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FutureNow Article
Friday, Jan. 4, 2008

Marketing Lessons From Apple

By Bryan Eisenberg
January 4th, 2008

In the technology universe, two companies dominated most of 2007′s headlines and lined many pockets. Writes Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, “This has been a good year for Apple believers — the stock is up a whopping 138%. In comparison, Google, the other stock market darling is up a mere 54%.”

And 2008 also looks to be another sweet year for Apple. Stephen Coleman, CIO at Daedalus Capital, which is invested heavily in Apple, told Bloomberg News, “There’s so much growth to look forward to for the iPhone.” Coleman predicts the stock will reach $600 by the summer of 2009.

How Does Apple Do It?

Simply put, Apple understands people. It knows that people make emotional decisions, then use intellect to justify those decisions. Dancing shadow people with iPods aren’t an intellectual argument for buying an iPod, they’re raw emotional appeal.

At the heart of every successful Apple product, you’ll find a deep understanding of what moves people emotionally at many different levels.

It makes sense. When you want to sell things nobody really needs, you have to know what they want. Apple doesn’t create desire; nobody can do that. What it does better than any modern company is pour fuel on our desire with a frothy mix of surprise and delight to get our attention, then provides a simple, meaty, unique, and consistent experience whenever we engage with it or its products. And, of course, it delivers on its brand promise: “It just works.”

Unexpected Marketing

While Apple uses traditional means and media to promote itself, it also markets itself in unexpected places and ways. Steve Chazin, former marketing exec at Apple, reveals that those little white earbuds are not white by accident. In MarketingApple, Chazin writes, “Those white iPod headphones were not designed by engineers — they are a pure Apple marketing trick designed to make the visible part of their product a status symbol. Wear white headphones and you are a member of the club.”

This goes beyond packaging and slapping a good-looking logo all over a product. This is finding an unexpected place or way to set yourself apart without interfering with the customer experience.

People Attract People

People are at the heart of Apple’s marketing, not technology or features. The iPod commercials are a perfect example. The audience is first attracted to the people, not the device.

The iTunes music store is another example. While the iTunes store itself has some conversion and customer focus barriers, it rarely fails to persuade people to click in a little further, to listen to a few more samples. It’s a reason other online music stores still struggle. Here, Apple takes advantage of reviews and other customer-generated content.

In the iTunes music store, you’re bombarded with input from other people, not music or video marketing. The reviews are front and center when you look at an individual artist or album, but you’re also sucked in by “Listeners Also Bought” and the user iMixes and Top Songs. You can view celebrity playlists, even Apple staff picks. In iTunes, you’re simply and easily persuaded by others, not by marketers or flash or some social networking technology.

Delight the Customer Consistently

Everything from Apple is designed with intent. Even the product packaging makes the product feel that much more valuable. From neatly packed cords to velvet lining, each step of the unpack is delightful.

Compare that experience with one from Dell: a plain brown box, typical Styrofoam, plastic bags in all sorts of colors, and so on. The experience feels messy. How does that affect how you feel about the product inside the packaging?

Apple is consistent along every touch point, from a Steve Jobs presentation to the website to the product itself. The brand feels neatly organized and clean. In technology this is a delight. How many of us have wrestled with devices, have read clunky manuals, or are just sick of beige? The recently redesigned Apple site has the look, feel, and elements people will find in the operating system.

Love Is Blind

For now, Apple’s brand strength is unmatched among its competitors. Because it pays attention to people’s needs, people return that attention with money and emotional (sometimes illogical) devotion. This emotional brand connection helps the company overcome some of its problems. That emotion helps customers forgive Apple when it screws up and buy anyway.

Consider some of Apple’s flubs last year, none of which seemed to hurt sales:

  • Only a few months after the iPhone went on sale, the price dropped $200. Early adopters were livid, but the feeling didn’t seem to stick.
  • The Leopard operating system went on sale later than promised (almost a year), shipped with several bugs, crashed and killed many Macs. Did you see these stories stick like the initial problems Microsoft had with Vista?
  • Apple stirred controversy with its options backdating.
  • Universal Music pulled out from iTunes store.
  • NBC shows were yanked from iTunes.

In our recent “Retail Customer Experience Study,” Apple’s online store scored a wimpy 39 out of 100. But in the online shopping equation, the tactics we measured only accounted for the objective features online retailers offered. If we were to account for subjective measures like brand strength or loyalty, Apple would have a much higher score.

In other words, people trust Apple, so they buy from the store without questioning its credibility and customer focus when buying online.

Our persuasion analyst Melissa Burdon demonstrates this in recent blog post. She was shopping for an iPod on Apple.com and had a question. Her question wasn’t answered on the site. She was frustrated, but she still bought an iPod. (After her post, though, you could find the answer on the Apple site.)

Apple stock may not grow 600 percent in 2008, but it will continue to climb dramatically. Will the day come when Apple becomes too big and loses its focus on people, rendering it an evil behemoth like Microsoft or Wal-Mart?

It may, but not likely anytime soon.

[Reprinted from my ClickZ column this week.]

