By Dato’ Beatrice Nirmala & Eddie Marius Ng
When The IBR Asia Group offers our comprehensive services of managing a company’s entire publicity funnel with an end objective of sales/investment/target audience buy-in/public vote of confidence as a cornerstone of our strategy, we always benchmark against how Apple Inc managed to become such an iconic name. Founded in 1976 by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in the garage of Jobs’s parents’ house, Apple Inc is regarded as one of the Big 5 tech companies in the world today – a position it occupies alongside Microsoft, Amazon, Google and Facebook. In April 2018, it became the first publicly traded company to reach a valuation of US$1 trillion. As International Business Review takes a look at how Apple reached the top of the tree, we point out how Apple’s journey has inspired us in our journey to build a unique and somehow similar game plan for our clients.
The Master Storyteller
Perhaps the single, biggest factor behind Apple’s successful branding and marketing is the vision and drive of its founder/CEO/marketing guru/chief evangelist – Steve Jobs.
Jobs’s annual keynote addresses and his product launches were the most eagerly awaited events during Macworld. Not only because the products were ground breaking and innovative, such as the iPhone in 2007 (which started the smartphone revolution), but because he was a consummate storyteller.
As Jobs himself said in 1994, during the time when he was heading Pixar, “The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values, and agenda of an entire generation that is to come…”
Jobs’s storytelling abilities, his flair for the dramatic, his ability to craft a narrative were instrumental to establishing Apple’s brand position. And he also reflected that in his own dressing. Apple, as mentioned, brands itself as being cool, casual, the antithesis of corporate stiffness. And Steve Jobs dressed up (or rather dressed down) for the part with his trademark black turtleneck jumper and jeans combo.
The IBR Asia Group’s Amplify Your Authority Campaign created for the CEO/Founder/Leader of an organisation aims to create that kind of authoritative stamping of a brand personality for the head. Frankly, Samsung and Apple are both great phones, and Samsung offers more, in our opinion and is more cost effective, but Apple has cult-like followers, because Apple had an iconic face to it – and very effective storytelling. It set the foundation for the product to become a megalodon of its time.
Though Apple’s biggest jump in revenue and profits came after Steve Jobs’s untimely demise in 2011, it was Jobs who started the ball rolling, who set the way for Apple’s branding and marketing, and who laid the foundations for all to follow.
And that is why we combine the need to Amplify the Authority of The CEO together with the PR Conversion strategies of superb storytelling, effective dissemination and sales oriented work we do for our clients.
A Record Breaker
Apple’s sales numbers speak volume about the company’s success. In 2018, the year it achieved its record breaking US$1 trillion valuation, the company sold more than 217 million iPhones, 43 million iPads, 18 million Mac computers, 35 million Air Pods, and 22 million Apple watches. In fact, it is estimated that more than 400 iPhones are sold every minute around the world.
This is further reflected in the huge surge of excitement that comes with the release of any Apple product. Case in point, during the launch of the iPhone II in September 2019, massive queues formed outside Apple stores in cities around the world, many of whom lined up a full day before opening.
So, what is it about Apple that engenders such loyalty, even devotion and adulation, from its customers? While some may point to factors such as its technologically innovative products and its ability to create hype for them, that is not exactly the crux behind Apple’s phenomenal success.
After all, the original Macintosh (Mac) computer was absolutely ground-breaking when it first came on the market in 1984. It was the first personal computer to have graphical user interface (GUI) – otherwise known as the point and click system which we are so used to today – and therefore the first to use a mouse.
The marketing of the first Mac saw Apple spending a reported US$900,000 – approximately US$2.25 million in today’s money – on an advertisement directed by acclaimed director Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator).
The advertisement, which was aired just one time (during the Superbowl – the showcase finale of the American Football season), was a critical hit. The Mac, not so much. Despite initial success, sales plunged and the eventual fallout saw Apple founder Steve Jobs ousted from his position in the company in 1985.
