When it comes to brands that have truly made the leap from merely digital marketing to marketing in a digital world, Dell, certainly, has to be singled out. The behemoth computer purveyor has been thinking in terms of digital transformation since 2008, when it completely overhauled its sales and marketing in an effort to create a holistic strategy companywide.
Additionally, Dell was one of the first to roll out a social listening command center back in 2010 and has been reaping the benefits ever since. In fact, according to CMO Karen Quintos, Dell has completely integrated digital and social across its entire business.
In this exclusive interview with CMO.com, Quintos talks about being social versus doing social, how Dell organizes for real-time marketing, and the company's journey as it shifted from a "sell" to a "tell" mentality.
CMO.com: There’s all this talk about social business, or being social versus doing social. Can you talk about that? Is this something Dell is trying to achieve? Why is this important to the company?
Quintos: As the first direct-to-customer IT company, Dell was built on listening to customers, even before the advent of social media. That remains at the core of our business today—enabling us to bring to market the technology customers want and need. Our unrelenting customer focus is what makes Dell unique and how we are going to stay ahead of the competition.
Social media is an incredibly powerful way to connect with customers on a personal level. At a time when marketing has become data-driven, businesses must create opportunities for a direct and personalized experience with customers. And it’s not about using the latest social media platform to broadcast a one-way, transactional message. A truly social business approaches social media as an opportunity to connect with customers, sustain a deeper conversation, and personalize their journey.
|Dell's social media command center.|
At Dell, we have integrated digital and social across the business to forge those customer relationships online. We were early adopters of social media for customer support, and our @DellCares Twitter account is on 24/7—delivering proactive updates and monitoring and responding to customer issues. In 2007, we took our social media engagement beyond customer support and launched IdeaStorm, one of the first brand-owned sites to crowdsource ideas for new products.
Three years later, we launched our Social Media Command Center to track, analyze, and respond to the more than 25,000 customer conversations taking place each day across our channels. We also realize employees are one of the most important ways to drive these conversations. Through Dell’s Social Media and Communities (SMaC) University, we train and certify thousands of employees on social media.
Listening to customers has really come full circle for us. Now we are taking that expertise and working with our customers to help them implement their own social business strategy. We are fully invested in social as part of our marketing strategy and the way we engage with customers. It has become an important part of the end-to-end solutions we offer to our business customers.
CMO.com: How do you organize for real-time marketing?
Quintos: For Dell, real-time marketing means moving at the speed of the customer, understanding their pain points or interests, and serving up the right information at the right time. And a key to success is collaboration between marketing and IT.
The IT and marketing teams at Dell work very closely to gain customer insights in real time and quickly take action. We jointly collaborate and align on a strategic marketing-IT road map and hold our collective teams accountable for understanding technology and new innovations in social and digital marketing. Our IT team has created a self-service infrastructure that allows our marketing team to pull report data in nearly real time, a process that used to take three months, and that real-time capability is tremendously powerful. It lets us put content into the context of a current conversation, and that brings us closer to customers and ultimately improves their experience with Dell.
Our teams have also partnered to develop a data analytics strategy that allows our marketing team to get a single view of the customer. We consolidated our data warehouses to include consumer and commercial data in one place, and by taking that holistic approach, we can personalize outreach to the CIO of a company who might also be shopping for a consumer device.
CMO.com: Brands have shifted from a “sell” mentality to a “tell” mentality. Do Dell’s campaigns exemplify that? Would you say, overall, that Dell’s marketing has evolved to do more storytelling and less of the hard sell?
Quintos: Absolutely. As Dell has evolved from a PC company to an end-to-end IT solutions provider, we have found that customer storytelling is the best way to demonstrate this shift in the brand. A few years ago, we invested in extensive customer research, and we consistently heard across all segments the desire to learn how Dell enabled their customer outcomes. That led us to a new articulation of our brand promise–giving our customers “The Power to Do More.” Over the past couple of years we have celebrated customer achievements and how technology helps them grow and thrive.
