Intel, perhaps best known as the maker of chips and processors found in electronic devices from HP, Dell, Lenovo and others, rarely used to get recognition for the pivotal role it played in powering other companies' technologies. However, by integrating its brand into events like the Olympics, along with honing a focus on emerging technology areas like drones and virtual reality, Intel has in recent years amplified its voice to earn the attention of more businesses, consumers and, in particular, millennials.
"When I came to Intel, we had been marketing the brand as an 'ingredient brand,'" CMO Steven Fund said during a Q&A panel at the IAB's Annual Leadership Meeting in Palm Desert, CA, earlier this month. "By definition, marketing yourselves as an ingredient brand means that you're invisible. We weren't getting credit for all of the experiences and the technology that we were dealing with."
Since that time, Fund, his team of marketers and their agency partners have worked to reshape Intel's strategy to look at business-to-business and business-to-consumer functions holistically in order to create a more cohesive brand image and messaging. This has affected Intel's approach to tactics from celebrity ambassadorships to how it incorporates a growing roster of technology products into live events. The latter point has been critical for engaging millennials who, according to Fund, are essential for Intel to win over not just as consumers but also as the business decision-makers of the future.
"We started to do everything related to the passion points of millennials: sports and music and entertainment," Fund said.
"As we started to create these experiential marketing activations on very high-profile stages, whether it was the Super Bowl, the Grammy Awards or partnerships with the NBA or NCAA Championship [...] we saw all of our brand metrics take off," he added.
Using technology to enable experiences
Intel's dive into experiential marketing targeted at the millennial set didn't emerge from out of the blue, even as the strategy has become an increasingly popular one across sectors. Instead, the brand, still in a bit of a soul-searching period, dipped into the old well of market research.
"We talked to consumers and millennials, specifically, all across the globe," Fund said. "What we found was people really value experiences over products. We are a product-based company, so the idea was to connect our products to the experience that enables them."
Sports have become an active area on Intel's path of transformation, especially through VR. The brand has VR deals in place with a growing number of leagues that includes the NCAA, the NBA, the NFL and MLB. To create its content, Intel leverages sometimes hundreds of in-venue cameras to put the user on the field or in the stadium in ways that will eventually work in tandem with other technologies like volumetric video to deepen immersion. Intel's also set up an in-house production studio called Intel Studios that offers other businesses and agencies access to its set of content creation tools, attracting early interest from major entertainment players like Paramount.
"We think this is the next big trend in media — really to immerse yourself and make it feel like you're there," Fund said. "Not only in sports [...] think about entertainment or music, you can be behind-the-scenes or behind the stage at a concert."
For the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, earlier this month, Intel broadcast 30 events, including 15 in VR, according to Fund. Drones have been another critical piece of its experiential playbook, which helped it win marketing gold at the games: the brand this week topped the list of Olympic global sponsors for Facebook and Twitter engagement thanks to its drone-related videos, according to to the social data and analytics firm Shareablee.
Finding the right face for the product
Adopting more traditional marketing tactics has also worked in Intel's favor. In breaking out of the ingredient brand mold, the company has signed on more big-name celebrity ambassadors, including professional athletes and the actor Jim Parsons. Parsons, the star of the nerd-centric TV show "The Big Bang Theory," has been a consistent favorite among younger viewers, according to Fund.
"With Jim Parsons, our brand among millennials four years ago was just not where it needed to be," the marketer said. "We got a guy that we thought: a.) symbolized the brand, and b.) really connected with millennials — he's been on the No. 1 rated show with a millennial audience."
Finding the right face to represent Intel's products has delivered value for the brand at a time when consumers, and especially younger consumers, are viewing celebrity endorsements with a greater degree of skepticism. A majority of millennials at 78% either don't like celebrity endorsements or are at best indifferent toward them, according to recent research from Roth Capital Partners.
"Our budgets aren't as big as some of our competitors out there," Fund said. "We felt like having this one consistent character would drive recognition and awareness, which it has proven out to be.
"We look at awareness per point of media investment or dollars [...] and we compare it to what our competitors are doing," he added. "We see multiple times more efficiency by using someone like that. The reason is, as soon as people see an ad with Jim Parsons, they immediately know it's an Intel ad."
Breaking down silos
This type of resonance has translated beyond consumer-facing marketing and actually informed how Intel approaches dealing with enterprise businesses as well.
"We never really saw a differentiation between consumer marketing and B2B marketing, candidly," Fund said.
"Jim Parsons is a great example where we started out using him in consumer-based advertising and then we migrated to use him in B2B advertising," he added later. "LeBron James [...] we use him in PC advertising, we use him in autonomous driving advertising. We take the same personalities and the same tonalities of our advertising and we extend it to the B2B space."
While measuring the results of these types of experiments and breaks with the traditional marketing mold is important, Fund emphasized how intuition is the best way for marketers to search out a successful strategy that works for their business.
"If you get paralyzed by data, I think you will become very conservative and not do these big ideas because you're always going to be worried about return on investment," Fund said. "Sometimes you just have to trust your gut."