Even by its historical standards 2007 was an eventful year for technology vendors.
There was upheaval in the core markets of CPUs and operating systems, home broadband and wireless networking became the rule, and there was further consolidation in the PC sector.
Prices continued to plummet, with PCs now available for the kind of money we used to associate with flash drives and flash drives coming free with a box of Cornflakes. Possibly.
Against this back drop there has been enormous pressure on margins, with the channel especially feeling the pinch. The most successful vendors have been those that have provided the greatest assistance to the channel and thus ensured their products. In the increasingly polarised retail marketplace, there has been an increased premium put on adding value and therefore margin. While distributors have continued to innovate in this area, the onus is ultimately on vendors – the companies that actually produce the stuff – to help the channel to entice consumers with more than just price-cuts.
The companies shortlisted for our five vendor awards have been chosen for their commitment to the channel, both in terms of the products they have made and the assistance they have offered in selling them. Many of these finalists have also shown excellence in the area of post-sales support, marketing support and press relations.
SALES TEAM: HOME
Not content with being one of the world’s biggest PC vendors, 2007 saw Acer acquire US PC outfit Gateway and with it Packard Bell. At the same time, Acer has responded to feedback from the channel and created a clear delineation between those products offered through mass merchandisers and those offered by smaller retailers and resellers.
Having introduced leather as an unlikely new material in the structure of a laptop, Asus has continued to innovate in 2007, most conspicuously with the launch of the phenomenon that is the Eee PC. The sales team has developed a great relationship with the channel, supporting distributors all the way through a product’s lifespan and working day and night to ensure any problems are resolved quickly and efficiently.
Earlier this year, AVG invested in independent research to measure customer perception of its anti-virus products and found the overall satisfaction rate of AVG users in the UK to be 98 per cent. In October, the AVG home sales team launched a new campaign across the UK to raise awareness of the risks of Cyber-theft. The Stop Cyber-theft campaign aims to educate the public to stay safe online through press coverage.
A byword for innovation, Belkin has been quick to make ‘draft n’ standard wireless networking products available through the channel. Through an attention to design and added features like the broadband ‘speedometer’ featured on its N1 Vision wireless router, Belkin gives retailers a lot of features and benefits to play with when trying to secure a sale. Latterly, Belkin has been an innovator in laptop accessories.
Predominantly through its monitor brand HANNSG, the Taiwanese LCD specialist managed to acquire a big chunk of UK market share from a standing start in 2007. A major reason for this has been its channel strategy and it’s for this reason that Hannspree has been nominated. The firm’s after-sale policy in particular has caught the eye, with each of its monitors coming supplied as standard with a three-year onsite warranty and its support team is based in the UK.
SALES TEAM: BUSINESS
Adobe’s dominance of the creative software market showed no sign of abating in 2007, with its Creative Suite again being the choice of the design industry. Photoshop and Illustrator remain the standards by which such software is judged.
While many of its rivals continue to battle it out in the competitive consumer printer sector, Brother has made SMEs one of its key markets and thus has become an important company for many resellers. A key innovator in the multifunction device category, it has also been a key promoter of ever more affordable colour laser printers and so is a real home office and SME favourite.
A bit of steady leadership following the stormy Fiorina era has seen the Silicon Valley veteran go from strength to strength. It has taken market share from Dell in both the PC and server sectors, while it continues to innovate in the printer market. With Dell becoming increasingly active in the channel and Acer going from strength to strength, HP has had to ensure its channel relationships are as strong as ever.
Since its acquisition of IBM’s PC business, Lenovo has become a byword for reliability and durability. Building on the strong ThinkPad and ThinkCentre brands that it inherited from IBM, Lenovo has gone to great lengths to further develop its relationships with business to business resellers and distributors. Not content with that, it is also rumoured to be expanding its consumer facing operations.
The need for storage has never been greater so it’s just as well that capacities have been rocketing while prices have plummeted – who would have thought once that you’d be able to get a 1TB hard drive for under £200? In a competitive sector, Seagate has continued to innovate and add value to the channel, both through its internal and external hard drive products. It also continued to build on its 2006 acquisition of rival Maxtor.