One of the ads I am most proud of is the first spot we launched after becoming a private company, “Beginnings.” We brought the founding stories of our customers’ businesses to life, showing how Dell’s technology is at the core of today’s most iconic brands, such as Dermalogica, Dropbox, Shutterfly, and Whole Foods.
Through storytelling, we reminded our audience of Dell’s heritage and our commitment to empower entrepreneurs with the technology they need to change the world. This message resonated across business and consumer audiences to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit within all of us.
We’ve also doubled down in customer storytelling by investing in branded content platforms. Last year we launched our own news site, TechPageOne, which serves to further engage the customers with tech news and articles on the trends driving the future of the industry. Native advertising allows us to reach customers with branded content, and we were the first company to partner with The New York Times’ “Paid Posts” platform. And LinkedIn is another content-rich platform we are using to share stories and engage with customers.
TechPageOne is Dell's content marketing arm.
CMO.com: Does this new world we live in make measurement difficult? Can you prove ROI with some of the softer metrics that have cropped up in the past couple of years--shares, views, likes, and the sort?
Quintos: The challenge with measurement is the temptation to measure too much, too quickly. While digital tools give us the ability to understand and reach our customers like never before, it is equally important to engage with customers to form a long-term relationship, and that is where softer metrics play a huge role. They show us how people are engaging with us and whether our message is resonating.
Shares, views, and likes prove that content is actually reaching our audience. It’s been incredible to see how some of our ads have spread like wildfire via social media. For example, we released one of our “Power to Do More” spots, Thomas, solely on YouTube on Super Bowl Sunday in 2013. It received millions of views and likes that day, all without having to take the traditional route of broadcast.
We took a similar approach with "Beginnings," releasing it at key moments in time on broadcast, then amplifying through our social channels. The feedback was phenomenal–both in hard and soft metrics. Some of the best reactions we received were personal anecdotes from our customers expressing how excited they were to partner with the newly private Dell.
At the end of the day, the IT decision-making process is more than a transaction. We want our customers to engage with us throughout their journeys. Soft metrics demonstrate whether we have been successful in building and sustaining that relationship, which, in turn, is successful for the business.
CMO.com: Can you talk about the relationship between marketing and technology (CMO/CIO)? Generally speaking, why is this important? What does this look like at Dell?
Quintos: Major technology trends–big data, mobile, security, cloud, and Internet of Things–are evolving all of the roles across the C-suite, and there’s no question the CMO and CIO partnership is critical to adopting these trends and scaling innovation across the business. The only way Dell would be able to stay at the forefront of these emerging forces and maintain our customer focus would be for the IT and marketing organizations to work together.
We began by aligning our leadership and agreeing to the common goals of insights, speed, agility, and innovation. With that in mind, we assessed our infrastructure and IT investments, aiming to develop a marketing technology road map that would lead us to those outcomes.
I think action-oriented dialogue is critical—often, too much focus is placed on who owns what budget and not on driving business results. When the CIO and I agree on our end goal, it really does not matter whether marketing or IT funds the project.
At Dell, we established a cross-functional organization that leads business intelligence and analytics working across marketing and IT. This has increased the technical and marketing skills of both organizations and created common ground for joint initiatives. Eliminating silos gives us the ability to move faster, take more risks when it comes to marketing IT, and, ultimately, better serve our customer.
CMO.com: What are you doing with big data? What types of insights have you been able to glean? Besides marketing, what other parts of the business have prospered from big data?
Quintos: Dell’s legacy as a direct-to-customer company gives us a wealth of data and uniquely positions us as an IT partner. Now that we are an omnichannel company, we continue to draw on and strengthen both our direct and indirect relationships to inform our business strategy.
We engage with customers across multiple channels–social, IT community blogs, email, industry conferences, etc.–and combine the insights gleaned to craft a single, holistic view of a customer, whether they are commercial or consumer. By consolidating our data, we are able to garner insights around what customers are searching, where they are in the buying cycle, and then nurture that relationship with other relevant content, thus allowing us to anticipate and respond to their needs. And, ultimately, when they are ready, we can use these insights to enable our sales force to convert that prospect into a real sales lead, whether it’s a CIO or college student.
