According to experts (and backed by my own research), Apple is one of the world's most prolific and successful brands. Apple's brand awareness and perception are the envy of any competent marketer. CEOs hope to recreate Steve Jobs' brilliance and CFOs hope to recreate Apple's revenue growth and market cap. Oscar Wilde has been quoted as saying "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness." In that spirit, I've identified nine things marketers can learn from Apple to improve their own brands.
Have a clear purpose
One of the key lessons I learned after joining Entrepreneurs' Organization in 2007 was that a business cannot achieve optimal success without a clear purpose. Apple has never lacked in purpose, nor did Steve Jobs lack vision. According to current CEO Tim Cook, Apple's purpose/vision/mission/values can be summed up as follows: creating great products that are simple and impactful. The brand executes toward the vision by staying focused, controlling its ecosystem, fostering collaboration, and never settling. The most relevant takeaway for marketers from Apple's vision, is maintaining focus on a core set of products that leverage culture, talent, and resources, and to not get too distracted by shiny objects (like Newtons). If you can't clearly articulate your company's purpose, it's time for a company retreat, where you can get together and talk it out.
Related article: "Have you ever read about Apple's core values?"
Make it simple
Another value outlined by Tim Cook that marketers should take to heart is Apple's focus on simplicity. The theme of simplicity carries through product development and design, packaging, marketing, and customer service. Apple turned laptops and desktop computers into artwork with the iMac and MacBook Air, while managing to keep the user interface clean, simple, and intuitive. Apple's marketing has also focused intently on end user product benefits and features, but communicated in everyday language instead of the "tech speak" extolled by brands like Microsoft and IBM, which can be intimidating to many consumers. The popular Mac vs. PC ad campaign hammered this point home very effectively, reminding viewers that Mac products are integrated, simple, and useful for everyday life. Does your marketing relate to your end users effectively?
Related article: "Here's The Simple Secret To Apple's Marketing"
Make it beautiful
"Less is more" seems to be an Apple mantra. Somehow, Apple products are attractive, elegant, and yet still fully featured. The thought that goes into designing Apple products borders on obsession. If Steve Jobs were still alive, he might disagree with that statement and correct me by saying that Apple absolutely obsesses about product design, no question about it. One of my first experiences with the power of Apple design was the iPod. Originally launched in 2001, the iPod was not the first to market, but the design was so simple and elegant that it quickly put the ROI PMP300 out-of-business and transformed the music industry overnight. In 1998, the first generation iMacs debuted with colorful, self-contained computers. In 2007, Apple reinvented the mobile phone with the first generation iPhone. Jobs was known to focus on small elements like the curved corners of the iPhone, which resulted in a patent dispute with competitor Samsung. Make sure your products and services are attractive, especially to your target customer. Well-designed products tend to market themselves.
Make it about quality, not price
"I got this MacBook on sale," said no one. Apple, like other exclusive premium brands like Rolex or Rolls Royce, is notorious for never discounting its products. Instead of racing to the bottom in a no-win price war, Apple instead focuses on creating attractive products chock-full of user-friendly benefits that position its products away from competitors. They have the thinnest laptops, largest and clearest displays, and smallest MP3 players. Apple's advertising also further differentiates the brand from competitors, as cited in the Apple vs. Mac ad campaign mentioned earlier. When building marketing campaigns, try not to focus on price, as you will lose in the long-run.
Related article: "7 Key Strategies That You Must Learn From Apple's Marketing"
Make it visible
While Apple created one of the most iconic ads of all time, "1984," the company does not spend as much as you'd think on advertising, because they don't have to. The products generate their own PR, as does the brand itself. Product placement has also played a significant role in generating sales when celebrities, athletes, on-air talent, and actors interact with Apple products on TV and in the movies. There is only one Apple, but any brand can engage influencers, negotiate product placement deals, and leverage PR to maximize visibility in the press. It helps when you make memorable products, however.
Related article: "Apple's Marketing Secret: Hold Off On The Ads, Ride The Hype"
Create an experience
For a global brand, Apple's website is surprisingly minimal. The simple design is consistent with the brand, product design, and packaging. You'll see the theme carried through at the Apple Stores around the world as well. While sleek and simple is the rule of the day at Apple, don't let that create a perception that looks are everything. The Apple experience is seamlessly smooth and thoughtful, from the website to the stores. Apple's Genius Bar is an example of an innovative way to provide technical support to customers. From your first interaction with Apple via an ad, to visiting an Apple store or website and the inevitable interaction with tech support (my opinion), you'll get a premium experience unlike competitive technology brands. What is your plan to make your customer experience similarly compelling?
Tap into emotions
Psychologists have proven that brands which are able to create an emotional connection to customers are more successful. Microsoft, IBM, and Dell have failed miserably in this area, particularly in comparison to Apple. Apple has tapped an emotional vein with its brand, products, and experience. On January 22, 1984, Apple introduced the Macintosh to the public via an iconic TV ad that aired during Super Bowl XVIII. Directed by Ridley Scott (of "Aliens" fame), the spot channeled the "Big Brother" theme from the George Orwell book "1984." The ad was named one of the 50 greatest commercials by Advertising Age and is considered a watershed event in the history of advertising. Since then, Apple has developed other memorable ad campaigns, including "Think Different," active from 1997 to 2002. The iPod and iPad ad campaigns evoked fun and convenience. Make sure your marketing efforts appeal to emotions, yet maintain relevance to your brand, product benefits, and target audience.
Make customers marketers
Since the Apple II launched when I was a youngster, I noticed Apple created fanatical customers. Apple fans originally appreciated the intuitive Mac interface and focus on user experience. Apple fans regularly extol the virtues of product reliability and security. That level of customer commitment has only increased over the years. Online product reviews from happy customers have driven sales, as have thousands of "unboxing" videos for various products. Fanatical customers even have their own names, Fanboys and Fangirls. Guy Kawasaki, originally responsible for marketing the Macintosh brand while at Apple, is the godfather of evangelism marketing. Marketers must find their fanboys and fangirls and lead them by leveraging Guy Kawasaki's evangelist strategies.
Create a closed ecosystem
Very early on in Apple's history, the company elected to create a "closed ecosystem" to maximize control over the user experience and provide a competitive edge. While Apple sees this as an advantage, many developers and partners see it as a liability, particularly when it comes to a common goal of creating a ubiquitous computing experience. Apple has managed to weather criticism and maintain strict control over its development environment regardless. Apple is notoriously secretive about product development, and the surrounding mystery and speculation over future products and iterations generates a good deal of buzz and free press. Apple's new Campus 2 "spaceship" headquarters carries the metaphor forward, with a self-contained circular design. While I'm not a fan of the closed ecosystem approach, I do respect Apple's ability to generate attention while maintaining secrecy in regards to future product designs. Marketers can learn from Apple: In mystery, there is margin. Just look at Apple's stock price.
Related article: "10 Things You Need to Learn From Apple's Marketing"
So what can marketers learn from Apple? Brands should start with a clear purpose and maintain discipline when developing products and services. When Apple has gone off-track with products and services, it has struggled. There is one area in which Apple has never wavered, however: creating simple, elegant yet feature-packed products for which the brand can charge a premium price. Apple has been able to leverage customers, free press, and emotional advertising to build a juggernaut brand since 1976. The brand has also done an exceptional job creating a consistent and compelling customer experience, in part, by controlling its ecosystem. What will be your "1984" in 2017?