Dell has launched a new back-to-school campaign highlighting the lower prices of of Dell laptops compared to Apple.  At a high level, this is a great idea.  Apple has regained a (the?) leadership position in the educational market, which is important beyond its immediate size because of its longer-term implications.  Dell has invested in design and now touts a nice-looking line that can reasonably compared with Macs.  Having the well-regarded Windows7 instead of Vista helps, too.  However, this effort suffers from several serious flaws:

  • It’s really hard to tell what the advantages of the Dell are.  I think the point is that the machines are similar, at least in hardware specs, but the Dell is much cheaper.  Surely the web designers at Dell could have come with a way to highlight this point.
  • The site ignores Apple’s student discounts ($200, plus a free iPod Touch– a small handout to both parents and students).  Even with this price difference, the Dell is still cheaper.  So why not be upfront about it?  Most students and their parents who are preparing to buy a new laptop for school probably know about the Apple offer already.  So now if anyone actually reads through the whole chart, they are going to doubt the veracity of the claims.  (Heck, Dell could always note that with their savings, you could buy your own iPod/iPhone/trip home/trip to spring break.)
  • In addition to being hundreds of dollars cheaper, Dell is offering additional discounts in the range of $200-$300.  How many people are going to say: “I was going to spend hundreds of dollars more on a Mac, but now that Dell has reduced the price a bit more, I’ll buy a Dell. It must be just as good but costs half as much”?  Pitch the discounts when you’re targeting price sensitive segments, not when you’re trying to swipe people from Apple.  It’s worth noting that in it’s heydey, Dell was the Apple of the PC world, with the top-notch specs and higher unit selling prices than the competition, which had a very positive effect on profit.
  • What family is this in the picture on the laptops page?  They don’t look like they’re trying to save money on a computer.  🙂

What should Dell do?  Aside from addressing the issues above, they should talk about why the Dell experience is as good or better than the Apple experience.  Don’t just present a bunch of specs.  For example, one of the potentially powerful benefits of the Dell– the 25GB of free online storage– is buried at the bottom of the third tab.  Why not let them know that they don’t have to worry about losing that research paper, it’s all backed up online?  (Not that your Dell would ever crap out on you, of course, it’s just so snazzy that someone might walk off with it.)  And sure, more people may use Windows Live Messenger than iChat, but perhaps not in the student’s demographic.  Make sure they know that they can use the widest array of software, including the ability to do video chats and share files with Macs.

And if you really want to highlight the price, provide a comparison of what students and parents could do with that extra money.  All things being equal, maybe the kid would really want an Apple.  But what if he could do the same work on the Dell, and go to Europe for the summer?  (Don’t make it too much about the price– otherwise that $499 iPad might start to look appealing.)

Come on, Dell.  Here in Austin, we want you to succeed.  Now here’s a comparison.  Less specs, more about the benefits, the value.  Check out Apple’s education page.

3 Comments

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