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Where Is the Love?

Allison Johnson is senior vice president of global brand and communications for Hewlett-Packard Co. Her Ad:Tech keynote addressed how to foster customer loyalty, the importance of the user experience, and HP’s Brand Love process. What follows is a partial transcript of her remarks:

Allison Johnson is senior vice president of global brand and communications for Hewlett-Packard Co. Her Ad:Tech keynote addressed how to foster customer loyalty, the importance of the user experience, and HP’s Brand Love process. What follows is a partial transcript of her remarks:

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“Where Is the Love?” I chose that song because I listen to it every day on my way to work. If I’m really good, I can hit it twice in my seven-minute commute. The lyrics are hard. Who do I trust? What country? In this environment, how do we as marketers continue to break through. And if you’re in technology, double the difficulty. Sometimes technology can be at the heart of that.

How do we get the good news through? How do we get the story of Saraswati and Neelamma in India who with a digital camera and solar power — solar power — started a business taking wedding pictures? Now they have tap water in their homes. Even as technology companies continue to drive growth in new areas such as digital entertainment, how do we build relevance? How do you create growth and loyalty in commoditizing markets? How do you do that in a world of cynicism and mistrust?

We ask these questions every day at HP. And we think we have the answer. We have a project called Brand Love. That word is very awkward. But think about it. How many people in this room love their iPods? I happen to love my tablet PC as well. How many technology projects can you say that about? Nike and Puma know how to create love — even lust — for their products.

Brand Love is a process. We start by understanding life experiences. We dig deep into the lives of our customers. We also did a study on the Millenials. This is a generation that values authenticity, respect, fun, humor, and genuine connection. They are thrill seekers when it comes to online experiences. After life experience, we go to brand experience. Finally, we study the physical and everyday interactions people have with a product.

We’re putting all of our processes, even customer service, through this. It forces us as technologists to become closer to our customers. You can see those relationships in our HP+ campaign. Toys R Us, Fender, and Dreamworks all use HP technology. Whether it’s real-time inventory tracking or supply chain technology, this is our view of the role of technology in the world writ large.

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You can imagine people’s discomfort when we started discussing featuring customers in a branding campaign. We’re a pretty humble company. We’re not used to bragging about our own success. Holding up our customers was more authentic. And Brand Love was how we got there. We started with Fender and music. What is people’s experience with music? What do they want to do with it? How can we connect HP’s brand with that?

Think about the iPod. It’s your music with you all the time. Dell has a music device and service. Samsung does to. But they’re not capturing market share because they didn’t focus on the experience. We partnered with Apple because we knew we couldn’t build a better device. At HP, we can take advantage of all of our services and bring music to you — like with Hear Music cafes from Starbucks.

What’s interesting about that is if you know Howard Schultz, he’s incredibly impatient. He wants to take that concept and take it across the U.S. in 18 months. After that session, we got calls from a host of other companies who wanted to do something similar. Think about health clubs. That’s the kind of place we’re going to bring the music experience.

We had a meeting with Jeffrey Katzenbach, and we asked where he thought his brand was going in the next 10 years. He said that Shrek 1 was the point at which they really found their brand. In that film, because of technology, they were able to create characters more lifelike than they were able to do previously. It’s a pleasure for us to work with companies that have a vision when it comes to brand.

Remember when we launched all those products on the same day? We also launched something called You Stories, kind of a photo blog, where people could create their own stories. HP is a company that likes data. Most of the time we get data that points to satisfiers and dissatisfiers. What’s interesting is that when we asked companies what they liked most, it was You Stories, the opportunity to share their photos. That experience is doing more for customer experience, brand loyalty, and brand love more than anything.

After this conference, we’re meeting with a hotel that wants to be the destination for business travelers. What is the role of technology? Would you go back to a hotel again and again if you could say goodnight to your kid face to face via videoconference every night? Branding is increasingly more central to your selling proposition. At HP for the last five years, we’ve tried to take a respected brand and make it loved.

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And it hasn’t been easy. Even through a controversial merger and proxy battle, we used the brand as our guide. In my very first meeting with Carly, she had just come from a meeting with African-American employees. They were frustrated because no technology company marketed to African Americans. She said that she wanted to be that company. Now that’s a company I can get out of bed for.

If we’re going to ignite the growth engines in our industry, if we’re going to delight customers, then you — like me — need to ask yourself on the way to work every day: Where is the love?