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One brand, different platforms (part 7) – Dell is learning to harness the crowd

9 January 2012

The world is too fast, complex and networked for any company to have all the answers inside

Yochai Benkler, author of The Wealth Of Networks

Another part of our series about brands and companies which leverage various web-platforms to co-create with consumers or other crowds. This week, it’s certainly (with Starbucks) one of the most notorious cases of co-creation: Dell Computers. The Wikipedia page of “co-creation” currently cites Dell by saying that ” Customer-facing functions such as sales or customer service were also opened up to co-creation at companies including Starbucks and Dell Computer“. But beyond co-creation, Dell is increasingly leveraging the internet to crowdsource marketing and innovation tasks. Here’s more…

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Dell’s initial business model is based on a form of co-creation: by allowing consumers to customize their computer almost completely, Dell created a cost-effective and fast business model to sell their computers. As featured in The Power of Co-Creation, Dell’s most notable move is the creation of the platform Dell IdeaStorm in 2007, which is still live by today. It has been extensively described and praised throughout academic literature, management books and weblogs.

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Basically the idea of this platform operated by Salesforce.com was to ask consumers for ideas about computers, future products and how Dell could be better as a company. Dell did set this platform up to react to a series of blog posts written by an influential blogger, Jeff Jarvis, who complained about the quality of the products and the customer support of the company. This case has been described over and over again over the years, and it has also been mentioned by Steve Felice at Dell World 2011 (following video, from 07:30 to 08:15).

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(Click to get to content.dell.com)

In this video, Dell’s Global Head of  Small & Medium Businesses (SMBs) says that over 450 of the ideas that have been submitted to the site have been implemented (some examples are listed at the end of this paper). He also mentions another Salesforce.com product called Chatter, which is being used by Dell’s employees to be more efficient in dealing with customer requests: “We recently added Chatter […] that gives a facebook-like experience to our teams, but in a commercial setting. It helps our employees build communities, share common problems and really contribute to the ideas […] We’re now connecting a 100,000 employees” (08:20). So it seems that Dell is a master in organizing customer feedback… but a in the same talk at Dell World, Felice also speaks about the power of crowdsourcing.

What I love the most about [crowdsourcing is that, for SMBs] this is a way that you can access capabilities that you never had before and it puts you on a level playing field with larger institutions (06:50)

He indeed thinks that crowdsourcing is not only about involvement with employees, but also with customers and other consumers. Hence, he’s convinced that “brands that engage actively with customers are often perceived as much more forward-looking and progressive“. By today, Dell is moving beyond listening to consumers and starts talking to audiences of creatives, including the video-focused community Poptent.

Poptent Media is a great example of crowdsourcing: it’s a service that actually connects you with 38.000 freelancers of high-quality online videos (04:40)

If you watch the above video from 04:20, you’ll hear him talking about “crowdsourcing as a service“. As far as I remember, Poptent has hosted three video contests for Dell: Mobility Gives Ability (April 2011), Thin and Powerful and Lets Mom do More (both August 2011). If you take the latter, for example, there have been 33 videos submitted, 2 of which have been actually purchased by Dell for their on- and offline marketing campaign for the home computer Inspiron One 2320. As this blog post indicates, it seems that Dell also uses Poptent for “pitch-based invite assignments“, which are assignments that target a very select group of creators. As ReelSEO states, “for the Dell spot, the invitations were limited to 18“, and the contest wasn’t publicly shown. This is not really ‘crowdsourcing’, rather is a form of ‘macrotasking’, as Poptent’s CEO says on The Daily Crowdsource.

But Poptent is not the only platform/crowd used by Dell.

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Already in 2009, the brand had launched a contest on eYeka, a worldwide platform that gathers creative consumers of any skillset. The objective, in 2009, was to ask creatives of two very specific Asian markets (Malaysia and Singapore) to design a laptop cover that expresses peoples’ individuality. More than 300 creations had been submitted. Much more recently, Dell held another contest, asking this worldwide community to “show what it is like for a girl to take a nice guy for granted and only to want him back after he is gone“. Again, lots of entries have been received from around the world, the three winners came from 3 different continents!

As Steve Felice said at Dell World 2011: we move into an age where leveraging consumer knowledge is increasingly important, and Dell is doing just that: leveraging different crowds to their advantage !

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