Saturday, September 22, 2007

Be What You Are

Over at ZDNet, David Morgenstern writes about Dell's desire to give itself some Apple cool.

But Dell 2.0 wouldn’t be just about efficiency said [new head of marketing Mark] Jarvis, who, chatting with reporters after the event, suggested that his goal is to make the Texas company as sexy as Apple, the company that has arguably become the arbiter of cool in consumer electronics.

“Apple has become the conformist company,” said Jarvis, arguing that it’s now become so established as to demand an opposite. “I want Dell to be the different company,” Jarvis said, and when asked for the how, replied: “Watch this space.”

Consider Dell's history. It's a proud one: Dell rose to the top of PC makers because of operational excellence. They figured out how to put together components more quickly and efficiently than anybody else, making it possible for buyers to order exactly the PC they wanted and get it fast. They cut out the middleman and the markup that comes with retail distribution. It's no small achievement.

It is not, however, remotely like Apple's achievement, which was to use industrial design excellence and product innovation to create a profitable niche, inspire amazing customer loyalty even when they screw up (as they have always done regularly, like most companies), and create a whole cultural identification around their products.

That's the kind of stuff that makes marketers salivate. Because... it's fun. It's fun to do splashy ads that everybody talks about, to have your product launches covered on the nightly news, and to define a whole category the way iPod has.

But I'm trying to imagine someone driving their Prius through my bobo neighborhood with a Dell sticker on the back window, and I just can't see it.

The real kiss of death for this plan is that it's clear that Dell isn't really attempting to reinvent themselves: they want to be the Wal-Mart-esque masters of the supply chain and be Apple cool.

Reinvention alone would be an incredible challenge. Reinvention when you won't give up the past is pretty much a suicide mission.

And, most importantly, Dell's past is a good one. Whatever problems the company has now, there is certainly a role for a super-efficient PC manufacturer. It's just not the "Apple cool" role. Dell, like so many other companies, needs to be what it is and be excellent at it. Trying to be Apple sounds like a disaster in the making.

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