Dell at 20: What others should learn from this tech success

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Back in October 2001, around the time I logged on to the Dell Web site to buy myself a laptop, the computer company launched a major ad campaign to tout the benefits of its direct sales model to midsize and large businesses. While I don’t recollect that campaign, I do remember being impressed by the Dell site, which led me easily through its terrific product configurator.

Round Rock, Texas-based Dell turns 20 this year, a milestone that prompts me to ponder the company, its success (2004 fiscal year net revenue totaled $41.4 billion, up from $35.4 billion the year before) and its influence on the PC marketplace and online sellers in general.

• Consistency. Back in 2001, when I bought my laptop, Dell’s measured media spending was $226.9 million, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR; its consolidated ad account was handled by Omnicom Group’s DDB Worldwide, which had won the business that April. Last year, Dell’s measured media spending was $387.9 million, and DDB Worldwide is still its creative agency. In fact, last September Dell handed its online media buying and planning, an estimated $60 million assignment, to Omnicom Group’s OMD Digital. Consistency also goes to the top management of the company, notably founder Michael Dell, the computer industry’s longest-tenured CEO.

• Internet.
While you still find executives parroting the "efficiencies" of the Web, sophisticated players such as Dell know firsthand about the heavy investment this remarkable infrastructure demands. Dell launched its Web site in 1994 and added e-commerce capabilities in 1996; the following year, it was the first company to record $1 million in daily online sales. The lesson? It takes substantial investments in people and technology to make a great site.

• Brand.
Here is where Dell surprised and surpassed its Web-centric competitors. The company has always understood the powerful influence of brand—notwithstanding, in my opinion, the regrettable and now-retired "Dell Dude" campaigns—on sales. When polling organization Harris Interactive and the Reputation Institute released their Reputation Quotient 2003 rankings earlier this year, it wasn’t a surprise that Dell was the only PC hardware company to make it into the top 10.


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