Simplifiers Interview: David Roman, CMO at Lenovo

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Behind every brand delivering simpler experiences for customers is a leader who recognizes the inherent value in keeping things simple. Here I interview leaders, often CMOs or CEOs, that we deem simplifiers. In this Simplifiers interview I speak with David Roman, CMO at Lenovo.

MM: What does Lenovo stand for and how does it deliver on that promise every day?

DR: Lenovo is a technology company and, as such, sees the world as a set of problems. Our mission is to develop innovative ways of solving these problems with cutting-edge technology that enables our users to accomplish their goals in more effective ways. We use innovation and the newest technology to enable people to do what they do best.

MM: What role does simplicity play in delivering on that promise?

DR: We simplify by focusing on what the user is actually trying to accomplish and how Lenovo’s technology solutions can help them do that more effectively. In technology, it’s easy to get caught up in the technology itself, which can be infinitely complex, rather than focus on delivering value for the user.

MM: How do you conquer complexity internally?

DR: As a technology company we see tons of complexity. Lenovo is composed of engineers who find complexity fun. The best way for us to simplify internally is to direct the focus to the user, and to tighten the connection between the technology we create and the problems users are trying to tackle.

Some companies try to focus on the user by describing their product in the context of how the user will leverage that technology. But this approach still leaves you describing your product. To take a truly customer-centric perspective, we focus on what users are doing and how our product will help them accomplish their goals.

The products that command a premium are the ones that users see as the most advanced, and the most advanced are always the simplest.

MM: What benefits has Lenovo experienced from simplifying?

DR: Simplicity is a direction in which we’re going. We’re working on simplifying our product lines. Since we’re very good at building new things, we have proliferated product line and models. However, we’ve found that what allows a technology company to charge a premium is simplicity of experience. The products that command a premium are the ones that users see as the most advanced, and the most advanced are always the simplest.

Simplifying our product lines will also have broad cost benefits. A simpler product line means lower costs, and a simpler user experience means higher premiums.

MM: How do you strive to keep things simple for your marketing team?

DR: I use the slogan “fewer, bigger, bolder” as a simplifying rule of thumb when assessing marketing initiatives. If you do fewer things, each can be bigger. And if they’re bigger, each will have more impact. I use this as a lens for my team’s activities. For example, if the initiative is a product advertisement, I may ask, what if we talked about one feature instead of three? This allows us to be as tight as we can.

People often think simplicity is easy to create, but it’s actually much harder because it requires prioritizing, for example, the features of a product or the messaging of a brand communication. The process of creating simplicity is difficult, but the end result is much more powerful.

MM: What’s the most recent simple customer experience that inspired you?

DR: Amazon, in particular, is hard to beat. With Amazon, you can find the product you seek and all the information regarding it efficiently. And with Amazon Prime, the product is shipped to you for free.

MM: What do you believe C-level executives need to do to operationalize simplicity?

DR: Focus on the desired end result. Most executives focus on process, but simplicity is the deliverable. This means that to get to simplicity, the process will often be complex. Keep in mind that the end result is what’s important.

What’s the biggest mistake brands make it regards to simplifying?

Doing too much. People often see an opportunity for a product, solution or sale and go after it without looking at the implications of doing that over time. This comes back to the notion of fewer, bigger, bolder. Doing fewer things is not doing less, it’s making the most strategic initiatives have greater impact. It’s easy to get sucked into doing one more thing, which, because everyone has limited resources, makes all initiatives—even the most impactful—smaller. Doing too much has consequences.

MM: What indicators give you confidence that simplicity is driving your business forward? 

DR: One indication that simplicity is working in our favor is the positive user feedback we’ve received on our pure Android operating system in our Motorola phones. Pure Android is a standardized and elevated version of our Android operating system, which runs faster and more smoothly. It takes a great deal of work to get pure Android to fit with all our new phone hardware, but it’s worth the effort because the end result is that users find the phone easier to use, faster, and easier to download and upgrade.

MM: What does simplicity mean to you?

DR: Simplicity requires prioritizing. It’s doing fewer things so you can make them bigger and bolder.

It’s the end result of an often complex process of analysis, refinement and prioritization, all with the aim of getting to the essence of what’s most important. The companies that have made their mark using simplicity are those that have some of the most complex technology and expertise. Getting to true simplicity is complex.

MM: What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to brands trying to simplify?

DR: Focus on the result. What do your customers really do? What do they want from your product? Use simplicity to make your results bigger, more impactful and stronger. Simplicity requires reducing—reducing in order to make your final solution more powerful.

This is an ongoing Simplifiers series. See interviews with Henry Gomez, EVP – Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Hewlett Packard Enterprise; CMO at Twitter, Leslie Berland; CMO at Blue Apron, Jared Cluff; SVP, Global Brand Management at American Express, Clayton Ruebensaal; EVP and Group President at Verizon Wireless, Ronan Dunne, Director of Strategy and Innovation at Cofra Holding Ltd, former CEO of C&A China, Lawrence Brenninkmeyer; CMO at The Recording Academy, Evan Greene; CMO at Mary Kay, Sheryl Adkins-GreenHead of Marketing at Home Centre, Rohit Singh BhatiaSVP, CMO of Aflac, Gail GaluppoSVP and CMO at Cambia Health Solutions, Carol KruseManaging Director of The Nature Conservancy, Geof Rochester, Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer of Motorola Solutions, Eduardo Conrado, EVP; SVP, Chief Marketing & External Affairs Officer at Abbott, Elaine Leavenworth, GE CMO, Linda Boff; McLaren Automotive Head of Brand Marketing, Stephen Lambert; Ascension Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Nick Ragone; Hertz CMO, Matt Jauchius; Direct Line Group Marketing Director, Mark Evans; McDonald’s CMO, Deborah Wahl; President, Liza Landsman and VP Marketing, Sumaiya Balbale; Target CMO, Jeff Jones; Spotify CMO, Seth Farbman; Ally Financial CMO, Andrea Riley; Gannett CMO, Andy Yost; CVS Health CMO, Norman De Greve; Dunkin’ Brands CMO, John Costello; Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh; Southwest Airlines CMO, Kevin Krone; and Google CMO, Lorraine Twohill.

Know a simplifier or would like to be included in the series? Please recommend an executive for my next interview:

Margaret Molloy is global CMO and head of business development at Siegel+Gale. Follow her on Twitter: @MargaretMolloy and Instagram:@MargaretMMolloy

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