Reflecting on Steve’s passing and my last post, I have been thinking about how Apple’s done marketing under his leadership.
The results speak for themselves; they define the direction where industries are going. Apple is not by any means the largest player in many of these industries. Think of the recording industry, the PC industry or even telecommunication, the phone business. Apple hasn’t invented mp3, the PC or even the touch-panel phone; all these were already available when Apple stepped to the plate. Apple is not staffed by aliens with 180+ IQs; they have access to the same creative talent and resources that all their competitors have. They do tend, however to attract the kind of employees who not only know but take pride in making Steve’s visions a reality. Apple is also extremely skilled at attracting quality customers. Windows PCs have users; Apple Macs have fans. People who don’t even own Apple computers tout the Apple logo to make a statement. It’s a corporate logo, but people use it to say something about themselves. What gives? What makes the difference? Why do people stand in line for hours on end to get the latest Apple gadget? How come nobody does that for say, a Sony Vaio? That’s a quality product too. Or what about a Dell phone? Google shows they make a pretty nifty one, has anybody noticed?
OK, so Apple markets beautiful, solidly built, and easy to use products. Many other makere can claim the same, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder anyway.
Imagine if an Apple ad were to say: We make great computers. They are beautifully designed, well-built and easy to use. Wanna buy one?
It takes more than that to impress a customer these days. Not a very compelling sales pitch, isn’t it?
Yet this is what most firms do. Auto industry analogy: Here is our new car. It has great gas mileage, leather seats and great finance. Please buy. A law firm: We all went to the best schools. We have these famous clients. We have great rates. Please choose us. All the same. We make (item name) . It is better than the competitor’s offer because (features). It’s better value because (argument). With this we’re supposed to be convinced, and they elicit action. Please buy.
In what way does that make you care? I, for one, can’t be bothered. All they’re doing is talking about themselves; I don’t see my place. WHY should I care if it’s not related to me? What’s in it for me?
What Apple does is completely different. They go something like this. In everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. We challenge the status quo by making products that are beautifully designed, well-built and easy to use. Plus we happen to make great computers. Wanna buy one?
Now that’s a completely different message, isn’t it? Yet the actual words largely overlap. All I have done is reversed the order and started with why instead of what.
An Example of the WHY
Let’s look at a well-known example, the iPod. The music industry was built on the concept of selling albums, which people listened to at home. Sony changed that with the walkman, and music became portable. But there was still a limit on how many tapes, or later, CDs you could carry. Then came MP3 and flash memory based storage. Suddenly you could carry hundreds of hours of music, without lugging around a backpack full of CDs. Revolution! Or was it? Not really, until Apple showed up. That was about 2 years after Creative Labs, a well established PC audio solution provider, put out their first flash based MP3 player. Geeks took immediate notice but there was no mass-market appeal.
The reason? They started with what. They marketed it as a “5 GB MP3 Player“. Oops. Does that elicit any emotion in you? Not me, thank you.
When Apple entered the market they simply said “1000 songs in your pocket“. Now that’s a powerful statement. The equivalent of 100 CD albums in my pocket? Wow! Gimme! Just thinking about it was empowering, and I immediately wanted one.
I wasn’t the only one thinking along those lines. The iPod became big, and together with iTunes it changed the music industry. Rather than albums, most people buy songs now. CDs have become antiquated. I don’t remember when I last bought one. The music industry, once a sworn enemy of MP3, now relies on digital sales to survive in the face of ever-dwindling CD sales. They are a good example of someone who forgot the why and is consumed by the what. They could have come up with an iTunes equivalent. They could have distributed music in a more up-to-date, easy to digest fashion first. They were perfectly positioned to do so, unlike Apple. They haven’t, and now they’re facing the consequences.
Apple, on the other hand is on top of the game. Their products have become the proof of their why, rather than a result of their what.
Ultimately, it is the why that people buy things for. If you are in (direct) sales or marketing this is something you want to investigate. You’ll certainly attract better quality customers if you start with your why instead of what and how. Anybody can play the features and benefits game, but it’s costly and ineffective. What if you started with why?
Apple And My Why
I buy Apple products because I too believe in challenging the status quo. I like to think, live, breath, create outside of The Box that society herds people into (see vision statement). It is the joy of my life when I can show that there’s a viable alternative to the cubicle.
Yes, Apple has nice products. Much like the rest of the big players. Are they the best? Or at least better that some other brand? That’s highly subjective. For me they are, but I do not claim they are the best for everyone. It’s because I resonate with Apple’s why that their products match me. And I happily put up with the shortcomings in the face of that.
Do you resonate with the above and prefer to separate yourself from the status quo? I have a business that you want to know about. It is a viable alternative to the paycheck to paycheck drudgery, the commute, the cubicle. I’d love to talk to you about it. Enter email below to see.