularly for notebooks, which is a very complex sale,” says Sam Decker, CMO of Bazaarvoice, which provides tools for user-generated ratings and reviews to manufacturers such as Dell, HP and Toshiba. “There are a lot of feature functionality tradeoffs, and almost every manufacturer can customize what you have.”
This means, he continues, that consumers need to make dozens of choices when they purchase a laptop — from how much RAM to purchase, the screen size and the weight, not to mention aesthetics, like color and style.
“All of these are very complex tradeoffs,” he points out. “It’s not just about what the best features are, but what the right combination is — and what’s most important to the consumer.”
Reviews and ratings, he adds, offer consumers a way to get other customers to clarify what’s important to them. “They want to see someone like them who has purchased this product and find out why – as opposed to just getting the information about the product,” he says.
For some marketers, standing out in the marketplace now means emphasizing the personal relevance of a particular notebook to a consumer – particularly their lifestyle.
“I think people’s knowledge and familiarity with technology, along with their intelligence and the evolution of the laptop category, mean that people are most looking for personal relevance,” says Stephen Sonnenfeld, president of customer solutions at Y&R division Enfatico, which recently launched a campaign for Dell’s Adamo laptop, billed as a luxury model. “There’s such an array of choices, and let’s face it – most machines will be able to do essentially what any other machine does. A lot of the decision will be how does this conform to my personal sense of style?”
Marketing style as well as function meant thinking outside the box when it came to the Adamo, he adds. “The biggest challenge was to think outside the boundaries of marketing a piece of technology and marketing it more as a luxury item that probably occupies a position closer to a luxury watch of piece of jewelry,” Sonnenfeld says. “Obviously, there’s a strong functional aspect, but we wanted to create the sense that this fit into an overall lifestyle for a certain group of people — and I think across the category you’re seeing campaigns moving away from hardcore technology sales to more balanced types of approaches.”
No matter what the approach, however, laptop manufacturers must also deal with the challenge of driving consumers to the sales channel — sometimes directly through their Web sites, but very often through retail stores such as Best Buy. For Bazaarvoice, a tool called BrandVoice allows manufacturers to syndicate their user-generated content to retailers — so reviews show up in retailer promotions, for example.
“It’s about how marketers can find the influencers for their brand, capture their voice and amplify it in the sales channel,” says Decker. “You don’t want just two reviews of your laptop on Best Buy’s Web site while you’ve captured 100 on your site.”
But any word-of-mouth effort needs to be ongoing and takes commitment, Aarons emphasizes.
“For HP, it’s an ongoing evolution of building this evangelism,” he says of the company’s laptop-promoting efforts. “A word-of-mouth campaign done right is kind of like having a baby — once you start, you need to care and feed and nurture it, you can’t just walk away from it. You have to come up with something to keep everyone engaged and involved.”
HP wanted to promote its new Vivienne Tam-designed mini-laptops this past winter, so agency BuzzCorps launched a measurable word-of-mouth campaign, in which it targeted 20 to 30 hand-picked bloggers – mostly women or fashion bloggers and a few tech bloggers. In some cases, examples were even sent to the wives of the men who actually wrote the blog. The bloggers were brought to New York to meet with Vivienne Tam during Fashion Week. BuzzCorps measured the amount of content that was generated — audio, video, photos and posting. In addition, the pass-along rate was measured, and sales metrics were also evaluated.