Coming from Behind: Lexmark Steals the #2 Spot
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report
CEO

Coming from Behind: Lexmark Steals the #2 Spot

“We sell $2 billion worth of printers annually – but we have no brand equity and no coherent identity. We are facing limited growth until we reach our key audiences."

Paul Holmes

Imagine a scenario: In 1998, Roger Rydell, the vice president of corporate communications at Lexmark International, Inc. dropped a copy of Business Week on the table in front of The Weber Group (TWG).  The article plainly stated that Lexmark “has an identity problem.”
 
“We sell $2 billion worth of printers annually – but we have no brand equity and no coherent identity. We are facing limited growth until we reach our key audiences.  This is the problem,” he said. “How are we going to fix it?”
 
Two years later Business Week would again make its way into the hands of Roger Rydell.  Only this time, the publication asserted, “They’ve [Lexmark] become a major player.”
 
This seismic shift in editorial perception is only one small example of the success of Lexmark’s redesigned corporate image. And, here’s how we did it.
 
BACKGROUND AND RESEARCH FINDINGS
 
TWG began conducting media and marketplace research in June 1998 to determine Lexmark’s perception among key audiences (Technology and business reporters, as well as industry analysts).  We uncovered four dismal truths.
 
  • Lexmark was an unknown. (“They are not visible enough” – Fortune, “I’ve heard of them [Lexmark], but I don’t know anything about them.” - How Magazine)
  • Lexmark was overwhelmingly eclipsed by Hewlett-Packard, Xerox, Canon and Epson. (“They are a struggler” – IT Strategies a hardcopy output and supplies analyst firm, “They are a distant fourth.” - Lyra Research, a hardcopy output and supplies analyst firm)
  • The company’s singular printer-only focus and limited advertising budget exacerbated a lack of brand recognition within key constituencies. (“They haven’t distinguished themselves” – Rolling Stone; “They have no brand name” – Lyra Research)
  • H-P was a front-runner that could never be challenged. (“They [HP] definitely have the dominant role.  They’ve guided the market…” – IBD; “Right now, Lexmark is about as threatening to HP as a flea on a gorilla.”  - The Idaho Statesman)
 
PLANNING
 
The team decided to bypass the various market underdogs and aim directly at the market leader—HP.  We knew that only such a bold move would ignite the excitement needed to begin building the Lexmark brand.  A key component was the elevation of Lexmark business and consumer product lines.  The team used product hooks to wage a two-front war and build awareness with different audiences simultaneously—changing  the perceptions of Lexmark and vastly increasing the visibility of the company and its products. 
 
  • Separate Lexmark from the pack.  Create the image that the printer market is a “two-horse race” involving only H-P and Lexmark.
  • Elevate Lexmark’s leadership.  Establish Lexmark as a thought-leader on industry issues, and strengthen relationships with the key market influencers who had previously turned their backs on the company. Use financial success to elevate company messages and mission.
  • Be the best. Never “do business as usual.” Distinguish Lexmark’s products through innovative announcements, launch tours and customer programs, and enhance the company’s credibility with an industry accolade program.  Every tour, award submission and product announcement must contribute to the larger mission of elevating Lexmark.
 
EXECUTION
 
Throughout 1999 and 2000, The Weber Group and Lexmark pursued programs that nailed the stated strategies and objectives:
 
Separate Lexmark from the pack.
Took highly competitive product lines on the road – boldly squaring them up in side-by-side demos against comparable HP units. And, Lexmark won every time.
Elevated discussion of printers to focus on “ultimate consumer choice” and recruited new customers with a focus on Lexmark’s wide array of options, price points, speed points, purchase points etc.,
Spearheaded programs that raised awareness of products and programs among distributors including: Juno Internet/“free” printer pricing promotion; World Series and PGA tour reseller/corporate customer events; NAPS releases that offered fun, creative uses of a printer.
 
Elevate Lexmark’s leadership.
Turned former critics into advocates –spokespeople were tasked with developing relationships with industry influencers, sharing information and commenting on the future of printing. Then we did it again. (Repeat, reinforce, and go on the road.)
Developed an annual media-only forum focusing on provocative issues—allowing Lexmark to “own” the future of printing.
Elevated key executives as thought leaders in the marketplace by placing them at key conferences with high profile speaking engagements.
 
Be the best.
Made the best technology the most heralded technology. Pursued all industry accolades on behalf of Lexmark because nothing is more compelling than a third-party calling you “the winner.”
Ensured that Lexmark’s brand received equal billing in partnership news with the likes of Compaq, Kodak and SAP.  Leveraged their reputations for Lexmark’s own brand advancement.
Combined an aggressive reviews program and the ubiquitous power of the Internet to get Lexmark on every desk and in every office. Participated in promotions, extended the reach of an editorial review and bombarded buyers, sellers, resellers and readers with “Lexmark” and “quality.”
 
EVALUATION
 
We did it! Lexmark is the clear number-two printer manufacturer on the heels of H-P and enjoys a steady flow of media coverage (thousands upon thousands of hits) that continually reinforce Lexmark’s brand.  The program achieved its intended results whether you evaluate:
 
Separate Lexmark from the pack.
The company has a reputation for making excellent printers, and for being a pain in the neck for bigger players like HP.” - San Jose Mercury News
“...investor perception is that Hewlett-Packard is somehow getting creamed by Lexmark in its core business.” - street.com
“Lexmark International, spun off from IBM, is Hewlett-Packard’s biggest printer rival.” - Kiplinger’s
“There is an old-fashioned head-to-head fight for dominance in the printer market, between Hewlett-Packard and Lexmark International…I give the nod to Lexmark in this rivalry.” -individualinvestor.com
 
Elevate Lexmark’s leadership.
Lexmark executives spoke at over 30 forums or conferences compared to 3 in 1998.
Lexmark had 19 consecutive quarters of growth and sales and customer wins are up significantly.
A warning on Q3 2000 earnings announcement was mitigated by aggressive outreach to influencers with key spokesperson input  -- and the stock began to bounce back quickly.
Gained recognition for thought-leadership and futuristic thinking.
 
Be the best.
Lexmark secured over 200 industry accolades (including Good Housekeeping ‘Good Buy’ award for 2000, Business Week’s “InfoTech 100,” Fortune’s “Most Admired Companies,” and Industry Week’s “100 Best Managed Companies”) compared to a paltry 33 in 1998. Lexmark has shown significant growth in its coverage numbers, as the other manufacturers have stagnated or declined.
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