Tech Talk with Torod Neptune, CCO, Lenovo

"Data and analytics skills are critical. The more you invest in it, the more it necessitates having the internal and intellectual resources to be able to take in info and create."

Lenovo's Torod Neptune. (Image via Lenovo)
Lenovo's Torod Neptune. (Image via Lenovo)

How important is communications technology now and how is it changing what you do?
There’s tension between how you prioritize and fund those traditional aspects of our team's purview, traditional comms PR, stakeholder and reputation management, tracking, monitoring, which are still core, against this not inexpensive but critical data stack of future comms and site analytics. Dollars are growing incrementally year over year, but not to the degree of balancing the traditional versus what is critical for the future. I feel that tension and so do most of us who are serious about this. But it’s absolutely required.

We spent a lot of time over the last three, four years understanding the drivers of perception and managing global stakeholders, understanding their views of us and how we engage with them, going from driving perception to driving behavior and from the stakeholder to the individual. Trying to get that precise and manage the systems around that is a major shift. We’re going to the micro and the individual level, and it's a very audience-centric view of understanding what drives behavior action as opposed to what informs and influences.

How fit for purpose are the technology suppliers in supplying you with what you need?
I’m still focused less on individual solutions and more on a couple of best-in-breed vendors across these major areas. We have unearthed some of them and we have four or five now doing individual pieces of this. I have shied away from Cisions of this world or the vendors that still look at comms as an interesting component of the martech stacks, as opposed to seeing us in a very unique and individualized way and building what still need to be custom solutions when you think about our purview versus marketing. We need to bring sophistication to how you activate the individual stakeholder and not look at them as a mass or a community.

Whether it's from lack of willingness to invest the resources or trying to rationalize the cost at the global level without doing the work to focus on individual solutions, they've not kept up with the rhetoric. That's where some of the individual vendors are doing interesting things, perhaps not fully baked, but there's a lot more testing and research and development we can do with some partners that are new to the space. They’re figuring it out with us as opposed to bringing us a custom solution that is really just a custom marketing solution that doesn't map to our discipline.

How much tech do you build in-house and how does that fit in with your vendors?
In China, we have the benefit of a ton of expertise and the sophistication of consumers in that market. Comms tech's been more valuable than the rest of the world given social and digital and the priority that has for the go-to market strategy there. Our IT team has built a best-in-breed custom solution for us over the last nine months to understand, monitor, track, manage the individual, and to look at engagement behavior and how we prompt our audience to engage across the sales funnel.

Are you using vendor products as part of that solution?
No, it’s all from scratch there. And we're now looking at how to scale that outside China because it really is a best-in-breed model given the savviness of the consumer. In China, this is a custom solution we built on our own, but outside China we would consider using vendors as part of the process.

How do you ensure you're not buying or building the same systems already in place on the marketing side and duplicating investment or services?
We're part of the marketing organization at Lenovo and we’re leveraging some martech tools on the content management systems and Marketo areas. There's value in being sisters or relatives that allows us to leverage and extend rather than build our own for those approaches unique to our discipline and separate from marketing — marketing is generally more about scale anyway.

Will comms tech eventually just become a subset of martech?
I don't know if the passion and view of the importance of the individual will remain as critical to marketing as to the ongoing success of engagement or influence. Our craft puts a higher premium on that type of targeting. It’s easier for us to make the cost-benefit case than marketing. For them, it's impressions and eyeballs in. The importance of looking at real engagement at the individual level is different.

What comms tech skills do your staff need compared to 10, 15 years ago?
That's probably the most dramatic change to this conversation. Data and analytics skills are critical. The more you invest in it, the more it necessitates having the internal and intellectual resources to be able to take in info and create. You're solving a problem on the one hand and creating another one for or against. Data, analytics and business acumen are key in terms of today’s requirements whereas historically we’d be looking for a great media person who understood mass communications and was a great writer.  

In the past 18 months, we hired a head of data analytics and insights and that team has been staffing up. That competency didn't exist in my organization and across the discipline globally and those roles are becoming more significant for us. The other piece is the ongoing training and development of existing staff and this competency we've got to build across the organization.

What are you looking for from your agencies?
We obviously rely on our agencies for insight on what we're doing at the master brand level, but as it relates to comms tech we're leaning much more heavily on the vendors we've engaged who have either built this stack or are collaborating with us. We're forcing them to work collaboratively with the more traditional agencies in a truly integrated marketing communications agency matrix. The digital agencies are much more influential across the IMC organization than traditional comms/PR agencies. Expertise around data and analytics is still not quite a core competency for many of them.

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