MARKETING & PR TEAM: HOME
In the two years the team has been in place the Asus brand has grown considerably in the UK, for which the marketing team must take a lot of credit. From being viewed primarily as a components manufacturer, Asus moved into the mainstream in 2007 with a series of innovative laptop launches. The PR side hasn’t done badly either, with Asus winning over 140 awards this year alone.
The French software giant had a busy 2007, acquiring US software house Nova and EMME in Europe. Such major acquisitions always pose a major challenge to the communications arms and Avanquest’s marketing and PR team has risen to the challenge.
2007 has seen a real return to form for the processor giant and the area in which it has impressed the most has been the consumer sector. Intel’s Core microarchitecture raised the bar significantly and, in the post-Gigahertz era, its marketing operation has done a great job of communicating a highly technical message to the marketplace.
A series of excellent product launches, coupled with the on-going incorporation of rival ATI into AMD, have contributed to an excellent year for graphics specialist Nvidia. It has built on this with some effective marketing, both directly and through its board partners. The continuing success of Nvidia’s The Way It’s Meant To Be Played developer relations programme has also been a critical factor in its success.
Being the top dog in the incredibly competitive security software market must be a precarious position, which is what makes Symantec’s continued domination of this sector all the more impressive. The key to it maintaining its position has been to avoid complacency and Symantec’s continued efforts to communicate the importance of security software have benefitted not just its partners but the whole industry.
MARKETING & PR TEAM: BUSINESS
The small/medium business market has been a real focus of Acer’s marketing team, with a series of targeted campaigns. It teamed up with Intel to promote its V-Pro technology to UK resellers and also with Microsoft to explain the virtues of Vista. In both cases it invited resellers to a series of road shows and produced a broad range of assistance and collateral to assist resellers in selling this technology.
The first manifestation of AMD’s native quad core processor was as a server CPU, codenamed Barcelona. AMD’s server brand – Opteron – has been a real success story and the quad core version should continue that. The marketing team had a challenge explaining such concepts as ‘performance-per-watt’ and virtualisation and did so admirably.
While most people rightly associate HP with PCs and printers, what many consumers won’t be aware of is its strength in the server market. 2007 has seen HP continue to take market share from its rivals in this sector. In the UK its channel marketing team has ensured it continues to communicate with distributors and resellers alike.
Lenovo was a much stronger brand at the end of 2007 than it was at the beginning and, for that, the marketing team has to take much credit. By emphasising the unique virtues of its ThinkVantage software and maintaining the empathy for the needs of businesses that was always associated with IBM, Lenovo has ensured it remains a key brand in the business.
The business world runs on Microsoft and at the start of 2007 it launched new versions of maybe its three most critical pieces of software: Windows, Office and Exchange. While, inevitably, the transition has been challenging for some, there can be no questioning the herculean effort Microsoft has made to communicate the benefits of the new software and to support all adopters of it.
One of the least discussed components of a PC is the case, but together with the power supply unit, this component has a critical role to play in controlling the temperature of a PC and, hence, minimise noise and power consumption. Antec has a great reputation as one of the leading specialists in this area and, thanks also to its RMA and post-sales policies, is particularly well-regarded in the channel.
Becker chose 2007 to launch its satnav products into the highly competitive UK market. As you would expect of a German company, the emphasis is on design excellence and it has done a great job of taking the fight to the incumbents. Becker has also launched a car stereo that combines traditional aesthetics with latest technology.
In 2003 Big Red identified a niche in the server market at the smaller end. It didn’t think that smaller companies had many server products designed with them in mind and so it launched the Bigredbox server appliance. Four years later Big Red has a strong reputation for value, ease of use and excellent support and maintenance. Another British success story for the technology industry.
Thanks to Which? magazine, everyone now knows that printer ink is more expensive than vintage champagne. Not everyone wants to pay those prices, which is where companies like Medea come in. The generic ink cartridge has exploded over the past few years and Medea has been right at the centre of it. It also offers other computer consumables such as optical media and labelling equipment.
OneClick is a true British success story. This Nottingham company has invented a plug adaptor which, when a PC is plugged into it, automatically turns off any peripherals also plugged into it when the PC is turned off. This obviously saves on electricity bills and, to use contemporary hyperbole, helps save the planet.