Major League Laptops Continue Dell's Age of Style Product Strategy

In June, 2007, Forrester declared the beginning of the Age of Style. The Age of Style thesis posited that style and visual design would become critical vectors of competition in consumer electronics. We started our coverage of this trend with consumer PCs predicting that form factor innovations, increased aesthetic diversity, and consumer choice and personalization would become central tenets of competition for consumer PCs.

The baseline of comparison, of course was grim: For many years, consumers' home PCs and work PCs looked rather the same. Mostly bland and functional PCs reigned, aside from the products offered by a few trailblazers like Apple and Sony. But the growth of multi-PC households transformed PCs from "digital hearths" for the entire household into personal devices. Next, laptops moved the PC from the den out into the world -- making PCs devices that are public in nature.

Personal, public devices lend themselves to personalization and customization. Consumers wish to self-express through their choices: The color I like, a theme I enjoy, an association (with an organization or another brand), or even my personal beliefs -- as with the PRODUCT (RED) PC we wrote about when it was released. Self-actualization through the PC I carry with me is often, now, a goal for many consumers.

Dell's new partnership with Major League Baseball to offer laptops with MLB team designs emblazoned on the clamshell continues this trend in an incremental way. Consumers can now carry their Red Sox Dell laptop with them everywhere. (As a resident of Massachusetts, I can imagine these laptops appearing everywhere soon). Dell now offers over 200 personalization options with its Design Studioofferings.

This strategy represents a good direction for Dell, as we've been saying for years. As we wrote in June, 2007, "Enabling consumers to mix, match, create, and re-mix the designs of PCs will become a key Dell market offering [...] (Dell) must embrace plenitude and diversity, a multiplicity of mix-and-match options from colors to materials and finishing details. Dell is the natural heavyweight to occupy this market position."

Today, we continue to find this Age of Style product strategy appropriate because:

  • Dell needs consumer market growth. Its enterprise-heavy strategy hasn't led to recent overall financial success, and Dell has a lot of upside potential in consumer -- if the company can master consumer market dynamics.
  • Dell still isn't strong in retail. Retail requires years to master, determining which SKUs to stock, finding (or paying for) store placement, contending with competitors. Dell has more room to grow here, and style and visual design could help. (Try this: Stock 1 SKU of the Red Sox PC in New England Best Buy stores).
  • Dell remains positioned to customize. Since Dell still sells so much online, and via the Configurator, personalization is a natural opportunity for differentiation for Dell.

Comments

re: Major League Laptops Continue Dell's Age of Style Product S

JP, I certainly agree that style works as a differentiator, and am happy to see PC companies trying to find an identity in this space which supports brand distinction and margin. However, this sort of "skins" approach is thin. It borrows inauthentically from other brands. I call this Spray-On Design in an earlier post. http://merrigan.wordpress.com/2009/04/30/spray-on-computer-design/I genuinely hope PC companies will gravitate toward ownable, brand centric design identities, such as Apple and Lenovo ThinkPad have built and reinforced.

re: Major League Laptops Continue Dell's Age of Style Product S

Craig, I think your comments are great. I would say that aesthetics seem to vary a lot: I couldn't be less interested in a skinned laptop (much less with baseball, which I don't watch or like!). But it seems like there could be a segment out there that really likes them. (Skinning is also getting better, with new techniques that seem to create a better effect).I do believe that many consumers will want personalization options rather than buying into "the Apple look," which I think of as a Louis Vuitton product strategy. But there is surely a place for both, as the car industry shows, too!