Dell Goes Back to B2B Roots With Latest Campaign

Tapping the Startup Mentality Seems to Appeal to Consumers as Well

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Dell has essentially hit the reset button since re-entering the market as a private company and getting back to its b-to-b roots. Now it wants to be seen with the same "entrepreneurial spirit" it had as a startup -- a key message the company is trying to communicate in its "Beginnings" campaign, according to Bryan Jones, Dell's VP of marketing, Americas.

But one of the first things it's learned is that even a branding campaign aimed at businesses can strike a chord with non-business consumers. The social media response has been strong, according to the company, which says it has received nearly 1 million combined views in all of its social channels.

This isn't to say that the C-suite is not responding. On the contrary, Dell claims from the moment the campaign launched it received positive feedback from business customers.

The effort, created by agency Y&R, New York, "tells the story of Dell customers. It helps connect the emerging customers into the discussion around how we as a business got started. What we talk about internally is we are the largest startup since going private last year," said Mr. Jones. "We are going to innovate again, we went private to do that. Working with our agency, we developed a campaign to ask customers and prospects to come in and be a part of that [innovation discussion]. That will build throughout the year."

"We are learning that the b-to-b and b-to-c lines are blurring dramatically. It's still people, and we touch them at both levels. Sometimes it just depends on the time of day it is that determines what kind of customer you are," said Mr. Jones. "The biggest challenge for us is we have lots of solutions, and what keeps me up at night is the idea of people saying 'I didn't know you did that.'"

Since January, Dell has been running TV spots, as well as online videos on CBSi and The Atlantic websites, print ads and signage at Austin International Airport and Times Square. The "Beginnings" campaign primarily depicts where many of today's well-known companies began, including Dell.

"In spirit [going private] is a good thing for Dell, they have the option to now invest for the longer term out of the public eye and how well they do that is critical," said David Johnson, principal analyst, infrastructure and operations at Forrester Research. "It's one thing to put a message of innovation out there, but they have to redirect the culture to be a culture of innovation. Some people used to thinking in the short term inside of Dell may find themselves not ready for the new world."

From a marketing perspective, Mr. Johnson also noted that their message of innovation was a good first step to reconnect with the b-to-b audience, as well as consumers. But Dell needs to show more than just a positive image.

"Marketing wise, the push towards innovation is there. Showing they are going back to their roots is definitely a foreshadowing of what Dell is thinking on what they hope to achieve, but nobody makes a reputation on what they say they will do. The proof will be on what they put out there [to use]."

Dell claims it is now ready for the next phase of its marketing strategy, which will likely entail telling more individual company stories -- including partner companies that work with Dell -- and how they themselves are being entrepreneurial. This will likely occur on microsites, as well as in social media and possibly print and TV as well.

While Dell and Y&R are still reviewing data from the initial campaign, they are likely going to extend it throughout the year and focus heavily on web and social channels.

"There will be more depth behind particular customers, how technology enabled them and we'll also be looking internationally," said Joe Rivas, executive VP and global client leader at Y&R. "We always intended this campaign to be about brand building, with a b-to-b focus, and it is being reacted to by the day-to-day consumer in the same sort of positive way. I think the best b-to-b marketers realize they are reaching people first. You may have a longer lead time for a sale, but you have to have overall brand resonance throughout."

Dell spent $413 million on advertising in the U.S. in 2012, according to Ad Age DataCenter estimates.

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