How Apple Really Should Be More Like Dell

Another Perspective on What Dell Can Teach Apple About Marketing

by David Burke (Posted: 7/26/04)


[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.]

Robert Velarde has written that Apple needs to mimic Dell Computer's tactic of filling our mailboxes with slick product catalogs. Others have argued that Apple should do more to match Dell's low entry-level prices. I would like to respectfully disagree.

I don't think that Apple should do anything that would jeopardize the quality of their products, and reducing their margins to ridiculously thin in order to compete against Dell with a low-end, low-quality, super-cheap system would inevitably lead to more problems and bad PR than Apple can afford.

I really don't believe that the average consumer buys Dells because they're cheap. A friend of mine bought a Dell a year ago (his first computer) and ended up being upgraded to death by the salesperson. By the time his machine was configured, it had gone from $599 to $1399. And my friend didn't have any problem with that! I think that his is a common story among Dell purchasers.

They may remember a price from a Dell commercial, but what really gets Dell's foot in the door is their sheer media saturation; and no, I am not talking about those glossy Dell catalogs we all receive twice a month. The cost for Apple to print up millions of those would surely not be justified by the meager return. What spurs the average computer user (meaning 95% of all computer users) and the first-time buyer to purchase a new machine is almost always a TV commercial (at least here in the US). Most Americans do not have an attention span long enough to be reached by anything longer than a 30-second flashy audio-visual ad.

The funny thing, which either Apple does not understand, or which Steve Jobs is simply too arrogant to consider (a distinct possibility), is that selling is about creating awareness and has very little to do with educating people about your products. I am always hearing about how Apple needs to run infomercials to educate and refute the Mac myths. Guess what — No they don't! They just need potential customers, when they are planning to purchase a computer, to think of Apple as a possibility along with the other options they've heard of — Dell, Gateway, and HP mostly. And right now, that isn't happening.

We may see a cool commercial for the flat panel iMac or the G5 that really gets the watcher's attention — that is if they happen to be awake at 1:30 in the morning and watching A & E — but that commercial runs for a couple months and then disappears. Did Apple go out of business? Did they run out of computers (smirk)? The average viewer doesn't know, but they do know that they're still seeing a Dell commercial every 15 minutes, and that Dells are easy and reliable (they must be, the commercial says so).

The iPod's continued success is largely due to the fact that people actually know it exists! The iPod commercials don't teach anything about the iPod's superior user-interface or its high-quality industrial design. They just show people having fun using it.

"But Apple makes computers as well," you say? "Huh, I hadn't seen anything on TV, so I thought maybe they didn't anymore." Now, true, the next sentence is likely either "but aren't Apples (not Macs, Apples... aargh) more expensive" or "but aren't Apples not compatible" (even though they don't know what this might mean). And, yes, that indicates that there is still plenty of myth-busting left to do. But nobody is going to go looking for more information unless it occurs to them to consider a Mac in the first place. Most of the proposed Apple catalogs will go right in the trash, unless someone's curiosity is spurred already by seeing people having fun using Macs. We need to see at least the eMac and iBook on TV, and I mean a lot.

Forget about competing with Dell's prices using the same "bait and switch" tactics. Forget about Apple ever producing a cheap, low-production-cost "headless iMac." Let's just start with the simple fact that Macs are alive and well (and cool) and pound the airwaves with it until it is as much a part of everyone's consciousness as "easy to buy; easy to own; easy as Dell." And, no, I didn't read that in a catalog. ;-)

David Burke is honored to be CMUG's Ambassador and lives in Ephrata, Pennsylvania with his wife, Becky, their son, Joshua, and another little one on the way. David is a trained tenor and a freelance writer. He also produces multimedia for use in ministry, and since "switching" three years ago, would never ever consider using anything other than a Mac to do it.

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Why Apple Should Be More Like Dell: What Dell can teach Apple about marketing.
Bible Software: Business or Ministry? Cutthroat Competition? Christian Charity? or Compassionate Capitalism?
Glad Steve's a Buddhist: Examining the fate of Konfabulator.
A Personal Perspective on the Problem of Evil: How God brings good out of tragic loss.

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