Nov 09

Dell shifts into overbrand


Dell layers a new sub-brand on its sub-brand

With a name that brings back memories of their dead-end acquisition of Zing, Dell now brings us Zino. Or should I say Inspiron Zino. Sorry — I mean Dell Inspiron Zino HD.

It’s not exactly a miracle of miniaturization (1.5 inches bigger than the Mac mini in every dimension). But I must admit, Dell has accomplished something fairly unusual: they’ve squeezed three brands into an eight-inch square.

This little bout of multi-branding actually pales in comparison to what Dell has accomplished across its product lines. It’s the branding equivalent of urban sprawl.

For example, a customer shopping for a laptop at dell.com can now choose an Inspiron. Or Latitude. Or Studio. Or Adamo. Or Precision. Or Vostro. Or Alienware. That’s seven independent sub-brands with crossover features, named with no apparent logic. Grafted onto those sub-brands are the sub-sub-brands: XPS, Mini and now Zing. I mean Zino.

I’m not speaking out against sub-brands. I’m speaking in support of common sense. Isn’t the whole point of creating a sub-brand to distinguish a family of products? Seriously, how many customers can play back what Dell’s product lines stand for?

“The more, the merrier” is not a marketing plan. That Dell can provide a ton of choices is a wonderful thing. That they can’t organize them into clearly defined sub-brands is a shame.

Oh god. It’s happening again. I’m feeling the urge to make another Apple comparison. But I will resist — and compare to Dell’s nearest competitor instead. Over at Acer.com, things are pretty darn clear: three laptop sub-brands, with multiple choices under each. Should Dell really give a damn how Acer does it? Only if they’re taking inventory of the reasons Acer just blew past them to become the world’s #2 PC maker.

To be honest, I’m surprised that Dell has let this go on. If making life simpler for customers isn’t reason enough to streamline, you’d think that cold, hard cash would be. While Dell’s margins have become microscopic, the cost of designing, manufacturing and marketing this mélange of sub-brands is huge.

But it goes as it goes. In Dell’s world, the Dell Inspiron Zino HD will be a perfect fit. Under-marketed — and over-branded.

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  • I get a lot of emails and phone calls from friends asking me to fix their laptops (my #1 piece of advice every time is get a Mac) but it’s got to the point where I just say “What brand, how old?”.

    Calling me up and telling me your “Dell Lumoso Flirrox 5200 Series X200 micro-lasered with Flux-Capacitor” is having issues with the screen means nothing to me, oh if only all companies named like Apple did…

  • @ dan: “please fix my Powerbook” doesn’t tell you anything until you hear that it’s a ______ from _____.

    and by telling you they had a “Dell Lumoso Flirrox 5200 Series X200 micro-lasered with Flux-Capacitor”, didn’t that just give you almost everything you needed to know except the model year? which you’d have to ask as well of Apple, HP or anyone else as well as “which OS?”…

    granted the problems are denser in the PC world, but same scenario and now Dell, in their infinite mercy and wisdom has seen fit to add to the pile because they don’t have to handle the calls, it’s marketing to people with ADD: make enough pretty shiny things that these consumers will just go from one shiny new purchase to another, make them cheap enough and they’ll discard the older toys…

    how many people hold onto hard drives anymore? with prices dropping almost daily, it’s almost cheaper to just by a new 2TB from Western Digital than get your old one looked at and cloud-servers are starting to pop up with frequency so storage might be an issue of the past…

    netbooks, tablets and smart phones (oh my) might actually be more robust, plentiful and affordable that we might be looking at the sea-change in computing… according to a poll last year, in Japan, one of the most tech savvy nations around, people were asked “on what will you spend your electronics dollars next year (2009)?” the overwhelming response was smartphones, internet enabled tablets and netbooks, etc.

    when asked why not a new computer or laptop, the responses were that the computers they had in their offices and maintained by their companies were plenty for what they needed and their old laptops at home were plenty for emails and online gaming, but connectivity on the roads and in the street were more important, so all these new offerings might be moot in 5 years, sort of last gasp efforts?

  • Ken,

    I just don’t understand where the logic is for the model in Dell’s product line.

    I understand why Apple puts out the mini. It’s a switch model that lowers the cost of entry to move from a PC to an Apple: Already have a PC with a monitor, a keyboard and a mouse? For $599 you can keep those things and switch to a Mac.

