One year after Hewlett-Packard’s historic separation in 2015, the newly formed Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), a B2B technology leader, saw a critical gap emerging. While the company retained a strong overall reputation, stakeholders, from investors to customers and even employees, were not equating HPE with innovation or the advanced technologies that would drive the future – from Artificial Intelligence (AI) to advanced computing platforms designed for Big Data. This was a blow to the successor of the fabled company founded nearly 80 years ago in a garage in Palo Alto – long recognized as the birthplace of Silicon Valley.
At the time of the separation, HPE had been widely seen by analysts and media as the stronger entity with the better market outlook. As a leader in high-performance compute and cutting-edge data center technologies, HPE had been doubling down on growth technologies, including supercomputing hardware and software. In 2016, just months after the separation, HPE acquired high-performance computing powerhouse SGI, solidifying its position as a supercomputing giant with an impressive pipeline. The company also expanded its R&D investment, announced strategic acquisitions and unveiled breakthroughs from the storied Hewlett Packard Labs.
But with all of these ‘wins,’ HPE wasn’t winning. In September 2016, Steve Wexler, an industry insider, wrote, “HPE’s strategy is as clear as mud.” Wall Street agreed, with more than 60% of analysts not recommending HPE shares. HPE also appeared to be losing mindshare to competitors that were getting credit for the transformative tech widely seen as reshaping the technology landscape. HPE needed to convince stakeholders and influencers that the company’s prospects were strong and that it was poised to lead the high-growth categories of the future. The communications team set out to improve influencer perception of HPE’s ability to deliver innovative technologies and improve sentiment surrounding HPE’s advanced and emerging technologies.
RESEARCH AND INSIGHTS: HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM
Following years of focused communications on the company’s turnaround and transformation strategy, HPE’s overall media share of voice and sentiment had declined, and HPE was no longer prevalent in agenda-setting business, technology and science outlets as a leading source on innovation or cutting-edge technologies.
At the same time, key analysts were not citing HPE as an innovation leader in priority categories, and the company’s share price was stagnating. HPE commissioned a perception study of its core customer audiences: Business Elites (C-level executives and Business Unit leaders) and IT Decision Makers. The 2016 study pointed to concerning results, including directional declines in behaviors such as “likelihood to recommend” HPE (-6) and “likelihood to invest” in its stock (-8). In addition, while its reputation was generally on par with competitors, competitor reputation was improving significantly YOY while HPE’s was stagnating or declining.
While reputation for HPE and its competitors was driven by perceptions of “higher quality products and services” and “helping solve business challenges,” a key attribute found to drive competitor reputation but not that of HPE was “providing the most advanced computing technology.” This, despite HPE’s leadership in key compute categories, including recognition from analysts, such as Gartner, which had recently named HPE in its “Magic Quadrant” for modular servers (a key hardware system)—one of the highest accolades in the industry.
Digging in further, the research illustrated that the majority of HPE’s reputational equity was built up in legacy technology categories. The company needed to carve out a clear place in the narrative surrounding future technologies to gain ground as a company that “provides the most advanced computing technology” – owning its share of the innovation conversation by educating stakeholders on its vision for the future and achievements in high-growth categories.
STRATEGY: PREPARING FOR TAKEOFF
HPE focused communications around emerging technologies and the company’s ability to deliver advanced computing platforms. But one question persisted, how could they do this when a small subset of the population understands these systems, what they enable and why they matter?
According to research conducted by Pocket, HPE needed to position the company products and innovations as part of a broader trend. To identify the right trend, HPE turned to People Pattern to understand what drove conversations among technology influencers.
The answer: space exploration. HPE’s influencer audience of technologists, scientists and technology enthusiasts was enraptured by the possibilities of deep space – from exploration to the potential of colonization.
Many were fascinated by what life might be like on Mars and participated in #journeytomars conversations. With this in mind, HPE set out to demonstrate the company’s leadership in advanced computing platforms by explaining its unique value within the context of a big, inspirational use case—the technology required to fuel the mission to Mars.