Add Your Comments

Comments (26)

  1. While Apple’s marketing machine is undoubtedly the industry standard, it is worth noting that what they are packaging has great value to consumers — it’s not just a desire to be “in the club,” but a willingness to pay a premium for a better product. The marketing is not artifice … Apple consistently overdelivers.

  2. I have to agree with Jim S. This is the prime example of a company that continues to deliver an excellent product and has succeeded in building a fan club with a retention factor second to none. Creative marketing only bolsters their position. They can’t lose if they stay on track delivering products that are relevant and that work easily.

  3. Great great article. Apple has been designing great products for over 20 years so I find it unfair that we are praising them at a time when they are already doing so well.

  4. No doubt Apple offers good value. What’s startling is how long it has taken other consumer/computer companies to notice that people will pay for good design and great usability. What Apple has done, in effect, is show how great design and great marketing can move people to action.

  5. Agree with all. Every thing about Apple is geared toward making the whole experience positive. I started most recently with an iPod and three iPods later the experience is still nothing less than positive and consistent. From the packaging to the operation of the device. I most recently purchased a mac book pro, and (frankly) wishing I had done this sooner.
    Another marketing machine that has outdone itself in the spirit of what Apple has managed is Harley-Davidson. They know their customer and gives them exactly what they expect. The entire experience with H-D is positive and consistent.

  6. While Apple’s marketing is sometimes clever, the fact remains that the product is superior. Better integrated, consistent commands across programs, consistent interface, much less compatability problems than with Windows, and a myriad of small, nice touches and thoughtfulness.

    By contrast, Windows reeks of customer-be-damned attitudes, and of engineers who don’t give a damn about the interface or the exasperation of “lesser” human beings.

    The Apple gear is simply BETTER.

  7. Interestingly, Microsoft gained it’s massive dominance in the PC market by knowing that it’s customers weren’t actually the end users, but rather the IT pro’s, software developers, techies and engineers. They were the ones who forced the windows desktop on you at work, and they are your relatives and friends who set up your computer at home…

    By contrast, apple has never understood this. Their few attempts at engaging this market could almost be considered disturbing… They have an absolute indefference to the people who influence IT decisions. Just ask any apple dealer.

    There’s no doubt Apple are way better at marketing directly to consumers with your iPod’s and iPhones. And they’re pretty awesome at designing and making them too!

  8. You are right Apple products speak for themselves. That helps to retain customers.

  9. There is a book out that is authored by some of the people from Apple. It talks about how they don’t do user testing. They make up they’re own strategies, and the same applies to their marketing.

  10. Talk about customer retention…. I bought one of the first Macs in 1984. I’m STILL buying Macs and would never, ever consider buying anything but a Mac! When my friends complain about their computer problems I say “you shoulda bought a Mac!”

  11. This is good News for Apple’s customers that “This has been a good year for Apple believers — the stock is up a whopping 138%. In comparison, Google, the other stock market darling is up a mere 54%.”

  12. Thanks for this good news. I am interested in stock market but don’t have knowledge about it.

  13. its great that Apple’s stock market up. Thanks for sharing this good news.

  14. Apple make a good postion in stock market . it good news that apple stock market grewup.

  15. Apple is beggest brand name never its down

  16. Every people trust the apple product.because it is a big and famous.all apple product are best quailty and feature

  17. Apple name is enough.

  18. Apple is famous brand name.All the apple product is best.thank for sharning information….

  19. simply in love with Apple products. I own iMac, iphone, iPod just to name a few.
    Nice post as well!

  20. One day after i ordered my I-touch, Aazon put it on sale for $23.00 less than i paid for it. they did not adjust my price nor would they offer me a refund on the difference. I think this is very poor customer service. I will think twice before ordering something from amazon again.

  21. I love mac. and waiting new ipad or islate.

  22. Great article. You are right, Apple get it right all the time, every product is great and made for perfection. I love the people attracts people, this is the biggest marketing tool available if you get it right.

  23. Apple have set a number of high standards and their marketing is one of them. They came up with something different in the iPod, something that appealed because of the way it worked and looked and they have kept that going, having got people’s attention. Also, the trick with the white earphones was genius.

  24. The thing about apple is that they weren’t afraid to be persistent and come up with something new. No matter how many companies try to make the same impact that the iPod did, Apple still stay up there, and have used the standards set with the iPod to come up with other ranges that are highly trusted.

  25. Fabulous article and further demonstrates why Apple remains at the top of its market. Emotion and Intellect go hand in hand with human conditioning.

  26. I have test driven Mac products. They are quite good.

    On the other hand, some folks just cannot afford their pricy costs on their limited budget.

    Fortunately, there is the wonderful FREE Linux operating systems (more than 10 and counting) which can be used on any PC or non-dedicated laptop.

    I would have used a Mac, however the costs are so prohibitive. So I switched to Linux Mandriva for ease of use and transition from Windows XP (which crashed 6 times a year while babysitting it).

    If you can afford it, go for Mac. If not, don’t lose heart.

    Burn Linux to disc and test drive it out. It NEVER crashes.

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Bryan Eisenberg, founder of FutureNow, is a professional marketing speaker and the co-author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling books Call to Action and Waiting For Your Cat to Bark and Always Be Testing. You can friend him on Facebook or Twitter.

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