CMO of the Week: Lenovo IDG’s Emily Ketchen

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For most marketers who started new jobs remotely in the past 18 months, the onboarding process can be very daunting without an in-person glimpse of company culture or the chance to meet new colleagues face-to-face.

For most marketers who started new jobs remotely in the past 18 months, the onboarding process can be very daunting without an in-person glimpse of company culture or the chance to meet new colleagues face-to-face. 

But for Emily Ketchen, who joined consumer tech and IT company Lenovo IDG as Chief Marketing Officer & VP - Intelligent Devices Group (IDG) in September 2020 following nine years with HP (including four as Head of Marketing, Americas), the transition was relatively seamless thanks in part to the technology advances that Lenovo has helped steer over the years.

“Imagine how difficult, or almost impossible this would have been 20 years ago for me trying to onboard into a large organization with teams all over the world on a hand phone,” Ketchen says. “It’s been very interesting and a great experience of how even our own smart technology has led me to see how businesses, individuals and companies can really thrive in the pandemic now. And in the next phase of hybrid, whatever that may bring.”

Now a year into her role, Ketchen has overseen 12 months of transformative growth for Lenovo, which posted record earnings for both its fiscal year 2020, including a 20% increase in full-year revenue and 48% increase in fiscal fourth-quarter revenue, followed by a record fiscal first quarter that was up 27% year-over-year, with $16.9 billion earned during the time period. 

Ketchen attributes the new momentum in part to the increased role Lenovo’s products are playing in our daily lives. “Technology in a lot of ways has become the lifeline for so many of us in keeping us connected and productive. And homes have become the nucleus —  we work from home, many of our children learn from home, we entertain by virtue of the same methodology using the same technology,” she says. 

And as she enters Year 2 in her role as CMO, Ketchen will leverage that growth to make diversity, sustainability and gender equity key focuses of her work — building on the success of programs she helped introduce in the past year. “Innovation in general really requires diversity, and we have a Product Diversity Office where we especially believe that universal product design helps to eliminate biases,” she says. “When we’re developing innovation, we strive to account for all ages, abilities, cultures and any other factors including cultural appropriateness, comfort and body fit. One of the great proof points of this is our ThinkReality augmented reality headset, which we built with diversity of design. It’s unique in an organization like ours to have an entire product office dedicated just to diversity, and I’m really proud of the work that’s happening there.”

Brand Innovators caught up with Ketchen from her home office in the San Francisco Bay Area to learn more about how she’s shifting Lenovo’s media mix to embrace virtual and hybrid events, empowering women in tech and how the “remote revolution” prompted by the pandemic will continue to influence her work for years to come.  The conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

Brand Innovators: You recently celebrated your first anniversary with Lenovo IDG as CMO. What pivots or innovations had the company already put in place when you joined to react to the new market conditions of the pandemic, and how have you accelerated some of those efforts or introduced new ones since?

Emily Ketchen: Acceleration is definitely the key word, because that’s really what it's been about this past year. My real long-term vision has been to accelerate the modernization of the marketing function here at Lenovo, and in my opinion, it really has to be anchored in data and insights. So I’ve taken time, and step 1 has been to lay out that vision and to help the organization understand what my vision is and for me to understand where we are as an organization.  

I would say there are three key goals that I’ve laid out for us in terms of this acceleration. First and foremost is really around insights, and standing up a center of excellence around insights for us. I’m really tapping into every area of information and data around our customers from our brand trackers to customer decision journeys, segmentation, ultimately on a journey to personalization which I think is front of mind for a lot of us in the industry today.  

The second one is around refining our media strategy as an organization, and my vision there is for us to be able to deploy a hybrid strategy. Brands, and I think we certainly we at Lenovo, will look to what's appropriate for us to plan and manage inside Lenovo vs. an agency. So what goes in-house and what do you partner with an agency for in terms of their real competencies and skills. I think it’s a trend but also necessary with the importance of data and knowing your customers well. 

The third one is around the measurement strategy. Making informed decisions is one of the beauties of being in the digital space. When you can see so much of your work and how it is working, you can test concepts, see where customers are engaging with your content and clicking on it and then moving through the journey from there. So it’s super important to have a measurement frame and have an organization that understands how to cull through the massive amount of information that we have. 

How has Lenovo's media mix shifted in the past 18 months - what platforms or channels are you more spending more on vs. pre-2020, and why? 

This volatile environment throughout COVID really highlighted the need for businesses and marketers to really listen to customers and super importantly, for us to be able to meet customers where they are. And as people moved indoors, so did we from a marketing perspective. We lessened our focus on things like out-of-home and cinema, and moved to in-home streaming and social media. Now, as people are beginning to think about moving out a little bit, we're onto that next reality and returning to concerts, cinemas and sporting events to meet them there.

We’ve also done some testing around how we can participate in things like virtual concerts, podcasts, online shopping and other formats. There are huge changes in customer behavior driven by the pandemic, so how do we connect with these new behaviors as a brand and participate? We’ve done a lot of testing and learning so we can stay agile in how we think about our marketing strategy and stay relevant to where our customers are spending their time. 

Speaking of virtual events, tell me about some of your programs like ‘New Realities’ or ‘High Performance Comes from Within’ – how did those come about, and where is your virtual event strategy heading? 

