In an attempt to grab back presence in the market, mainly in the consumer space, but collaterally in the more professional one, the guys at HP launched a massive marketing campaign a few years ago, “The Computer is Personal Again”.
It was a massive, integrated, worldwide campaign that certainly allowed HP to catch some attention and again recover some of the punch it had in earlier times, as you might have read in the above link. The main idea here was to make people understand that they could use HP hardware, mainly from the Personal Systems Group division, for their daily life.
Leaving aside stories on top execs that took too seriously the campaign motto, and engaged in fishy affairs too personally, the effect in the market was certainly notorious. HP made a good marketing job, and collected the corresponding results in its financial statements since the launch of the campaign.
Still we believe the campaign remained just that: A mere campaign. It did not fundamentally change a company that started from hardware and still is mainly hardware-based. Mark Hurd himself, as the last relevant CEO for the time being, based his strategy in being “the infrastructure leader”. This was not at all in synch with all the personal messaging, was it?
It appears that in fact, there is really nothing personal in the HP strategy. And the problem with this is that a significant part of the available IT hardware these days and in the near future is really going to be truly personal.
In a world where being online permanently gets more and more relevant, people will demand devices which suit them upfront. Not that a device is capable of whatever feature you could imagine and the user has to change his habits and customs to adapt himself to it. Not that much that manufacturers define how the world is going to be, but more how much manufacturers are able to offer a product and its services which are adapted to what the customer already knows he could do, and the way he wants to do it.
Smartphones, for instance, are today more powerful than PCs from five or six years ago. And you can carry them in your pocket. You can even do things with them you could not dream about with your old desktop unit 10 years ago. For an increasing number of people, they are their main tool for daily life: From work to personal purpose, entertainment or planning vacation. They store very private data, as their wallets or purses would. Is there anything more personal for someone than his own wallet?
Once you have quite a variety of operating systems, hardware manufacturers and telco carriers that fundamentally do not differ much from each other (including prices and fees), customers will choose the combination of device, operating system and carrier that makes it easier to just start to use the device, or that allows the easiest customization to tailor the end product to each individual, even letting him choose the color, texture and shape of the case!
Just look to the automobile industry. When mass production started in the times of revered Henry Ford, he got the famous question: “May customers choose different colors for their car"?”. And he made his famous reply: “Yes, as long as it is a Ford, a model T, and black”. At that time, all the possibilities around a car (a black Ford model T was a finished product) were beyond imagination, and features that today we take for granted in the simplest car did not yet exist in the most visionary pioneers of that industry. Today, when it comes to buying a car, the set of options and accessories sometimes reaches the volume of a pocket dictionary. Even the guys making the Mini (quite popular in Europe for decades) claim today that there are not two Minis alike. The idea being “your Mini is unique because you are unique”.
The guys at Apple, from the very moment the first idea sparked in Steve Jobs’ mind have always applied the same principle. From what the customers wants, from what the customer would like to have, from how the customer would like to use the product, they make all the way up to the components they might need to build the product, and as well to the how to build the unit. Moreover, the product would still not be released until it really was the most perfect item (by design, by quality, by functionality) that could be produced within the industrial environment of the time. Jobs’ himself is famous for being a perfectionist close to hysteria.
As an example, we might quote iPhones… An iPhone is basically an iPod Touch (a definite winner, a conqueror of users’ hearts) that gets telephone capabilities after it has proved a success. Symbian and Windows Mobile have been designed as phones that afterwards were to have added email, music, multimedia capabilities. Precisely the opposite approach.
Apple took a successful product and added valuable features and functionalities customers would be glad to pay for. When making their first calls with iPhones, they already knew how to use the device, and setting it up was a matter of seconds. Windows Mobile and Symbian devices were forcing users to adapt themselves to the smartphones they supported. No wonder that Apple fans are rather unconditional fans, and do not worry much about the product cost premium.
This is HP’s issue: How can you claim your product is personal when you are asking your customer to do what Microsoft Almighty allows you to do the way Microsoft Almighty forces you to do it?
To be personal again means that your device (notebook, tablet, smartphone…) has to be as unique as possible, and that, once the OS, hardware and carrier layers are put aside for a moment, can only be achieved with the right AppStore: Broad variety of developers and applications, easy to use kind of thing. And this matter, not being easy for a guy like Windows7 Mobile, will certainly be a major challenge to HP, no matter how good or bad WebOs is (judge by yourself).
We believe the market will be personal. For everybody, and this includes HP. And being personal will take more than millions of dollars spent in nice fonts, nicer ads, and some celebrities of the moment. Nothing personal, but you cannot afford having nothing personal.