Goodbye Lenovo, hello Moto

Hello-MotoBefore I started teaching at UNC Kenan-Flagler, I was responsible for global branding for Lenovo, the technology company.

I entered that role in early 2006 when IBM sold its PC division to the Chinese company and I was part of the acquisition. For those of you with good memories, an important piece of the deal was that Lenovo could use the IBM logo for a certain time period, albeit with several restrictions. That right – plus there was the odd situation that the Lenovo name was unknown outside of China while the main laptop brand – ThinkPad – was well-known. These factors created many branding options for us.

Outside branding pundits proposed different branding strategies, often without knowing the full facts of the situation. For example, many writers assumed we could use the IBM brand in ads for five years, but the right to use the IBM brand was severely limited – we could not show it as a standalone – only on the product and only for about a year. After that we’d have to slowly phase out the IBM logo. These “experts,” however, published countless suggestions that caused me to have to respond to executive queries about the possibility of executing them. Needless to say, it was pretty frustrating.

But now the shoe is on the other foot and since I’m outside the company I can offer my two cents on how Lenovo should do its branding. How great is that?

The reason to re-examine Lenovo’s branding is that it has made several acquisitions recently, with the two biggest being the purchase of the IBM x86 Server business and the Motorola Mobility phone business from Google. With the latter Lenovo also obtained the rights to the Motorola brand and other brand assets (Moto).

Looking at Lenovo’s current product branding architecture on the company website, you can see various approaches to product branding approaches: Laptops and desktops that are “Think” branded (ThinkPad laptops); PCs that are simply Lenovo-branded; and tablets that are ThinkPad, Lenovo and Yoga-branded. It’s a bit confusing, but the premise is to highlight some more professional-class brands such as ThinkPad from the rest of the pack.

But now into this architecture come Motorola Mobility and its brands. Things just got a whole lot messier!

So what are the basic options?

Lenovo can just bring in Motorola products as another product brand in the phone category.

  • Pro: Keep the well-known Motorola brand.
  • Con: The brand architecture would be even more confusing.

Drop “Motorola” and make all the Moto, Droid and other product brands Lenovo brands (Lenovo Moto G).

  • Pro: Things are simpler.
  • Con: Money would have to be spent to help customers understand that all these products now come from Lenovo.

Drop Lenovo as the company brand and move to Motorola. This could make sense if Motorola is a stronger brand than Lenovo and can extend into the PC and tablet space – research would have to be done.

  • Pro: A stronger company brand
  • Cons: Having to communicate that ThinkPad and other products now come from Motorola – and, my belief, that the Motorola brand itself is a bit dated (again, research would be key).

Drop both Lenovo and Motorola and rename the combined company ‘Moto.’

  • Pros: This would be a pretty bold move. It is an opportunity to inject excitement into the newly formed company that spans several tech categories and leverage a fairly well-known and more hip brand (Moto).
  • Cons: The company would be giving up significant investments in the Lenovo and Motorola brands. It’s also not clear to me that Moto is cleanly owned around the world. But the upside is the opportunity to inject some excitement into the newly formed company that spans several tech categories and leverage a fairly well-known and more hip brand, Moto.

So there are some high-level options. Beneath them are many complexities and challenges that the folks at Lenovo must deal with that could make or break these options.

Is it time to say, “Goodbye Lenovo. Hello Moto?” All I can say is I’m glad I’m a professor now and not the person who has to sort this all out!