Why Apple Should Be More Like Dell

What Dell Can Teach Apple About Marketing

by Robert Velarde (Posted: 7/25/04)


[Please Note: As with all Bully Pulpit articles, the views expressed in this opinion piece are completely those of the author, and are not necessarily representative of CMUG.]

It happened again. That makes twice in the span of about a month. I optimistically approached my mailbox, anticipating perhaps an issue of MacWorld, and what do I find among the junk mail? A slick full-color catalog advertising computers. What kind of computers? Dell PCs. Now, I have nothing against Dell per se. I’m sure they are a successful company in part because of their aggressive marketing tactics. Remember all those America Online 3.5" floppy disks that would pop up everywhere years ago? I guess now they fill giant tubs with free AOL CD’s—at least I’ve seen them in some stores.

What does Apple do? They produce product-specific brochures. Gee, how exciting. Yes, I admit that the brochures I have seen are eye-catching and well designed, but I’ve only seen them in Apple stores or at authorized reseller stores (such as CompUSA). The problem is, these brochures are reaching only a limited market. What I’d like to see is Apple regularly mail out a classy catalog of their products. I know they can do it. But why don’t they?

There may be a number of reasons why Apple does not release a product catalog. First, they have their own brick and mortar stores now and would no doubt rather have people visit these stores to buy a computer. Second, Apple, like everybody else, maintains what is basically a product catalog on its web site. Third, maybe such a venture would be cost prohibitive. I readily admit to being unaware of the costs of producing a slick catalog like Dell does on a regular basis. Fourth, maybe Apple is happy with its current word of mouth strategy and occasional television and print ad campaigns and does not see a need for a printed product catalog.

Nevertheless, I really do think that an occasional printed Apple product catalog would be beneficial. I can recall an instance when a Windows PC user once saw me using my TiBook and was immediately drawn to the slick design and the incredible visual quality of OS X. This person asked me for a catalog of Apple products. I embarrassingly muttered something about the fact that they don't really have a catalog, but they do have a web site and they do have product specific brochures. This person was no doubt accustomed to receiving catalogs in the mail from Dell and maybe other Windows-based PC dealers. Or maybe they are just more drawn to a printed catalog than to the web. One thing is certain—there is little chance this person would go out of his way to stop at a CompUSA (the closest Apple store to my city is about 60 miles away) and pick up a product brochure.

So, quite simply, this is a call for Apple to produce a quality printed catalog and not only to place it in brick and mortar stores along with their product specific brochures, but also to mail the catalog out regularly. Dell seems to do this at least once a month, but maybe Apple can do this quarterly to start and see how it goes. Moreover, even if the catalog ends up in the hands of a loyal Mac user, the catalog then becomes a tool to use in reaching others with information they might otherwise never hear. After all, all people seem to hear in the popular media is negative news about Apple. Sure there's the occasional applause about what a great product they have (such as the iPod mini), but they always have to add the ominous note about how Apple can survive with so little market share. A printed Apple catalog can showcase Apple’s great products and also include a short write-up dispelling the myths about the Mac, such as what they already have on their web site <http://www.apple.com/myths/>.

Just once I’d like to go to my mailbox, open it and not have to gaze upon yet another Dell catalog. Sure, this will still happen, but maybe some day I’ll be sifting through the junk mail and come across a diamond: a slick Apple catalog.

[Note: For an alternative viewpoint, see this article. —Ed.]

Robert Velarde is a writer, editor, and switcher.

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