Here, I echo the mantra we tell all our clients – storytelling is branding is a continuous journey. You cannot create content/advertising for just one or two times and expect sales to come in. I remember back when publishing was our only revenue, and clients will say ‘I take one advertisement and then I want to see how the response is. After that I decide if I want to continue or not.’ Well, you better not even test the waters then, because it will be a waste of money for even that. To invest in a good brand, you got to invest in great storytelling. You need to build your community of followers, and creating traction begins with creating trust in the brand. Trust though, the elixir of all sales, is not attained easily. Only consistency and continuity builds trust. And Steve Jobs knew that.
The Core Tenets
Apple went into the wilderness years after Jobs left, and by the time he returned as interim CEO in 1997, the company was 90 days away from bankruptcy. The company had lost US$800 million and with a market capitalisation of just US$2 billion, the end was looking increasingly near.
For Jobs, the first thing that needed to be done in order to revitalise Apple was to focus on the brand image. Apple, he concluded, had lost its way because it failed to have a clear brand position. Therefore, the key was to take Apple back to the basics… Back to what made it successful in the first place.
And this is encapsulated in three principles – Simplicity, Creativity and Humanity, which were at the heart of Apple from the very beginning. Case in point, the Apple II computer, which was launched in 1977, just one year after Apple’s founding.
The Apple II was the machine which changed the personal computing world. It was the first ever fully assembled, ready to use personal computer in the world, with a keyboard, disk drive and colour monitor. Its creation was the realisation of the vision by Apple’s founders Jobs and Wozniak to make computers user-friendly so that people will use them at home.
The marketing for the Apple II was just as simple and people focused. Jobs, who was regarded as the marketing brains out of the two Steves, knew that most people were not technophiles who understand technical specifications and details of hardware and software.
And so, the first print advertisement for the Apple did not have lines after lines of text. Instead, it was just a picture of an apple (the fruit) and the copy reading “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. Introducing the Apple II personal computer”. The message was clear – Apple is a brand that is devoid of complexity, with products that are made for people.
This was further emphasised in the next print ad for the Apple II. It was a picture of a scene in a typical American kitchen reminiscent of those in the wholesome family-oriented sitcoms of that era.
The woman is at the kitchen sink, and she is looking lovingly at her husband, dressed comfortably in a turtle neck jumper, who is seated at the dining table, working on his Apple II. The copy? Just the words “Introducing Apple II”. Again, the message was clear. Apple II is for ordinary people. It is for people in their homes. It is for us.
So how do we get the right Branding? Tone? Messaging? Feel? How do you know what exactly your target market is looking for? What makes you special, unique , heads & shoulders above the rest ? What will give you the lead on the race to be No 1?
This is where The Benchmarking Service The IBR Asia Group does for our clients hits the nail on the head. Before creating the right strategy for the best campaign, we do an audit to determine where you are exactly, and what is the perception people have of you? What are the strengths, weaknesses and what are the gaps? What exactly is needed?
Then the right content strategy and marketing campaign is simultaneously co-created and then continuously executed every month with quarterly changes to ensure the content and messaging is always new and fresh.
The first marketing campaign which Apple ran after Jobs came back was a call back to that philosophy. Instead of marketing its products, Apple would instead market its brand and its brand positioning. Known as the “Think Different” campaign, it has since been hailed as one of the best campaigns in marketing history.
What made the Think Different campaign unique was that it did not feature any Apple product at all. In fact, it did not feature anyone or anything connected with Apple, save for the company logo. Instead, the focus was on famous historical figures – innovators, inventors, artistes, thinkers and scientists such as Thomas Edison, Pablo Picasso, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, John Lennon, and so on.
We should bear in mind that this was in 1997, before the iPod, iPad, iPhone or all those peripherals and devices that helped launch Apple to the top. At that time, the company was still primarily a computer manufacturer, and it was trailing behind those using the Windows operating system.
Think Different helped Apple establish a unique identity to differentiate it from other computer manufacturers. The message is that Apple is not just another computer company. It is for those who are creative, who think out of the box, who dare to see things differently. And if you are a thinker, a creator, a person who stands out from the rest, then you are an Apple person.
Incidentally, the difference would be even more emphasised years later from 2006 to 2009 during the “Get a Mac” campaign, which showcased PC (Windows OS) users as stiff, strait-laced and boring, while Mac users were portrayed as cool and casual.