“New Realities” was a program we put together to demonstrate a lot of the threads of empathy that we have seen as a result of the pandemic. It's been super interesting as we’ve studied it and done some research around one of the real effects of the pandemic, as we've all gotten together in this virtual world is it’s pulled us closer together. One of the things we wanted to do is couple that to a series dedicated to women who are in their communities around the world 10 rela change agents who we met with and talked with about the aspirations they have to make change in their communities through the use of technology and this really interesting convergence of how technology can help to better the world they live in.  

For example, if you take a look at the 10 different countries we were in, each of these folks had to be shot by themselves. We filmed our own story using our technology and tell that in a way that allowed us to bring the elements of empathy to bring their communities to life. And it turned out to be a really extraordinary journey for all 10 women in ways of improving their world through the use of technology. We did that through a partnership with Ava DuVernay, and also sponsored and spotted these women on their journey. That’s all helped us tell the story of technology for good, technology as a conduit for empathy and a way that women in particular can make change in their communities around the world.

And with “High Performance Comes From Within,” that was derived from an insight on how to authentically connect in the context of corporate trendsetters and business to business. As we understand how the workforce is changing, the voice of the customer has become more and more important, so what we did was partner with a macro influencer Ally Love, who you might know from The Love Squad or Peloton where she’s a featured instructor. She embodies everything we think about when we think about performance from within, it’s a fully integrated campaign across social media, digital media, global platforms. It was the first time we established our handle on places like Instagram and Twitter where we could put ourselves into the content of the story we wanted to tell about our products. We called our audience target “the corporate trendsetters,” which is younger millennials and rising Gen Z, where we wanted to communicate the benefits of our products and meet them authentically where they are. The program has performed well, and we’ve learned quite a bit from it. We’ve surpassed the initial metrics we set forth in a pretty robust way. The great thing about being present in social is you can listen and get real-time feedback.

Many of the tech industry's largest trade shows went virtual this past year, and will likely be virtual or hybrid again in early 2022. How has this impacted how you roll out new products, and what are some pros and cons to introducing new products virtually vs. in-person?

It’s very important for us to lead in this area of digital transformation, and what that really means in the context of in-person events whether it’s trade shows or customer councils, we’ve been very specific about piloting new virtual launches and event experiences. For example, with the “New Realities” campaign, we had a 360 virtual gallery where you could be a part of the technology and see each story from a number of different ways and immerse yourself in these 10 women. 

In terms of pros and cons, one of the great benefits of this approach is accessibility. In the old days you could say, “Well not everybody gets to go to the event, or they can’t travel.” But the beauty of virtual is it provides full accessibility to almost anyone who wants access to that content, and it's repeatable. But the challenges here include a certain level of fatigue. We have to acknowledge that it is fair to say people have spent hours and hours of their time online, and we just want to make sure that we’re thoughtful in how we manage that content as it becomes more interactive, more video-centric and more snackable. You don’t want to have a virtual platform at the expense of spontaneous engagement. It can also be more challenging to showcase some of our hands-on demos. Ultimately, where we’ll net out is with really well articulated hybrid events where some of the touchpoints are online and some are in-person, whether it’s one-to-one or even one-to-few.

In addition to establish a Product Diversity Office, Lenovo is dedicated to advancing equality and equity for women in tech. How have you helped bring that to life this past year? 

On a personal note, my goal is to inspire women to change the mindset around chance vs. choice. My belief is that choice is incredibly important in all the things we do and not to leave things to chance. So you’ll hear me talk about that in the context of the work I do around diversity & inclusion that’s specific to women, and I think it’s because of the dimension of gender that can unite employees across divisions. It’s important to increase the number of voices from women and in different ethnicities across the board. At Lenovo, women represent about 36% of our global workforce. That’s an incredible number, and we need to continue to move that forward. 

What are Lenovo's latest commitments to sustainability at a corporate level, and how has that infiltrated your recent messaging as a marketer?

We just released our 2021 environmental and social governance goals, or ESG, which addresses how we plan to reach different, more aggressive goals by 2025, including 90% of our global operations’ electricity being obtained by renewable resources. We have a litany of things that we hold ourselves to as extremely important to fulfilling our ESG.  

The other anecdote that I would share is as I was in the process of getting onto one of our campuses to meet some of my team, I received this request for training. And in order to confirm my visit, I went through an 18-minute training course on how to participate on campus in a way that is ESG friendly – from how and where to recycle my materials, all the way through to how to properly dispose of things like batteries. It’s the first time I’ve had to go through a training like that, and I just thought it was a great way to thread that ethos all the way through the company.  

What's a new or emerging consumer behavior you've observed in your business this past year that you think will be here to stay, and why?

I think one of the really interesting things that will absolutely stick that the pandemic triggered is this “remote revolution.” It’s truly accelerated and reinforced the company to prioritize the employee experience. That’s something we’ve seen end to end and we need to be super in tune with where things are going, and it’s super important to think about how companies equip their employees with the right technology to be productive. 

The other piece is making sure we’re enabling people to thrive in the next reality. We’re still working through a number of complexities, but how do we pivot to a place where we can be productive and actually thrive at this stage of where we are in the pandemic? Whether you’re working at home, in an office remotely or somewhere in between that is a trend that’s here to stay and as marketers we need to be truly tuned into and think about how to meet the needs of the IT manager, the consumers, the end users, the gamers and all of the above. Smarter technology for all is really at the heart of that. I see it as our responsibility to drive great innovation that moves us forward and is meaningful for good.

Andrew Hampp is an entertainment marketing consultant for Brand Innovators and the founder of consultancy 1803 LLC, based in Berkeley, California.

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