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Q&A: AMD's Leslie Sobon

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NEW YORK When Microsoft’s Windows 7 makes its Oct. 22 debut, consumers will see a simpler and easier way of buying computers. That is, of course, if microprocessor manufacturer Advanced Micro Devices -- Intel’s major competitor -- has its way. AMD promises changes in store (and literally in the stores) as part of a new campaign called Vision, which aims to simplify the computer-buying experience. Historically, computer marketing touted the processor’s core technical capabilities. But that, said AMD’s vp, worldwide product marketing Leslie Sobon, was not always what a customer cared about. Given the explosion of digital media, she said, it’s time for both manufacturers and marketers of these products to get with the times. Sobon recently spent some time on the phone with Brandweek and explained how AMD will make that happen.

Brandweek: AMD recently began a campaign to simplify computer shopping for people. What told you there was even a need for that?

Leslie Sobon:
It’s a recognition that what matters most to mainstream consumers is the experience they get from their PCs. As we’ve moved over the last couple of years to digital media, that experience [has really become] a visual experience. It’s about how rich your photos are, how well your video works, how easy it is to transfer digital content from your PC to iPod. AMD happens to be uniquely positioned to serve that market with our platforms, and we wanted to use a program like Vision to help our OEMs [original equipment manufacturers like Hewlett-Packard and Toshiba] bring that visual experience to life for consumers.

Share some of the marketing insights that led you to make the changes you did.

It’s really the understanding that notebooks or PCs are like consumer electronic devices. When you look at how mainstream consumers use their PCs, they probably use them for entertainment. They are not doing Excel spreadsheets or PowerPoint presentations on them. They are playing games, watching videos and TV with Hulu HD. [Computers] are entertainment devices... And so, we thought we ought to help the ecosystem in our own little way by starting to promote and advertise that these are [consumer electronic] devices instead of merchandising them like [utilitarian computers].

If everyday people are using computers as entertainment devices, why has microprocessor marketing remained so tech-focused -- and out of touch?

It really began with the microprocessor technology. In the 1990s, Intel dictated a lot of what was going to be marketed to the end user. That campaign was highly successful as a way for them to make sure the end user understood what Intel -- the ingredient brand that sat in their PC -- was. But it also led to jargon about speeds and feeds. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing [because] you didn’t have many choices. But [now, computers] have become consumer electronic devices. People don’t need to understand the technology. They need to understand, “Does it do the things I want it to do? Is it good for playing a Sims game or Lego Star Wars?” Consumers don’t care about gigahertz or gigabytes, nor should they have to care. We’ve been marketing in this industry like it’s 1995. It’s 2009, and the PC industry needs to be more forward-looking.

I guess it’s too bad so many advertising dollars were dropped on marketing specs that nobody cared about.

It’s a shame for the PC industry. The mainstream consumer research shows that the brand that matters is not Intel [or AMD], but Dell, Acer, Toshiba and HP. When people buy an HP computer, they buy it because that’s the brand that matters to them. What we want to do with Vision is help our OEMs sell [their products] through the great visual technology they get courtesy of AMD. That’s the best an “ingredient brand” can do.

Talk a little more about Vision’s key elements.

We’re supporting our OEMs by reducing the sticker proliferation. The research tells us that the sticker doesn’t really serve the end user. It might serve the retail associate to help clue them in [on the type of computer the consumer needs], but it really doesn’t serve the end user. So we got rid of the complexity and moved them from 220 to four: “basic,” “premium,” “ultra” and “black,” which is mostly used in the desktop space for high-end gaming.

The other piece is sales associates training. What we’ve been able to do with Vision is to move that down to talk about usage, so when they are in a situation with a consumer in a retail setting, they have very specific questions they can ask them, like, “Hey, do you have photos and music on your PC?” “Do you watch videos on Hulu HD?” “Are you into videos?” “Do you use Facebook?” From there, they can direct them to one of three [mainstream usage options] for Vision -- see, share and create -- and it’s pretty much an easy way for them to get the consumer to the right PC.

Are you hoping to piggyback on some of the fervor around the Windows 7 launch?

It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Vision in conjunction with the Windows 7 launch. That is a fantastic operating system. A lot of folks have been waiting for that operating system to come out, so we’re certainly hoping for [that to help us in] the holiday season.


Nielsen Business Media