Dell and the wish for Apple's cool

Dell wants Apple's mind-share. But when a $60B computer company says it wants to be "cool," perhaps it's time for the market to worry?
Written by David Morgenstern, Contributor
At a briefing in San Francisco on Monday, Michael Dell and other company officials presented a vision for "Dell 2.0," a leaner, meaner selling machine. However, from comments after the huddle, there appears to be a monkey on Dell's back and it's wearing an Apple t-shirt. Apple came up in the conversation and Michael Dell said there was plenty of room in the consumer space for the company to grow. You can read Dan Farber's report here. And it appears that Dell's 19 percent growth in second quarter enterprise revenues isn't cool enough for company execs.
Dell’s Direct Model in color
Mark Jarvis, Dell's new chief marketing honcho, put the competition with Apple even more boldly, according to an article by Tom Abate in the San Francisco Chronicle. Jarvis wants some of Apple's sexy mind-share.
But Dell 2.0 wouldn't be just about efficiency said 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."
Dude, is that "different Dell" the one that's now in warehouse retail? The direct-only company is putting its systems on retail shelves in Walmart and other giant discount retailers. After mocking its PC competition over the years about selling in the channel, Dell admits there's a benefit there after all.

We should recall Dell's tenet Number 1:
We believe that the most efficient path to the customer is through a direct relationship, with no intermediaries to add confusion and cost. We are organized around groups of customers with similar needs. This allows our teams to understand the specific needs of specific customers - without customer needs being "translated" by inefficient resellers and middlemen.
Of course, there's been bad blood for years between Dell and Apple over mind-share for years. I remember when Dell poached key members of Apple's desktop and notebook design and marketing teams in the mid-1990s. One fine moment in the feud happened on CNBC a week after Apple announced its first physical store. Michael Dell was on the Business Center show and dissed Apple's announcement:
"No, you know, we figured out 10 or 15 years ago that you don't need stores to sell computers. We have stores; we call them online stores. ... We think the best computer store in the world actually is at Dell.com. Physical stores have been tried by a number of our competitors, and generally, actually I would say universally, that strategy hasn't panned out."
Perhaps hindsight is better than foresight at times. Apple has more than 150 retail stores, sales at which at times have comprised almost 20 percent of the company's total revenue. And don't overlook the growing number of mini-stores in Best Buys and CompUSA stores. In that same 2001 show, interviewer Sue Herera pointed out that Apple's iBook was better for the education market than Dell's portable because it was smaller, lighter, and had more features than Dell's. Michael Dell countered that all he had to say to Jobs was that he loved Toy Story 2. Ouch. But 6 years later, Dell wants some of that Apple "cool." Good luck. You have to ask yourself what reality-distortion field is happening down in Round Rock, Texas? Dell is the big-dog box maker. It is the very definition of the "conformist company" as Jarvis said. Is Dell asking the market to "think different?" Could they be sinking so low as borrow Apple's cast-off slogans? No doubt, they will correct its grammar to enjoin us to "think differently" about Dell. The Apple brand is cool because the company delivers on innovative hardware technology, hardware of decent quality, excellent integration of hardware and software, and usable customer-centric software. The Apple brand is cool because it has the audacity to call its support desk The Genius Bar. The Apple brand is cool because it runs summer programs for primary school kids to learn about digital content production. The Apple brand is cool because it's the little engine that could. It is the comeback kid with a great communicator at the top. Launching colored Inspiron notebooks on the catwalk at Macys certainly won't make Dell cool. Compare that engineering innovation with the MagSafe connector on the Apple notebooks — that's cool. Dell can say it's cool all it wants but that won't help. Look at Sony. Look at Microsoft. "Cool" is something that is given by the market to a product or a company brand. Apple is cool because the market decides, not the company.
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