Q&A: Erin Nelson, CMO, Dell

Erin Nelson was named CMO of Dell in January 2009. Prior to her promotion, she served as vp of marketing for Dell in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Prior to joining Dell in 1999, Nelson worked in corporate strategy for Frito-Lay. She recently sat down with Adweek digital media editor Brian Morrissey to discuss the challenges the brand faces, what lessons it learned from Enfatico and how social media is playing a larger role for the company.

Adweek: What’s the big challenge for the Dell brand?
Nelson: The last few months have been about discussing a lot of our strengths. The world has transformed a lot. Quite frankly I think we as brand have lost a lot of luster. We’ve been evaluating what for the last 25 years has made us great. Globally we have incredibly strong brand awareness. We’re known for value. In emerging economies like Brazil, China and Russia, we’re doing really well. But when we started looking at figuring where we need to go, we realized the brand needed to transform itself. We’re starting first from the inside. Our purpose is much broader than selling PCs. It’s about allowing people to unleash their potential. Our 95,000 employees need to understand our purpose first. It’s been primarily an internal marketing challenge. For us it was more important this not be just a campaign. It’s the transformation of the company.

Does Apple’s success make it harder to differentiate in the market with more than a value message?
We think so. I commend Apple for having beautiful products. They definitely focus on part of the audience that focuses on beautiful design at a price point that’s fairly high. What we’re looking at is consumers that want not just that but someone to enable all their connectivity. I think about what a mom would need or an entire business would need. They need someone who can help them succeed with all different sorts of applications, not just one, someone focused on mobile and desktop computing. We’re focused to make sure we’re bringing all those pieces together. It’s not about how beautiful the design is. A mom isn’t only putting the focus on how beautiful the design is, but also “how do I manage the money in my life, how do I help with the kids’ homework?” She wants someone to be her advocate and enable her to do what she wants to do.

What were the lessons learned from the Enfatico experiment?
We learned a lot. There are pieces of the relationship that we absolutely love. One specific point is while it no longer exists as this monolithic agency, Enfatico still exists as the production arm of WPP. We think the work it’s doing is fantastic. It’s a production engine we need for our businesses. Instead of saying we want to buy everything from one brand, let’s see what our needs are and let’s assess your stable of talent. Instead of building a new agency from top to bottom, let’s tap into the different agencies that already exist. We basically reconstructed within WPP this patchwork of agencies we work with. We still have a team-built structure. They’re all connected on their side. They’re Team Dell. We wanted full integration and full agency accountability. You don’t have to choose one holding company for everything, as long as your agencies can work well together, they operate as a loose confederation. We couldn’t get the depth of talent we needed and it was incredibly difficult for the leadership of Enfantico to figure out how to serve a client as large as Dell while building an agency from scratch.