Dell adds dimension to Web

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In a bid to attract technology buyers amid one of its toughest quarters ever, Dell Computer Corp. is in the early stages of deploying 3-D graphics on all of its product marketing Web sites.

Earlier this month, the company quietly introduced a 3-D rendering-enabled Web site to tout its Power-Edge 2500 server. Next, Dell plans to launch 3-D on all its Web sites, including the 60,000 sites it maintains for corporate clients.

"The strategy we have right now, you see the first step of us making 3-D ubiquitous across our sites," Patrick Vogt, VP-general manager Dell Online, told BtoB last week. (Vogt left Dell just as this story was going to press, but this story was confirmed by his superiors at Dell.)

Although Vogt did not provide time frames, he revealed that 3-D computer-generated graphics will be used on Dell’s main b-to-b selling sites, the Dell Small Business and Medium & Large marketplaces, as well as Dell’s private corporate client sites, for customers including General Electric Co. and Ford Motor Co.

By depicting everything from its servers to its PCs as 3-D objects that can be rotated and turned, the Round Rock, Texas-based company believes it can provide a more realistic buying environment that will help convert undecided surfers into buyers.

"It’s the type of experience we feel will drive Internet sales," Vogt said. "Ultimately, what we’re trying to do is get up visit-to-buy ratios."

3-D all the way?

At least one technologist familiar with 3-D marketing questioned Dell’s plan to use the technology ubiquitously.

"There are some things that are more conceptual, where you don’t need to do 3-D," said Jim Everhart, VP-director of strategic development at Lancaster, Pa.-based Godfrey Advertising. For some of Dell’s complex products—its servers, for example—3-D is appropriate, he said.

And there is the cost factor. A single state-of-the-art 3-D rendering can cost as much as $15,000, a huge investment when multiplied thousand of times over.

Dell is not alone among its competitors in embracing 3-D-rendering technologies. Compaq Computer Corp. has also integrated 3-D across much of its site, for products including its Presario 7000 series PC. And Hewlett-Packard Co. is planning to equip its HP Briefing Room, which is aimed at its resellers, with 3-D renderings of the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company’s servers.

Dell salespeople will be trained to use 3-D rendered sites during client calls, said Bob Rice, president-CEO of New York-based Viewpoint Corp., which developed Dell’s program. "It’s a naïve viewpoint technologists have, thinking that if you just put more technology in, it will sell," he said. "No. You’ve got to allow marketers to tell their story."

Nevertheless, companies have tried 3-D before with scant success. The technology briefly gained momentum in the mid-90s, but clunky designs and insufficient browsers killed the fad. And while most executives have the necessary bandwidth at work to handle 3-D, they may still need to download an application before viewing the 3-D content.

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