Can Hewlett Packard Do Marketing Right?

Sep.18.07 | About: HP Inc. (HPQ)

By Carl Howe

Last week, Hewlett Packard (NYSE:HPQ) announced it will hire Michael Mendenhall, a 17-year veteran of Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS), to be its new Chief Marketing Officer. Given HP's struggles to market its PC products, I think this move is long overdue. And I think Mendenall is the ideal candidate to turn HP's marketing around. Why? Because few companies understand consumers and marketing better than Disney, as was illustrated by a trip I took to visit the Mouse several years ago.

I took my late Dad and my family on a Disney land/cruise combination trip back in 2000. For those who aren't familiar with these deals, you get four days at the Walt Disney resorts in Orlando and access to the parks, followed by a three day cruise in the Carribean. You're given park passes in the form of magnetic stripe cards that also act as your room keys to your hotel. And we thoroughly made use of those passes, wandering from our Boardwalk hotel to Epcot to Walt Disney World for those full four days, sometimes eating in the parks, and at other times at our hotel.

The full magnitude of Disney's marketing integration only became apparent when we left Orlando for the Port of Miami and our cruise. When we boarded the Disney Wonder, we discovered that our Disney passes, which had been our room keys in the park hotel, also unlocked our stateroom on the ship. And when we sat down to eat in the evenings, I was surprised to hear the waiter suggest wines that were similar to, but a step up from, the wines we'd been enjoying at Disney World. Unknown to us, Disney maintained a running list of our preferences and purchases. And our waiter, who was in many ways our personal ambassador to the ship experience and followed us from dining room to dining room, both had access to and was trained to make suggestions based on that purchase history. In short, we were quietly and subtlety marketed a better experience based on our prior Disney experience. And I fully expect that if we returned, that experience would continue from where it left off seven years ago, with age-appropriate adjustments for our now much-older kids. Disney's systems really are that sophisticated.

Disney's great marketing came from a commitment by Walt Disney to create the best customer experiences possible. We don't yet know if a similar commitment is forthcoming from HP, but I do know this: if Mendenhall brings even half of the marketing sophistication that Disney has in its resorts to HP, it's going to create a much better customer experience than it has today. The big question will be whether HP's IT-centric and customer-unfriendly culture can accept the need for such integrated marketing and the big changes needed to make it happen. Let's hope it does.

Last week, Hewlett Packard (HPQ) announced it will hire Michael Mendenhall, a 17-year veteran of Walt Disney Company (DIS), to be its new Chief Marketing Officer. Given HP's struggles to market its PC products, I think this move is long overdue. And I think Mendenall is the ideal candidate to turn HP's marketing around. Why? Because few companies understand consumers and marketing better than Disney, as was illustrated by a trip I took to visit the Mouse several years ago.

I took my late Dad and my family on a Disney land/cruise combination trip back in 2000. For those who aren't familiar with these deals, you get four days at the Walt Disney resorts in Orlando and access to the parks, followed by a three day cruise in the Carribean. You're given park passes in the form of magnetic stripe cards that also act as your room keys to your hotel. And we thoroughly made use of those passes, wandering from our Boardwalk hotel to Epcot to Walt Disney World for those full four days, sometimes eating in the parks, and at other times at our hotel.

The full magnitude of Disney's marketing integration only became apparent when we left Orlando for the Port of Miami and our cruise. When we boarded the Disney Wonder, we discovered that our Disney passes, which had been our room keys in the park hotel, also unlocked our stateroom on the ship. And when we sat down to eat in the evenings, I was surprised to hear the waiter suggest wines that were similar to, but a step up from, the wines we'd been enjoying at Disney World. Unknown to us, Disney maintained a running list of our preferences and purchases. And our waiter, who was in many ways our personal ambassador to the ship experience and followed us from dining room to dining room, both had access to and was trained to make suggestions based on that purchase history. In short, we were quietly and subtlety marketed a better experience based on our prior Disney experience. And I fully expect that if we returned, that experience would continue from where it left off seven years ago, with age-appropriate adjustments for our now much-older kids. Disney's systems really are that sophisticated.

Disney's great marketing came from a commitment by Walt Disney to create the best customer experiences possible. We don't yet know if a similar commitment is forthcoming from HP, but I do know this: if Mendenhall brings even half of the marketing sophistication that Disney has in its resorts to HP, it's going to create a much better customer experience than it has today. The big question will be whether HP's IT-centric and customer-unfriendly culture can accept the need for such integrated marketing and the big changes needed to make it happen. Let's hope it does.