    For Dell, where’s the switch play? It seems like they’re just cannibalizing their own market.

    Apple doesn’t have to worry about cannibalizing their iMac products with the mini. The monitor and computer are built into the same case, and you can’t use an iMac as an external monitor. So they’re protected from existing Mac users buying a mini in order to hold off upgrading. The only Mac model that has a separate monitor/computer housing is the MacPro line. And nobody using a Mac pro is going to downgrade to a mini. So it’s a pure switch play.

    What are purchasers of a Dell Inspiron Zino HD switching from? An existing Dell? Maybe they see it as a proposition for buyers who are extremely price conscious with the current economy, and the Zino can help them get by without upgrading their whole kit. I guess there is logic in that.

    Even still, it just seems like a me-too play. Likes someone at Dell said, ‘Hey, Apple’s making a little box computer. We should do that too.’ Without thinking through why it makes a lot of sense for Apple to put one out, but has a lot less strategic relevance in Dell’s product line.


  • ken segall

    I had a thought along similar lines as I was looking at one of Dell’s promo shots of the Zino. It’s sitting near the keyboard, off to the side of the display. Okay, it’s small, but it’s still one more thing taking up room on your desk. At that point, why not just get the all-in-one Dell and really simplify. With the small size of the everyday Inspiron towers these days, Zino actually doesn’t really save much space.

  • Cory

    ummm…. Chris, you can use the new iMac 27 inch model as an external monitor.

    But… I was comparing the specs on the Zino and it’s not as cheap as Dell would like everyone believe (like all Dell products)… it’s a switch and bait scheme really… they get you in with the low under $300 price tag and after you’re all said and done… you well over $600, but more likely closer to $1,000.

    First… just to get close to the Apple Mini specs ($599 version)… you’re already up to $600 and your memory is slower (and cheaper – 800mhz as opposed to 1066mhz) and the processor is slower, two things that can NEVER be upgraded – you can’t upgrade the bus speed from 800 to 1066.

  • Kesey

    I don’t know how pro bono you’re feeling Ken, but it would sure be interesting to see some suggestions on what Dell should do. Easy and fun to point out the mess that it is, but some insight on how you’d simplify it if you were in charge would be an interesting read :)

  • @Cory, The iMac 27 is the brand new model. After reading your reply, I went to Apple’s site to research it. This is a feature that was just introduced (and candidly, I was not yet aware of). Upon further reading I see that the video outputs for the Mac mini support up to 1920×1200 resolution and the iMac 27 is 2560×1440.

    Now, the mini does support up to 2560×1600 with the addition of a “Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter”, but you cannot use the DVI connection to run the iMac 27. Perhaps you can Get a Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter coupled with another DVI to Mini DisplayPort adaptor, but somehow I bet it just wouldn’t work (maybe the resolution goes back down to 1920×1200 ?). Even if it can be hacked with a string of adaptors, it looks like Apple did go to some length to keep people from being able to use the mini to cannibalize the iMac market, even by users of the new iMac 27 (they do seem to have thought of everything).

  • i’m confused… if you have an iMac 27″ with 4 gigs of RAM and a 1TB internal drive, why would you want to ‘hack into it’ with a Mac mini?

  • ken segall

    Agreed, it’s easy and fun to jump on other people’s problems. Exactly why I do it! It would be interesting to see what everyone’s solutions might be, but Dell’s problems are XXL — that would take quite a bit of work. Remember, this issue didn’t just pop up overnight. Dell chose this path years ago, and has reinforced it a hundred times since.

  • @Ken,
    It would still be fun to hear your opinion on how a Dell like company should divide/structure its product lines for a more organic shopping experience for the customer.

    Is simplifying the product line more difficult when you are a company that deals in low margin, high volume sales like Dell? I would think that simplification would be what they strive for, less overlap, more efficiency,… but it seems like almost every company in the technology business falls victim to this problem.

  • ken segall

    Just my opinion, but the biggest mistake they make is treating the business and consumer lines so separately. That’s based on a very old stereotype. The real difference now is mainstream vs. pro. Consumer and business customers need to have both choices — but they don’t need to have separate models. And yes, I do believe you are correct that this kind of simplification would result in far greater efficiency (better margins) as they move forward. Not to mention a product line that makes more sense to people.

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