Last month, Hewlett-Packard glided into Amman with its “Personal Again” roadshow. “The Computer is Personal Again” is not an obvious choice for a campaign slogan: it almost automatically prompts the question, “When did computers stop being personal?
” For consumers, they haven’t. As technologies stride forward, computers have become not only an archive of their users’ personal, academic, and professional lives, but have come to serve as photo albums, music collections, media players, and a primary mode of communication.
Nonetheless, the intensely personal nature of PCs is often overlooked by manufacturers and vendors. Emphasis is placed on specifications like processing speed, hard disk capacity and wireless capabilities. “Over the past decade, the Personal Computer has become simply the PC,” observed Salim Ziade, Category and Marketing Manager for the Personal Systems Group at HP Middle East.
More than just commodities
The significance of HP’s Personal Again campaign is not that the company is making computers more personal for their users; it’s that HP is presenting itself as a manufacturer that recognizes just how personal its machines already are and is adapting its strategies accordingly. Personal Again tells consumers that for Hewlett-Packard, computers are more than commodities.
Whether or not HP manages to successfully re-brand itself and market its new products in the Levant, the company is working from a position of relative security. Hewlett-Packard is the largest technology and solutions provider in the Middle East. International IT research and advisory firm Gartner reported HP as the top PC vendor in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa in the fourth quarter of 2005, with a 15.5% market share. The sector itself, moreover, grew 16.3% compared with a year previous. Globally, HP was up 5-8% in the second quarter of 2006 from the same period in 2005, with the strongest growth (10%, with revenues of $7.0 billion) reported in the Personal Systems Group—the group responsible for the Personal Again campaign and the hardware it encompasses.
According to Marketing Communications Director Lana El Husseini, HP sees huge potential in the Levant region, as demonstrated by their investment in current and future events and advertising campaigns (in Lebanon, look for “Personal Again” billboards in the near future). Ziade, however, is more cautious in his assessment. HP established a legal presence in Lebanon several years ago, but a “bumpy” market and political climate have kept the company from expanding further. Nonetheless, all of the products launched in Amman are currently being introduced in the Levant, and should be on the market within the month.
When buying a new computer, consumers face a wealth of selection among similarly priced and equipped machines from various manufacturers. Apple and Sony sell image with sleek designs, while Dell offers straightforward dependability. HP’s new campaign seeks to blends the functional and the cool: the company is a standard-bearer among manufacturers in terms of quality while the Personal Again campaign is clearly designed, with its stylized logos and celebrity-heavy advertising, to be trendy.
A focus on relationships
But what HP’s campaign really wants to say is that it understands the relationship users have with their computers, as well as the needs and frustrations that arise from ownership. HP says it wants to meet the demands of customers’ daily life, including the ones they may not be thinking about as they browse through laptops at Virgin.
From the beginning, the HP experience is designed to be straightforward. “After all,” Ziade argues, “computers should be there to help people, not the other way around.” The crux of this is making computers easy to use, and it starts with what HP calls the Out of Box Experience, essentially a pledge that all HP products are built to be up and running 15 minutes after they are removed from their packaging.
HP’s new products endeavor to reflect the attention to personal detail the campaign implies. In their consumer line, HP gave particular emphasis to the growing importance of media capabilities to PC users. The new DV1000 entertainment notebook doubles as a portable media player: using the quick play button, DVDs and music can be launched without booting up, and the laptop even comes with a remote control.
For business users, fresh HP offerings include the DC7600, an integrated work center that can be configured in several different ways to maximize desk space, and the NC2400, the lightest 12” notebook on the market with an integrated optical drive. HP challenges traditional limitations on mobility with a detachable travel battery that offers up to 15 hours of life for their business laptops. Seamless mobile computing is undeniably a priority in the market today, and new products in both HP’s consumer and commercial lines aim to meet the challenge.
Global features may not work locally
Although Personal Again is a global campaign, it is unclear how much attention was given to regional needs. One of the most touted features of the new iPAQ Pocket PC, for example, is a Global Positioning System (GPS) capability. GCC maps are already available, and HP claims to be “developing” maps for the Levant, but in a country where addresses are haphazard, one wonders how smoothly such a system will work; the infrastructure for other features – such as wireless broadband, which enables users to connect to the internet wirelessly without the need for a hotspot – is still unavailable in Lebanon.
Many of the products showcased are intriguing and integrate cutting-edge technologies, but it’s not completely clear how they are any more “personal” than the competition. The campaign stands on firmer ground, however, when it comes to the area of services.
In his opening presentation, Ziade noted that computers are basically autobiographies of their users: anyone who looked through a computer’s documents and folders would come out knowing almost everything about its owner. This observation suggests the major threat of making computers too personal – it leaves users vulnerable to everything from invasions of privacy to data and identity theft.
Thus, security forms a major component of the Personal Again program. HP acknowledges that different types of users have different security needs. For ordinary customers, explains Ziade, virus protection is paramount – HP’s new consumer line comes standard with a one-year subscription to Norton Antivirus on most models. Business customers, on the other hand, usually have an IT department to handle basic security issues, so the focus shifts to privacy. HP’s commercial line offers the highest level of security available on the PC market today, consisting of three security layers: fingerprint authentication; the Trusted Platform Management chip, which prevents unauthorized software from running on a computer; and a privacy filter permitting only the person directly in front of the computer to view its monitor. Although other companies offer similar filters, HP’s is the only removable privacy filter on the market today: users can snap it on while working in public or on an airplane, then remove it to share a presentation with coworkers back in the office.
Also launched at the roadshow was HP’s new Total Care system, offering customers “a full circle of personalized services for every stage of their computers’ life: from choosing it, to configuring it, to protecting it, to tuning it up – all the way to recycling it.” Despite the hype, most of these services are also offered by HP’s competitors; according to Ziade, the genuinely unique aspects of Total Care relate to the commercial line. All business laptops, for example, are sold with a three-year global warranty. This includes on-site repairs by the next business day, or within four business hours for “critical users.”
More “personal” or not, HP has introduced a solid line of fresh products, and offers some of the best security and customer care packages available in the Middle East. The new campaign may not be fully embodied in HP’s offerings, but it has the potential for a broader appeal than rival marketing strategies. Hopefully, HP will stick to its guns, continue to work with customer feedback and keep in mind that computers are a lot more than machines to most consumers. Mixed success in this initial stage need not detract from a very positive step in HP strategy.