The passing of Apple founder and Chief Executive Steve Jobs generated massive media coverage. Most of this coverage focused on the technology innovations that Apple was responsible for under Jobs’ direction. In the late 1980s, Apple made the home computer a reality. In the 1990s, with the first iMacs, Apple made home computers realistic for almost everyone.
Apple didn’t invent the MP3 music player, but the iPod became synonymous with the category. Following that, Apple not only revolutionized the music distribution business with the launch of iTunes, it changed it forever. Apple’s iPhone blazed the trail for a whole new phone experience – the smart phone. The iPad wasn’t the first tablet, but within months of its introduction, it created a whole new product category as well as a method of how people consume information.
What has not been discussed as much as Jobs’ role in technology innovation is what he and Apple taught us about marketing. First of all, Steve Jobs was the consummate marketer. Dressed in the now iconic black mock turtle neck and Levi’s, Jobs’ product introductions combined PT Barnum with Harry Potter. He once described that little pocket above the right side front pocket on his Levi’s as the perfect carrying-place for the iPod, and immediately pulled one from that very pocket.
In the media coverage that immediately followed Jobs’ death, Fortune Managing Editor Andy Serwer discussed Jobs marketing prowess: “The magic of Apple and Steve Jobs is that he made us want to buy things that we didn’t know existed.”
I couldn’t agree more. But, how did they do that? Here are some marketing lessons that I’ve learned from Apple:
1) Design sells! Apple products’ clean and simple designs, starting with 1998′s iMac, have won scores of design awards. From a marketing standpoint, design = cachet. The products are something that consumers want to be associated with because they are cool.
2) Deliver on the promise! The only technology glitch in recent Apple product introductions was the antenna malfunction on the early iPhone 4. At that time, numerous “insiders” stated that this was one instance where Apple turned to a relative outsider to ramrod the product design and technology. Those same reports stated that Steve Jobs went ballistic when this happened and the person responsible was quickly and unceremoniously fired. Steve realized that Apple could introduce and sell new and innovative products because consumers trusted them to work. The early iPhone 4 issues violated that trust.
3. Timing is everything! Very few remember the Newton, Apple’s early attempt at a tablet device. One of the (many) reasons that the Newton didn’t work was that, culturally, we were still (literally) connected to the PC. It took the iPhone to initiate a cultural shift on how information was consumed to blaze the trail for the iPad.
4. Suspense sells, or at least creates demand! Apple product introductions are legendary. The buzz and conjecture reaches a fever pitch in the weeks leading up to the actual event. Apple aficionados consider these events bigger than Christmas/birthday/first kiss all rolled into one. Even the so called “disappointment” that the latest iPhone introduction was the 4S rather than the anticipated iPhone5 generated sales volume of 4 million units in just 3 weeks.
5. Intuitive operation! The magic pixie dust that is sprinkled through all Apple products is the intuitive ease of operation. It’s not over technical. When a 3 year old can take photos and listen to music on an iPhone, that’s the litmus test for intuitive operation. Don’t go “all technical,” in explanations.
6. Make it special! Relate to the consumer: “What does this do for them?” I can now carry my entire CD collection in my pocket or purse (iPod). I can phone/email/text/take pictures/ update Facebook from one device (iPhone). I can do almost everything that I do on my Mac or PC and Kindle on one device (iPad). When you do this it creates consumer cachet – everyone wants one and it’s cool to have one. And if there is limited supply at the beginning, that creates even more demand.
7. Create trust in the brand. This ties to #2 above. When you deliver on the promise, you create trust in the brand that allows you to, as Andy Serwer says, sell people things that they don’t know exist. Why do most mobile carriers score so low in consumer trust tests? They don’t deliver on the promise. They promise fantastic coverage, lightning fast speeds and show all kinds of capabilities in advertising that doesn’t take place in reality.
8. Create brand evangelists! When you accomplish all of the above, you’ve generated trust and an iconic brand. When we do discovery exercises with new and potential clients, we ask which brands they admire. We’ve recently rephrased the question to “Other than Apple, what brands do you admire and why?”
One more thought, as Apple moves into the post-Steve Jobs era: it is being helmed by Tim Cook, who has generated a significant amount of press in his own right. Tim may not be the charismatic product-introducer that Steve Jobs was, but he is the guy that, among other things, created the Apple Store and made sure that the product delivery chain put products on the shelves to meet consumer demand. I think Apple’s marketing is in good hands.