This is the second major tech brand integration for Lenovo after it bought IBM’s "Think" PC brand more than a decade ago.
The IBM ThinkPad sub-brand subsequently became the Lenovo ThinkPad, retaining elements of the original brand, such as the distinctive red dot crossing of the ‘i’. The deal helped Lenovo become the world’s biggest PC firm, but also gave the brand a slightly stuffy, enterprise computing image.
Moto could be the modern-day rebirth of Motorola and the batwing logo
Motorola, despite its legacy status, retains some "strength" as a brand, according to Lenovo’s chief marketing officer, David Roman. In particular, he highlights the Moto sub-brand of products as having the cool factor Lenovo so sorely lacks in its smartphone offering.
Roman told Marketing: "We certainly want products to be branded Lenovo, because the company has to be everywhere. We don’t want to lose the strength of Motorola, particularly Moto, which I think has a very strong brand.
"Exactly how we do that, we have not yet figured out."
The Moto sub-brand covers Motorola’s most popular devices, like the Moto G smartphone, the new Moto X Play, and the Moto 360 smartwatch. The name remains beloved of older consumers who remember both the "Hello, Moto" tagline, and Motorola’s standing as a premium mobile brand before the iPhone wiped out the competition.
Deciding nomenclature for future products is a little thornier this time around. IBM’s ThinkPad was already a sub-brand, rather than an entire company.
Roman said: "ThinkPad is a stronger brand than it was [under IBM], and it’s still very much a Lenovo brand.
"Lenovo is the company, and has certain attributes like reliability, value and innovation. Think, as the product brand, is different. It has robustness and the fact we design ThinkPads to a military spec."
He added: "We haven’t gone through that full analysis with Motorola – today Motorola is a product brand and a company. Now the company becomes Lenovo, but the products stay Motorola."
Lenovo still has some time to decide, namely because Motorola is still releasing products from its roadmap under Google.
Last month, Motorola unveiled the new Moto G, the Moto X Play and the Moto X Style smartphones, all of which were planned while the company was owned by Google. To that end, Lenovo won’t be integrating the Motorola brand properly until next year, said Roman.
Motorola – the start-up brand?
For now, Motorola’s chief marketing officer, Adrienne Hayes, has to tread a careful line between three brands – Motorola, Lenovo and software partner Google.
She told Marketing: "Both Motorola and Lenovo are innovators and one has a legacy in the West, the other in the East. We’re thinking about ways to converge the best of both.
"Lenovo’s new tagline is ‘Never Stand Still’, and that certainly applies to Motorola. I think Motorola fits nicely as a company into that overall company brand architecture, with Moto as the hallmark."
She added: "With Google Android, that’s one of the foundations of our products and something we’ve become known for."
Curiously, Hayes described Motorola as a "start-up brand". Motorola, as a single entity, was formed in 1928, but spun off its handset unit in 2011, which became Motorola Mobility.
Hayes said: "We think of ourselves as a brand that has been reborn and is a total challenger. There are a lot of people under the age of 25 that had no exposure in their lifetimes, so they don’t know about the original brick phones, or the Razr flipphone."
Both Hayes and Roman suggested that Motorola could be dropped, while the Moto sub-brand lives on.
Hayes said: "My hope is that Motorola lives on a long time. That said, there's a lot of equity we're building up with Moto, so Moto could be the modern-day rebirth of Motorola and the batwing [logo].
She added that Motorola and Moto were "almost interchangeable" in consumers' minds.
Lenovo’s cool rebrand
With a full brand integration with Motorola yet to come, Lenovo’s been busy updating its own branding in the meantime. The company unveiled a new logo in Beijing earlier this year, with an eye to appealing more to millennials, plus the 'Never Stand Still' strapline.
The logo is designed for digital, rather than print, with a background that can be changed to show different colours, images or video.
And while Lenovo is increasingly popular as a smartphone brand in India, China and Brazil, it hasn’t made the same mark in Western markets.
After the Motorola merger, Lenovo is the third-biggest smartphone maker globally. That’s impressive from a standing start, but its market share is a fraction of Samsung and Apple’s, who hold around 43% of the global market between them, according to IDC.
We come from a much more boring position of being a tech company that builds and ships pretty good products – but we want to be perceived as an exciting innovator
In an increasingly mobile world, Lenovo can no longer rely on its number one position in PCs to drive its brand, something Roman acknowledges.
He said: "If we look country by country, in India Lenovo is driven more by smartphones than PCs, and so our brand is driven more by phones. There’s a lot of energy in India for Lenovo and the brand itself is doing well.
"PCs help drive the commercial part of our brand. But for the consumer brand, it’s more driven by high mobility products."
The rebrand then, is about repositioning Lenovo in mobile, and as a brand that leads rather than follows. That’s a tricky proposition to pull off when you’re at number three.
"The reality of the numbers is what it is," said Roman.
"From a marketing perspective, we saw this as a tremendous opportunity to change, and to establish the perception of where the company is going."
He added: "We come from a much more boring position of being a tech company that builds and ships pretty good products – but we want to be perceived as an exciting innovator, in the leading edge of new technology."