New tech still suffers
old marketing woes
March 3, 2003
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
is my neighborhood computer retailer. Of course, I also shop at
Gateway and at Dell. But when I want to get hands-on with a piece
of equipment close to home, I like CompUSA for the convenience.
wanted to put my hands on a Tablet PC, a new product category
that's about the size and weight of a notebook computer, but functionally
more like a writing pad. With a Tablet PC, you use a stylus and
write notes just as you would with pen and paper. I heard about
the new Tablet PC in a conversation with a lead user, Peter Siegel,
the chief information officer of the University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign. He told me his department had been offered a
number of the devices to test last year.
Then I read
an article in The Wall Street Journal by technology columnist
Walter Mossberg touting the Compaq TC1000 as "the most innovative
of the group" of new Tablet PCs launched last autumn.
As I drove over to the computer store, I felt this invisible hand.
It was like someone's marketing program was working pretty well.
I'd received word-of-mouth communication about a new class of
product from a friend. Then I'd been reinforced to consider a
specific brand by an article in a trusted publication.
a pretty clever marketer, I thought. That someone turned out to
be Matt Mazzantini, manager of the commercial product marketing
team for Hewlett-Packard in Houston. In a recent interview, Mazzantini
laid out the marketing campaign behind the TC1000. It's targeted.
It's integrated. It's efficient. And I think it's a useful model
to illustrate the challenges and complexity of launching a new
Here are some
of the things Mazzantini and his colleagues did:
development: They built a flexible product. They were evolutionary,
not revolutionary. The TC1000 works as both a notebook with
a keyboard or as a tablet. "The technology is adapting
to the way we, as humans, like to work," Mazzantini says.
Then there's the carbon glass face and the four-to six-hour
battery life that Mazzantini likes to publicize. "The competition
won't come anywhere near our battery life," he says.
The product costs from as low as $ 1,699 if purchased from the
Web site. Mazzantini claims the merged HP/Compaq is striving
to be cost-competitive. "We've decided to price aggressively.
We're lower than Toshiba, Acer and Fujitsu. Overall, we're between
3% to 7% lower than competition," he says.
- Beta programs:
Mazzantini participated in two preproduction beta programs,
one driven by Microsoft -- in which they chose the customers
and deployed beta units of the product to their customers. In
addition, HP did its own "early evaluation" program
for which they seeded HP customers who had an interest in the
form factor of the Tablet PC.
Mazzantini did a lot in this area. He says there's a fairly
healthy advertising budget.
event: They launched the product for customers and reporters
at a special event held at the Millennium Hotel in New York.
"This was the first time in a number of years that we had
a real 'launch event,'" he says.
- PR: Building
on the launch event, Mazzantini got some favorable press for
his product, notably a positive review from Mossberg's Journal
technology column. Unfortunately for Mazzantini, Mossberg was
skeptical of the product category mainly due to software challenges
from Microsoft. He saw the product as useful only for specific
segmentation: Mazzantini anticipated this concern. He's focused
on the education, pharmaceuticals, healthcare and legal markets
as prime targets for his new creation. "Anyone who uses
a lot of forms and documents, that's the target," says
Mazzantini, who also described a psychographic target. "Corridor
warriors: People who go from one meeting to another are the
target," he says.
marketing/co-op programs: Building awareness within the target
was key. Mazzantini focused on low-cost and high-impact co-op
programs. "We were on the cover of all the catalogs of
our channel partners. We're in the process of being on the Web
sites of every one of our retailers," Mazzantini says.
"We are trying to be everywhere online with the product."
He also described an aggressive direct e-mail program.
- Web marketing:
Once buyers are aware, Mazzantini wants them to learn about
the features, functions and competitive advantages of the TC1000.
Drive them to the Web site is his approach. Mazzantini has built
a solid Web site at www.compaq.com. There's a 3-D illustration
that emphasizes the flexibility of the product.
- Sales strategy:
Mazzantini's staying true to the tradition of HP innovation,
using it as a lever. He's demonstrating the TC1000 as a door-opener
with large-scale commercial clients -- customers who like to
see new devices and expect innovation from HP. That gets the
buyer's attention. Then he sells them either TC1000s or the
traditional line of notebooks. He says he's ousting incumbents
such as IBM and insurgents such as Dell using this approach.
"We've grown our overall share the past couple of quarters
leveraging off the TC1000," he says.
"One of our partners is FranklinCovey (the Salt Lake City-based
learning solutions company)," Mazzantini says. "They've
got a software application that works on the TC1000." He's
also partnering with Microsoft.
strikes me as an impressive marketer. He's crafted a well-balanced
launch campaign that weds marketing impact to cost efficiency.
The program he describes feels far more rational and reasonable
than those of the dot-com boom years.
My only concern
about Mazzantini's program is the complexity. Given the global
scope of his product, he and his team have a lot of details to
This doesn't faze Mazzantini. He feels marketing tech products
is "even easier than launching traditional packaged goods.
Once customers have an opportunity to see the product, they fall
in love with it. It sells itself and makes my job a lot easier,"
a true believer. I'd expect nothing less.
is a fly in the ointment: product distribution and shelf space
-- old-time packaged goods problems.
CompUSA, I asked the salesman if he'd heard of a Tablet PC. Could
he point me to the Compaq TC1000? He scratched his head and checked
the store computer.
store, there was a huge promotional display for mobile devices
enabled by the Pentium 4 processor M. Ablaze in front of me was
an array of color computer monitors tuned to the day's NBA game.
There were notebooks, a large display of cell phones, a computer
game department and a plethora of HP photo-quality printers.
the store computer under "Compaq TC1000." Nothing came
up. I asked the salesman to search again under "TC1000."
There is was. None in inventory. Price: $ 1,999. He encouraged
me to shop for it on the Internet.
but not discouraged, I thanked the salesman and left the store
realizing just how hard it is to get distribution and shelf space
with today's computer retailers. Maybe marketing technology products
is as tough as marketing traditional packaged goods.
doing a great job; he's just got one more detail to cover.
is a partner with DiamondCluster International in Chicago. He
can be reached