Grant McCracken: “IT” Extraction (Killing A Brand Softly)

Last week, quietly and without fanfare, ThinkPad decided not to renew its flagship model, the X301.

Last week, quietly and without fanfare, ThinkPad decided not to renew its flagship model, the X301. The X301 is a beautiful machine. It has that wonderful ThinkPad keyboard, a huge screen, and it weighs only a little bit more than a ballet slipper. It is a miraculous demonstration of what design and engineer can do.

And now it’s done for. Lenovo is proposing the ThinkPad T410s as the x301s replacement. When called upon to explain himself, Lenovo Marketing Director, Wang Lipin said that T400 series was more powerful than the x301, and cheaper by a thousand dollars.  The trouble: the T400 doesn’t have “it” quality. It is a business machine in the most pedestrian sense of the term. No trace of elegance. No claim to being the pick of the technological litter. No “wow” factor. The T410 is just another business machine.

This takes us into one of the thorniest issue in the branding world. What is “it?” And what’s “it” worth?  It’s a difficult discussion because “it” is inscrutable. We can point to “it.” We know “it” when we see it. But when it comes to anatomizing, measuring, and pricing “it,” well, this proves difficult and all the marketing and pricing models break down.  This would be a mere irritation if “it” weren’t such a gusher in the tech world. But it is. All of us can buy a phone that is smarter, faster and cheaper than the iPhone. But none of these has “it” status. We may not be able to measure “it,” but we don’t hesitate to pay the premium it demands of us.

Apple turns out to be pretty good at “it.” In fact, Apple now pretty much owns “it” in the computer world at the moment.  Except when it come to the lightest, full function laptop. The Apple entry in this category, the MacBook Air, is a pretty good machine. But that’s all it is. A pretty good machine. It doesn’t have “it.” Until last week, that belonged to ThinkPad.

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