Dell emphasizes servers and service

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Headquarters: Round Rock, Texas
Brand established: 1984
2003 advertising: $466.9 million
Brand equity: $13.0 billion
CoreBrand ranking: No. 17
Roth: “They own the direct-to-customer
Ries: “The dominant personal computers-sold-direct brand.”
Roth: “Can they maintain the direct-to-customer relationship at a high level?”
Ries: “While there is nothing wrong with selling computer printers, cameras, PDAs and other products in conjunction with personal computers, Dell should be quick to cut back on these secondary products if they can’t be sold at a profit.”

Since its inception in 1984, Dell Inc. has striven to become synonymous with value and reliability in the PC industry.

The company struck gold with the "Dell Dude," who first appeared in the company's TV spots in 2000. His laid-back but smart price-meets-performance message struck a chord with high school and college students-and their families-putting Dell at the forefront of the home PC market. After the actor who played the "Dude" was arrested for marijuana possession in 2002, the computer maker swiftly shifted its focus to a more serious, business-oriented approach that built awareness that Dell was not just for consumers but also a viable corporate computing option.

"We've built the Dell brand over time and will look for ways to continually enhance it," said Michael George, Dell's CMO. "Over the last year, we launched two different marketing campaigns: one focused on enterprise server and storage products and the other on our growing line of consumer products."

"This year we also focused on giving all Dell ads-Web, TV, print and catalog-a uniform look and feel to drive the Dell brand across all areas of our business," George said. "Whether we're talking corporate systems and servers or consumer products, Dell's approach is simple: Everything begins and ends with the customer."

The Dell brand both intrigues and befuddles marketing experts. "It's truly one of the world's great brands, operating from a premise that branding is much more than just positioning via advertising, promotion or publicity," said David Parker III, managing director of marketing consultancy BrandX.

"Dell's products and their benefits match the needs in the marketplace with an easily understood position. In addition, Dell has a back end strong in channel consumption, accessibility, purchase experience and service."

Moreover, Parker said, there is great synergy between Dell's b-to-c and b-to-b efforts. "They have pushed the business marketplace with their servers, peripherals and new lightweight laptops," he said. "And tactical vehicles such as direct mail campaigns and e-billboard ads have increased, as have corporate discounts."

But Peter Shankman, president-CEO of marketing agency the Geek Factory, sees some inconsistency in Dell's approach to branding over the last several years.

"They had Steven, the Dell Dude. They did great with him until someone suggested they were pushing away adults," Shankman said. "So they turned their efforts to small businesses ... and succeeded again until someone suggested they were losing kids and college students."

Now, they're trying to balance both, Shankman said, and they're being smart about it. "They're appealing to a demographic that's used to doing things on their own. You go online, you configure it, you pay for it, it ships, you receive it and you get it running yourself," Shankman said. "And then Dell provides extraordinary service online or over the phone, a crucial factor to small-business owners who can't afford IT guys. Unparalleled service such as this has helped them build tremendous brand loyalty."

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