At least once or twice a month, while conferring with clients about their long-term branding goals, invariably I hear them announce one of two things:
Announcement #1: “We want to be MORE like Apple!” which is quickly followed by announcement #2: “Hey, we’re NEVER gonna be like Apple!”
The truth is, any company can be more like Apple. Many of us forget that during the late 80’s and early 90’s, even Apple wasn’t Apple any more. In fact, prior to the return of CEO Steve Jobs, Apple was on the brink of non-existence! When Jobs returned in 1997, he helped restore a set of principles that helped Apple become Apple again. 5 of those principles can arguably be implemented by any company in order to make them more Apple-like. I’ll list these principles below:
1. Clearly Communicate Value
Most computer and consumer electronics companies — and companies in general, for that matter — get caught up in throwing at consumers all sorts of features and benefits as reasons consumers should choose their product over the competition. In reality, most consumers could care less about SD slots, amounts of RAM, processor speeds or how many cores are in their devices. They simply want to know what they can do with it, or what the value is of all those features to them. Apple communicates value as clearly and succinctly as anyone in business today.
In 2001, when Apple introduced the iPod, instead of using 10 bullet points of specs to describe it’s (then) large storage and compact design, it simply stated “1,000 songs in your pocket”. That slogan provided a visual that was very easy for any consumer to wrap their head around.
2. Be Disruptive
During Apple’s Q1 2011 earnings report, it revealed that the iPhone now represents approximately half of its overall earnings. This is a product that didn’t even exist prior to 2007!!! I also seem to remember there being quite a bit of skepticism about whether or not Apple as doing the right thing by getting into the phone business. And this came on the heels of them disrupting the MP3 market (with the iPod) and the music industry (with iTunes) before. Conversely, there are many more companies who eschew taking a leadership role as innovators in a growing sector for fear that they’ll cannibalize sales in a more mature sector that is shrinking. Grabbing a larger share of a shrinking market is a time-honored strategy for going out of business, yet companies continues to do it.
Don’t fall into the trap! Be disruptive! Find ways to make your company and brand more relevant to a new group of consumers.
One of the first things that Steve Jobs did when he returned to Apple was to simplify it’s then convoluted product line. He remarked that if he couldn’t figure out the difference between a multitude of hardware models, how could Apple expect consumers to do so? Steve Jobs is also credited with saying that he was just as proud of the products they had chosen not to ship as those they did. This type of restraint flies in the face of most traditional thinking and it’s easy for companies and brands to think that offering more products and services will ensure success. In reality, it’s better to focus on a simplified, core set of skills/products that you do really well and then concentrate on flawless execution.
Even beyond products lines, simplicity is a mantra within Apple. Simplicity drives its approach to product design, GUI design, website design, advertising, packaging and messaging.
4. Use Design as a Competitive Advantage
For many companies and brands, the word “design” denotes the ornamental veneer that is layered onto the surface of a product or message or structure. It is therefore a bit of an afterthought, given attention only at the very end of a process once all of the most important considerations have been finalized. For Apple, design is an integral part of any touch point that consumers have with the Apple brand and it shows. As much care is given to the packaging of an Apple product as is given to how the components are assembled inside the product itself. And Apple products don’t just “look” great, they take just as great care that the build quality design is equally as high, so they feel great as well.
By carefully considering design across each channel and touch point, it ensures that wherever consumers come into contact with Apple, they are getting a consistently high level of experience that Apple’s competitors cannot match. This is an important step toward moving products/services from commodities to “must haves”.
Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference 2011 begins on June 6th and while I do not know what they will announce there, the only thing I do know is that it will be an event that will generate a lot of excitement and whatever product is debuted will be of amazingly high quality. If I’m too busy that day to follow the live videocast (which is often the case), I’ll be able to follow right along by watching the frenzied activity on Twitter. Apple’s consumers and the media will be flush with superlatives like WOW!
Ask yourself, when was the last time a superlative like WOW was used to describe one of your products or services? What would it take to get you to WOW? Once you identify that, you should institutionalize it so that you do that all the time! As I mentioned earlier in this article, there was a point in the late 80’s to mid 90’s where Apple products elicited yawns and “ho-hums”. Today, Apple products consistently WOW the industry and indeed, the world.
Figure out how to consistently WOW your customers and you’ll be on the road to being more like Apple every day.