Some people use spray-on hair. Likely they are worried that their authentic hair is inadequate. However, the look achieved tends to confirm and reinforce the shortcomings of the underlying thatch.
I was reminded of this by the new fashionable laptops from Dell. Here is one of 110 options (the match to the shirt above is pure coincidence…or is it?).
This is like a Dell competitive strategy presentation in a single image. Paraphrasing: “We’ve lost the #1 spot to HP, which is dominating retail. Note: HP puts graphics on their laptops. Acer is coming up our tailpipe like Speed Racer, with low priced products. Note: Acer likes to paint products to look like cars, and so does Asus, not to mention bamboo, etc. So we’re cutting costs at every turn, including through product compromises. We got into retail at the low end (even Wal-Mart). But good news: we’re covering those shortcomings with a vast array of low cost graphics options. Customers can choose. We’re going to out-personal HP! Summary: we’re challenging HP on personalization, and we’re holding off Acer on cost.”
This is product differentiation through spray-on design, and I’m afraid it has mesmerized leaders across the PC business, not just at Dell. How many car themed laptops have we seen? I’ve counted four. And HP has a new graphic pattern every month (I will admit, their taste in graphics is better than competition). Concurrently, average build quality is not improving.
I question the wisdom of this trend. Look at other durable goods categories, and electronics categories: appliances, cars, TVs. Do they use loud graphical patterns to drive brand choice? No. Because most people don’t want it. [OK, Mini has an angle on this. Keep reading, please.]
“But computers are personal! Look, it’s even in the name.” Even cell phones, the most personal of products, have gotten away from loud graphics and skins, in favor of materials that reinforce brand choice. Shiny surfaces and metal = high tech, high quality. Rubber paint and leather = user focused. Do people put stickers on their favorite products? Sure. But the manufacturers don’t do it for them.
Please refer again to the picture above of the Dell Pastel Carpet Series. Note the merits:
1) The Dell brand is completely obscured. 2) The underlying product’s design is incongruous with the top surface. 3) The product is unrecognizable, unless they sell enough such graphics to cement an association with Garish.
PC makers are faced with a very difficult design challenge: make it really desirable for no money. Margins are tiny, and prices are falling. So, I feel for them, and understand why they are trying this stuff.
But frankly, it is further commoditizing the PC space. There is a lot of cheap plastic stuff in Wal-Mart with loud graphics, since the underlying design has no differentiating merit. This is what I fear PCs are devolving to.
A few computers get a premium, with appreciable share and loyalty: Apple Macs and Lenovo ThinkPads are good examples (Sony used to be). Their designs are recognizable, unified (the tops and bottoms look like they came from the same company), and authentic. Authentic, meaning the materials, colors, shapes, usability elements, sounds, etc. are all based in the brand intent of the product – they are designed to earn an image consistent with the promise of value.
I hope the PC makers turn from this surface level design and attend to what really drives desire: user experience. If they firmly believe customers want expressive graphics, I suggest they turn to Mini for inspiration. Customization of a Mini is part of a holistic personal experience. And everything Mini lets you do to the car enhances its Mini-ness, rather than obscuring it. They are firmly in control of the image of the car, while enabling the buyer’s self expression. Very different.