That is really just half of the picture, though. Big data is not just about driving sales. It is also about keeping our solutions customer-inspired. Through data-driven insights, we are able to develop products that address trends and customer pain points. Our social listening tools also immediately alert us when a product is not performing so that we can address this in real time.
Finally, we are able to take the expertise proven through Dell’s own internal big data strategy and offer it up to customers as a best practice and solution. We’ve lived through the challenges of developing big data analytics capabilities firsthand–and creating that all-important relationship between business and IT. When we talk to customers, we have credibility as a trusted adviser in helping them do for their business what we’ve done for ours.
CMO.com: What are Dell’s digital priorities in 2014? What do you suggest marketers eye?
Quintos: This year, we are continuing to embrace and lead Dell’s digital transformation. Technology is an enabler of our digital strategy, but content is the main focus.
Our top priority is putting an integrated content strategy in place so that we can customize content based on customer needs and deliver that message at the right stage of their journey. Data analytics and listening across our social channels informs our content, and mobile, programmatic, and native advertising platforms give us the ability to automate and optimize delivery of that message. By bringing together our digital capabilities, we are able to more proactively engage customers, increasing customer trust in Dell and, ultimately, bolster our brand and reputation.
Programmatic is dominating the conversation around digital marketing right now–and while the potential of programmatic is exciting, it must be part of a holistic content strategy geared toward the customer. Recently I read that Jimmy Kimmel said, “Programmatic buying is the gluten of advertising,” and that’s so true–everyone thinks it’s important, but most people aren’t quite sure why. That’s because programmatic targeting and buying can go very wrong if it’s not backed by a sound data-analytics strategy.
Simply going down the programmatic path because it is the latest digital trend is not going to work, though. I suggest marketers take a step back before beginning any programmatic initiative and make sure they have the right customer insights to make it effective. They should be vigilant in tracking for results and hold programmatic to the test of the customer. As exciting as the programmatic promise is, it is only valuable if the customer experience improves and brand loyalty is created, and training internally can be a significant factor in generating this.
To support our programmatic strategy and overall digital transformation, we are investing in education, training, and communication to break silos and develop an agile marketing organization. And that learning is not limited to my organization. We spend a lot of time at Dell bringing our leadership team into the discussion around digital goals, the latest trends, and how that impacts the customer life cycle. As marketers, it is on us to lead that conversation and keep the business at the forefront of the next wave of digital innovation.
CMO.com: What do you expect will be some of brands’ biggest challenges in digital?
Quintos: Security has moved to the forefront of priorities for marketers. There is an opportunity for our industry to rally around ensuring customer privacy and data security, with the overwhelming amount of social, online, and traditional customer data that marketers must navigate ... CMOs and CIOs need to have serious conversations and partner together to address security of data. It’s a critical part of Dell’s brand promise to customers.
CMO.com: What’s the most important question I did not ask you?
Quintos: We have nearly completed our first year as a private company and are focusing on the top needs of our customers. While this is an exciting time with lots of new opportunities, the basic fundamentals around customer engagement and brand loyalty still matter. Many people ask me for advice to give marketing leaders embarking on transformation initiatives. Here are five guiding principles:
- Be credible to customers: They have to believe that what you promise is also something you can deliver.
- Empower your employees: They have to believe that your transformation is real and that they have the tools and resources they need to carry it out every day.
- Align with the business strategy: Marketing is no longer just about creative advertising campaigns and messaging; CMOs need to be a trusted strategic player and deliver real business results that impact the company’s bottom line.
- Innovation internally shines through externally: Marketing the company’s internal digital transformation gives an opportunity to serve as best practice for the industry and our customers. We have the opportunity to lead the conversation on digital and drive strategic results for the business.
- Innovation should not be stagnant: New technologies, advertising platforms, and engagement models will continue to be introduced; CMOs need to continually reassess whether procedures internally are resulting in desired outcomes. If not, it’s time to create a new path.