Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part story about the “Reserve Edition,” Lenovo’s 15th anniversary celebration of the ThinkPad laptop.

MORRISVILLE -In the words that marketing executives love, Craig Merrigan describes Lenovo’s “Reserve Edition” ThinkPad effort a “complete play.”

International in scope yet limited by numbers, the Reserve Edition program combines engineering, design, technical support, sales and marketing in one campaign designed to make Lenovo more of a global brand.

But true to its IBM ThinkPad engineered roots, the Reserve Edition is not just “bling.”

“This is not just executive jewelry,” said David Hill, a longtime IBM executive who has worked on ThinkPads since 1995. “We will never jettison the quality of the keyboard or the reliability. There are other smaller PCs out there where pieces may just fly off.”

Today, most laptops pack many of the same features – and look the same, Lenovo launched last week a daring – and expensive – venture into putting some space between it and the crowd.

Lenovo’s $5,000, saddle-stitched leather bound Reserve Edition ThinkPad comes in a limited edition (5,000), is individually numbered and can be embossed with the buyer’s name.

But beyond the handsome leather-bound look, feel and smell is Lenovo’s effort to set the pace among its global competitors. Lenovo is also testing the waters for a new level in personal support for its customers.

“We are seeking to build the best brand by delivering great, compelling products and a great user experience behind it,” said Lenovo’s Merrigan, who is the vice president of marketing strategy behind the Reserve Edition campaign.

Hill, the leader of the engineering and design efforts for the Reserve Edition, stressed that the laptops symbolize “quality and prestige.”

A Durable, if Bland, Tradition

Dating back to their launch 15 years ago by IBM, ThinkPads have had a reputation for performance and durability. But the only thing stylish about them was the snappy logo and the three-color IBM logo.

From inside out, the Reserve Edition strives to be unique with the leather, the special venting system to remove heat, and an antenna for improved wireless network performance. Inside the ThinkPad is a full-disc encryption system for enhanced data security. Added to the package are extended warranty coverage and a promise to get on-site support to buyers within four hours when they are in certain countries.

Famous international designer Richard Sapper was brought in to help design the Reserve Edition, and longtime ThinkPad engineer Tomoyuki “Tom” Takahashi led design and engineering efforts in the Lenovo lab at Yamato, Japan.

Beyond the drive for technical excellence, however, was Lenovo’s desire to establish its name. Lenovo recently began removing the IBM name from ThinkPads even though it still has the rights to use Big Blue’s identity under terms of the $1.75 billion deal done in 2005 that transferred IBM’s PC division to Lenovo.

“This required a lot of effort on our marketing organization and the engineering team,” Merrigan said.

Hill said the design and engineering teams worked with marketing in order to “do things that are distinctive to help make our brand noticed. As well, we also want to continue to deliver the message that Lenovo is not only going to take great care of the ThinkPad but that we also will actually improve it.”

An ‘Object of Desire’

Merrigan noted that unlike with luxury cars or clothing or even food, in the PC business most PCs are not that much different.

“The CEO of a company is not likely to sit in the same chair as his or her assistant,” he added, “but the CEO is likely to have the same PC.”

If the Reserve Edition is a success, Merrigan said it will become “an object of desire” and carry “a certain cache.”

Lenovo also did not leap blindly into the custom laptop project.

“We did some psychological research, and people think of their notebooks as being highly personal based on what they have done with them,” Merrigan explained. “But designs to date have not really reflected that. The reserve Edition is very touchable and brings a personal quality to it.”

Lenovo also plans to take much of it learns from the Reserve Edition commitment for use in other machines – from the antenna to personalized technical support. Lenovo added staff, and the tech support team for the limited edition ThinkPads were given special training to work with the buyers. The additional level of service builds on Lenovo’s “Experts Live” service, which targets small business users.

In designing the ThinkPad, Hill said some compromises would not be made.

“We would never jettison the quality of the keyboard or the reliability,” Hill explained. “We know how to make laptops half as big, but they wouldn’t deliver the quality or the reliability users expect. We’ll only go so far. We don’t want our monitors to be cardboard.”