Should Small Businesses Buy “Consumer” Computers: Insight from Lenovo & HP Execs

Over the past few weeks there has been increased emphasis on “consumer” computers. These are computers that are colorful and more “fun” than many traditional computers have been. I guess thanks to Apple’s always slick and cool designs, PC manufacturers are more and more breaking the mold of what’s a “normal” computer and making computers that are much more fun and appealing to the eyes.
The WSJ wrote in a January 4, 2008 article The new focus on looks — underscored by exhibitors at the Consumer Electronics Show, which opens Sunday in Las Vegas — is forcing PC makers to re-think how they manufacture, whom they hire, how they advertise products, and where they sell them.
Why all the action now? Though PC sales are surging throughout emerging economies, PC makers need new ways to spur consumer demand in the U.S. and other mature markets. By wooing buyers who care little about technical features, they hope to better tailor PCs to specific users — including women, students, PC gamers and sports fans.

What’s going on, behind the scenes of PC vendors such as Dell, Gateway, HP and Lenovo producing better looking computers? Craig Merrigan, vice-president of global consumer marketing for Lenovo helped me understand.

The newly launched Lenovo Ideapad will come in colors. Right now its black, but it’s full of fancy features and things a consumer oriented customer (as opposed to business focused) would love.
On the other hand, Lenovo Thinkpads, still considered top-notch notebooks, come in black for those serious corporate types and are for sophisticated businesses – big or small.
Lenovo defines small businesses as those with from 1 – 100 persons and its research shows they have a different mind set in purchasing computers than their larger business counterparts.
Merrigan explained that the more employees a business has the more likely they would value a Thinkpad as it is specifically built for sophisticated business use and is often purchased by businesses who have an IT strategy and an IT manager. These larger businesses view their notebook as an asset to their businesses and want notebooks that they can manage effectively; will help them protect data and has good reliability.
For companies they want to be taken seriously, having a computer with minimal flashing lights and “buzz” is important. Can you imagine a Meryl Lynch financial analyst walking into the average executive suite of a Fortune 500 CEO with a pink computer? I don’t think so.
On the other hand, many smaller small businesses, often from 1 – 5 persons, are on a different side of the spectrum.
These smaller businesses often have no IT strategy; and although their notebook is important it is not a strategic part of their business. For example retail shops and very small manufacturers just want a computer that works. The insides don’t mater all that much to them. These businesses use the PC to do transactions and book keeping etc and not much else.
Of course these small businesses, just like the larger businesses want reliability and support but they don’t need optimization or remote manageability. This group wants to save money first and get a good computer second.
Merrigan explained that there is a third group that’s emerging. This group wants to save money, they also want a good PC but it also has to LOOK GOOD! They want a computer that feels like it reflects their personalities. Cars are unique, cool and have ‘wow’ factor – computers are being created with the same pizazz.
HP’s Lisa Baker, Director of Small and Medium Business Marketing in the Americas said that The needs of a small business owner vary as much as small businesses across the world. For some, a PC made with consumers in mind may be the best for the job, while others will benefit from the features of a PC geared towards commercial use. There has been enormous innovation in PCs over the last several years with substantial benefits to the small business owner.”
“Some commercials PCs have features tailored to business users such as tablet PCs that can be used for handwritten notes and documentation signing, business card scanners, sturdy designs that can withstand the reality of business travel, more security and built in energy-efficient features like redundant hard drives, and software akin to Protect Tools and 80 plus power supplies. Additionally, special service, warranty and financing terms are frequently available to business owners that may not be available to consumers.”

The choice is yours. Stick to a corporate stand bearer type computer that often has a better warranty and possibly better parts. Get a more economical “small business” computer – that’s probably just as stable but maybe with a few features left out to save a few hundred dollars or less. Or go for the look and buzz of a colorful notebook computer and ensure you 39 green shirts always match your notebook computer.

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