Dell Fielding Agency Pitches for Its Emerging Software Business

Winner Will Help Usher Dell Into Crowded but Growing Enterprise Solutions Industry

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Dude, some agency's getting Dell (software).

The computer maker is seeking an agency that will help transition the brand from being known primarily for its desktops and laptops to an enterprise software and business solutions company. While the account will require a substantial amount of b-to-b marketing, the winning agency's primary task will be promoting Dell's newly software-focused brand image.

Dell will continue to make new computers, but enterprise is the company's "future," VP-software marketing Joanne Moretti said in an interview.

"In the last three, four years, we've done [more than] $10 billion of acquisitions in the software and services space," Ms. Moretti said. "We're cutting edge. There's nothing that's behind about Dell. We just haven't done a great job of talking about it."

Ms. Moretti said Dell is currently holding discussions with several creative shops. She declined to say exactly how many agencies are in the running, but noted the company hopes to announce a winner by October and debut the creative in December. The creative debut for the rebranded Dell will coincide with Dell World, the three-day conference Dell hosts in Austin each December to showcase how its software is helping clients achieve business goals.

Dell's change of tack comes as the computer hardware industry is shrinking, but enterprise software is still a healthy business. "On the consumer side, if you're just talking about laptops, that's surely not a growth business," NPD's VP-industry analysis Stephen Baker said in an interview.

Dell has been the No. 2 desktop and notebook PC seller in the U.S. behind Hewlett Packard from the first quarter of 2011 to the second quarter of 2013, according to NPD's consumer tracking service. The industry as whole, however, is shrinking by 3% to 6% every quarter over the last couple of years, Mr. Baker said. He attributed this decline to the proliferation of tablets and the industry's inability to produce significantly upgraded products.

"We're at a point that the products you buy today don't really offer anything materially better than you were able to get before," Mr. Baker said about the PC market.

Dell is currently operating in a state of limbo. Founder and chairman Michael Dell, along with private equity firm Silver Lake Partners, is trying to take the company private through a $24.75 billion buyout, but some shareholders, including Carl Icahn, have expressed displeasure with the proposal.

The company's worldwide PC shipments decreased from 9.8 million units in the first quarter of last year to 8.7 million units the first of this year, according to Gartner. Its worldwide shared remained at 11% over that time period.

In January, all of Dell's commercial creative work was consolidated at WPP's Young & Rubicam. Global brand work and consumer advertising is all handled by Y&R.

Enterprise is growing, but Dell and its agency will have to deal with the ongoing struggle to educate businesses and consumers about cloud computing and assuage their concerns about data security. Dell's current enterprise software client roster includes a number of organizations with highly sensitive data such as the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, which has medical information on more than 500,000 patients, and Miami-based non-profit organization OurKids, which provides academic, psychiatry and other resources to at-risk youth. As such, marketing Dell's enterprise solutions as ironclad will be essential.

But as recent history has proven, no network, public or private, is entirely safe.

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