One of Dell's interesting and unique problems is that it doesn't have a quarterly and annual cadence driven by financial reporting. Dell is a private company again, and that means they don’t need—or apparently want—to report their financial performance regularly. Part of their reason for going private was to remove this source of aggravation from their executive staff. But the problem is that while their competitors talk regularly about what they are doing Dell doesn’t, and that gives them a lower profile.
Marketing is about assuring the image, reputation and positive perceptions surrounding the firm, and fixing this problem has been the goal of Dell’s uniquely strategic CMO Karen Quintos and her team. To address this at the Dell Annual Analyst Conference this week, she released the first Dell Annual Report to Customers.
This is a fascinating effort and unique in the market.
Traditional Annual Reports must adhere to a set structure that appears to focus a great deal on making sure the company doesn’t overstate its performance past or future. As a result, these tend to be almost painful to read with language that often seems to have come from the same folks who write tax code. I expect that is because some of these same analyst types are involved heavily in both efforts.
The end result is that these reports are long and boring and relatively uninformative—often leaving out the specific details that you are specifically interested in. This is simply because the goal of the report isn’t customer satisfaction, it is legal compliance. Dell doesn’t have this same legal requirement, so its report can look very different. But who innovates on reports? Apparently Dell does.
Unlike the traditional annual or quarterly report, the Dell report is designed to inform. So it is a graphic with icons that can be flipped to find the single piece of information that you might be interested in. They give you a Hollywood Squares graphic presentation with little tidbits of information on various subjects that you can in turn click to get the detail that backs up their claim. For instance, if you click on the Fortune 500 image you will see that 98 percent of these firms buy from Dell. If you click again it takes you to a page of videos and charts that explain this position.
This is substantially ahead of any similar effort I’ve yet seen, and it bridges far more successfully the needs of the customer to understand more about the vendor and the material the firm can share on these subjects.
Dell, at this analyst event, is showcasing how, because they are now private, they can focus more on innovation and customer satisfaction. While this report is a great first attempt, I can easily see how they could also use this as a showcase for their data analytics efforts. I would expect future versions of this report to organize the information it presents based on the known interests and preferences that the reader has shared and dynamically adjust to those changing preferences. I would expect it to grow to become more than just a showcase of what Dell has done, a showcase of what Dell can do.
I expect Karen Quintos, due to her more strategic role at the company, to be far more able to not only set the bar but to exceed it over time.
A private company that was once public is relatively unique in this, or any, market. This means the firm has both unique advantages and unique problems as a result. The most obvious problem is one of reporting, and Dell has showcased an application of the innovation that they see as a unique advantage to create a unique solution.
Over time, even public companies might want to consider following Dell's lead to make sure their customers get similar access to the information they need from their vendors. While initially it is just a showcase for what Dell has done, I expect that eventually it will be a showcase for what Dell can do—and that’s when the magic will really happen. This wouldn’t even be possible if Dell weren’t private and their CMO didn’t have a strategic role in the firm.
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