Apple – you can love them or hate them, but it’s impossible to ignore them. As the dominant market leader by a million light years, at least when it comes to mobile communication technology, they rouse as much enmity as they do slavish worship from their devotees.
The question is, what exactly has made Apple such a successful brand? Is it a superior product offer? No. The evidence points unswervingly to the fact that there are other brands in the same market producing goods of equal quality and that perform just as well, if not better than their Apple counterparts, often at a third of the price. Which bring us to the second point – price? Obviously not. Anyone who’s ever purchased anything with the holy Apple trademark slapped on it are fully aware that they most certainly have “paid for the privilege”. So perhaps it’s just very clever, customer oriented marketing that’s done the trick? They’ve somehow managed to convert normally sane human beings into a slavering horde of mindless zombies unquestioningly ready to devour Apple products even if the last upgrade was only six months ago?
No again. Apple’s marketing strategies are the antithesis of customer oriented marketing which is based around the idea that “finding out what they want, then giving them what they want, in a way that makes it easy for them to get what they want” is the sure-fire road to success. If anything, Apple’s positioning statement in the market is “we know what’s best, your opinion is irrelevant so toddle along and do it our way or bugger off”. Patronising much?
This is the main reason I might add why so many tech geeks despise Apple with the kind of venom that they previously reserved for Microsoft. A tightly controlled user experience, superficial customisation ability and a delivery channel so anally uptight that it makes getting on a plane with inflammable substances in your rucksack look like a cake walk by comparison, does not endear those with an ounce of tech savvy.
I guess at this point I should out myself as being an Apple disliker – not quite an out and out hater, which is a bit too intense and vitriolic for my tastes – but definitely not overly enamoured with the company. Which is apparently kinda odd for a designer. Well hey neither do I like skinny jeans or trance techno, perfectly kerned typography doesn’t bring on an instant orgasm and no I’m not that partial to black polo necks either. I live in freakin Australia for God sakes! … it’s hot here.
But I digress …
So why is Apple so successful as a brand, despite having an over priced product that’s not as uber awesome as all the hyper gush claims it is?
Two words – shared values.
In its early days, Apple tapped into the values of a particular personality type known as the “early adopter”. These people tend to be considered opinion leaders or at least “the one’s in the know” within their social and professional milieu. Early adopters tend to have a radar for what’s trending upwards before the thing has hit saturation point. Apple cohorted this group to champion its products in a rapidly exploding technology industry dominated by colour blind geeks, who didn’t care much about what a thing looked like so long as it worked-ish.
Apple was the first innovator to turn ugly technology products with clumsy user interfaces into sleek, desirable objects of art that not only made interfacing with technology easier – but that also created a user experience that “delighted” the customer. Early adopters – artists, designers and creatives from all industries were targeted by making design and desktop publishing software easily accessible on a Mac computer – which back in the day also had the processing grunt to handle these heavy duty, RAM devouring, software applications better than the Windows operating system.
Since establishing itself intrinsically as “the creative’s choice”, Apple has continued to build on that market position with a corporate culture and product development philosophy based on these same principles. Innovative technology coupled with clever design and a user experience that continues to “delight” the customer underpin the success of Apple’s iphone and ipad product range. Other more intangible values such as a passion for excellence, an anti-corporate vibe and a “cool rebel” who “thinks different” ethos taps into the aspirations of its loyal customer base who either overtly or covertly identify with these values as personality traits.
In fact a recent article on the Harvard Business Review website highlights the fact that shared values are pretty much the number one reason why consumers want to engage with a brand. A sobering thought for marketers who have been bombarding their audience with an overload of marketing orientated “information” designed to engage their target markets and instill brand awareness. In reality it turns out that people just aren’t that stupid and end up annoyed by the constant influx of boringly mediocre sales drivel that gets dumped on them on a daily basis.
Clever of Apple though, to get hip to this concept over twenty years ago and build a successful business model entirely around it. For that I admire them … still wouldn’t buy their overpriced lumps of moulded plastic though.