Sometimes, you have to dare to be different. To do this, you need outside help. You need someone else who is not a part of your team to come in and see your organisation with a fresh set of eyes and give workable ideas you may never have even thought of. You need an Enterpreneurial mindset with lots of chutzpah to create new strides and be a trendsetter. This is where The IBR Asia Group comes in – to work with you as a strategic partner and make you a trendsetter. Because trendsetters always win. Like Apple.
A Lifestyle Brand
As mentioned, Apple made a name for itself for quality and innovative products, and that has definitely helped its bottom-line. However, truth be told, the gap between Apple and its competitors has become increasingly narrower.
Yet, despite a number of competing products being just as good or even better– in terms of functionality – as what Apple offers, Apple is still able to retain a sizeable market share. And that boils down to the fact that it does not just sell devices, it sells a lifestyle.
In many cases, Apple products are priced at a premium, usually higher than those of other brands. The successful marketing of the Apple brand as seen in campaigns such as Think Different, Get a Mac and Silhouettes (which was launched in 2001 to market the iPod) helped establish Apple as a lifestyle brand. And this is the X-factor which convinces people to pay that extra.
Incidentally, some of Apple’s most effective marketing campaigns are those that the company does not spend any money on, save for giving away devices… Product placements. For instance, in the 1996 film Mission Impossible, Tom Cruise’s lead character Ethan Hunt, is shown working on an Apple Powerbook.
In the 2001 movie Legally Blond, the character Elle Woods (played by Reese Witherspoon) is shown using an iMac laptop – the stunning orange shell a colourful contrast to the dull and drab grey and black PC laptops that the other characters in the scene are using. The message was clear – Apple is cool, Apple is colourful, Apple has star power.
Today, Apple products are near ubiquitous in movies and TV shows, and not only do characters use Apple products but they also say things that are instantaneously recognisable as being connected to the brand. For instance, words such as “Facetime”, “Macbook”, “iPhone”, and “iPad” are commonly uttered on screen.
That being said, Apple’s product placement strategy is not just a matter of offering free products to the producers and hoping for the best. The company reportedly has a unique strategy when it comes to the depiction of their products in shows, namely that villains are not allowed to be shown using any Apple products.
The subtle implication is there – the cool, heroic good guys use Apple; the dastardly bad guys use other brands besides Apple. And that further reinforces Apple’s branding image as the choice for those who are making a positive difference.
Disseminating your message and brand as far and wide as possible is as important as actually creating the best possible product, brand and messaging. You need to maximise engagement with your target audience, convert that engagement into sales, and ensure your Net Promoter Score hits the roof. We have what it takes to help you in this entire strategy to sales journey.
People Have the (Marketing) Power
As mentioned, Apple does not spent any money on product placements. Nor does it spend any on another of its key marketing platforms – customers’ testimonials. It speaks a lot to Apple’s ability that customers are driven to leave positive reviews of the product online. And in today’s world, where the Internet is so dominant, these reviews help bring in new customers or – at the very least – reinforce brand loyalty in existing ones.
That customers are not just willing but even eager to (for want of a better phrase) “evangelise” for Apple is another testament to the brand’s success in positioning itself as part and parcel of users’ lifestyle. The company realised that if you give people something that becomes integral to their daily life, and which enhances it for the better, then they are more likely to act as your advocates.
Another way that Apple built brand loyalty is through customer engagement, and this is best reflected in its participation in the Macworld Expo. Produced by IDG World Expo, Macworld was the largest gathering of Apple users, enthusiasts and software developers in North America.
For Apple, Macworld was the ideal platform to launch new products as it provided the company with a highly receptive, captive audience. And from 1997 to the 2009 (which was the last year of its participation), it was far and away the biggest draw of the event.
At its very heart, Apple’s branding and marketing success follows a formula that others can replicate. The first thing it did was to create a branding and marketing strategy which clearly laid down its desired identity and its values. The next was to grow its brand presence through creative ad campaigns and product placements. The third step was to encourage customer interaction through participation in trade shows and industry events, and this helped drive the fourth and fifth steps – conversion & customer loyalty and advocacy. Add to that a leader, a spokesperson who lived and breathed the brand and compelling storytelling, and those are the secrets to the rise and rise of Apple. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to have a similar journey plotted out for you in the near future.