HPE would illustrate how computational power was holding back the mission to Mars, to drive a steady drumbeat of inspirational storytelling in collaboration with influential media partners and members of the scientific community. The team would leverage three major planned company milestones over six months to unify HPE’s narrative on compute and rally behind this inspirational conversation:
1. May 2017: HPE unveils the world’s largest in-memory computational system
2. June 2017: The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) awards HPE funding to design the most powerful supercomputer in the world
3. August 2017: HPE introduces the Spaceborne Computer, a partnership with NASA to send a supercomputer to the International Space Station to test the impact of space on computational performance.
EXECUTION: ONE SMALL STEP TOWARD MARS
The campaign kicked off with a high-profile media and influencer event in partnership with The Atlantic, dubbed “On the Launchpad: A Return to Space,” which took place in May 2017 in Washington D.C.
This event brought together industry influencers and academics on the topic of the mission to Mars and positioned HPE at the center of the conversation with a forward-looking keynote from Hewlett Packard Labs technologist, Kirk Bresniker. In this keynote, HPE illustrated the technological progress that would enable a mission to Mars while also spotlighting a major technological challenge, the limitations of today’s computers.
During this keynote, Bresniker introduced a solution to this problem—HPE’s vision for “Memory Driven Computing” (MDC), a system designed to handle massive data challenges—like the mission to Mars—and one that HPE had successfully designed and unveiled that day.
Supported by a robust suite of online owned content that placed the mission to Mars within the context of HPE’s plans for its supercomputing technologies, the moment-in-time was a resounding success, allowing HPE to engage a wider net of media and influencers than typically cover the company, while also allowing the team to link HPE’s advanced computing research to its current commercial roadmap in a way that reinforced its leadership in supercomputing.
Building on that momentum, the team capitalized on its planned supercomputing milestones – from the DOE announcement to the launch of its “Spaceborne Computer” – to extend the narrative around its leadership position in advanced and emerging computing technologies and continue to bridge its technological advancements to the ongoing discussion around space exploration.
The 6-month educational campaign spanned paid, earned, shared and owned communications channels, and leveraged key executive channels and creative content – including videos, blogs, infographics and animations – to tell a holistic story around HPE’s vision and the power of compute.
EFFECTIVENESS: ONE GIANT LEAP FOR SUPERCOMPUTING
The HPE “Mars-shot” was a resounding success, shifting perception around HPE’s ability to deliver on the promise of innovation. In Q4 FY16, 17.5 percent of media coverage around HPE’s MDC solution was negative. Following the campaign, the negative sentiment was virtually non-existent. For example, in June 2015, MIT Tech Review reported the headline, “HP Puts the Future of Computing On Hold,” expressing skepticism in the company’s ability to deliver on its promise for MDC.
However, in May 2017, following the HPE partnership with The Atlantic, the same outlet reported, “HPE built the world’s largest single-memory computer: it will hold masses of information for big data analysis.”
Further, the comms team connected the vision to HPE’s product roadmap for its high performance computers and saw a steady increase in volume of press coverage quarter-over-quarter.
The content on the HPE newsroom hub performed incredibly well, including a documentary-style video spotlighting the engineers behind HPE’s vision for MDC..
Similarly, communications supporting the Spaceborne Computer launch drove 83 percent of traffic for the week of the announcement. HPE executive social channels were critical to the success of this content and its promotion, with HPE CEO Meg Whitman’s supporting LinkedIn Influencer post for the Spaceborne Computer ranking in the Top 5 on LinkedIn for the month. Also, Meg’s Facebook livestream of the HPE keynote during The Atlantic event garnered more than 631K views on May 16.
HPE continued to see strong momentum in its high performance computing segment, including winning the top honor at the International Supercomputing Conference in June 2017, achieving the milestone of most installed supercomputers on the Top500 global ranking and, most importantly, at the close of Q4 2017 reporting 37% growth in the high performance computing segment year-over-year.