No matter if you're an Apple fanboy (and just for the record I am not) or a PC zealot (I'm not a zealot but prefer PCs), there is no denying that the way Apple markets its products is amazing. Much has been written over the years about the marketing machine Steve Jobs and company masterfully drives. Their secrets have been revealed. The inner working has been exposed. But with the release of the iPad 2 coming this Friday, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit some of the basics of what they do well and how we can all apply them in our own practice.
1. Know your customers
According to an InformationWeek article, Mac accounts for about 10% of the U.S. retail market. That's good enough for a third of the US market (they don't even rank in the top five internationally). But a June 2009 NPD Group retail sales report shows that they owned nearly 91% of the $1000+ market. Apple understands they are talking to educated customers with discretionary income. Apple knows this demographic like you know your best friend. And they have actively cultivated these relationships since the first Apple shipped back on the 1970s.
Take away: Know your customers and know your brand. Know who is buying your products and cultivate these relationships the same way you would cultivate any personal relationship that you want to last.
2. Don't give customers what they want
At least not all at once. It's sounds counter-intuitive to be sure, but think about it. When the iPad came out last year it was missing many features, most notably a camera. People couldn't understand how the iPad team could have missed this crucial element in such a YouTube, video-voracious world. But was this an accident or a planned strategy? There is a concept that Sony put to fantastic use in the '80s to drive Walkman sales called planned obsolescence. The idea is that you don't put all the bells and whistles into your product. You design it to be out of date at a certain point so you can sell more products to the same customers. By using a deliberate strategy of planned obsolescence, Apple can drive sales of the iPad 2, which among its many new features, now has both a front and rear facing camera.
Take away: When you develop a product or service, always leave customers wanting more. If you have a service oriented business, make a list of improvements you could make, but don't do them all at once. Slowly roll them out over a period of time. And telegraph your plans to give customers something to look forward to.
3. Show, Don't tell
Apple and their ad agency, TBWA \ Chiat \ Day, have created some of the most iconic ads in the history of the medium. And their success comes from a simple formula: never tell customers about a product when you can show them the product in action. Again, let's look back to the iPad campaign (since it's the most recent). Instead of talking about gigabytes and memory and processor speeds, the ads simply showed the device working. Viewers saw firsthand all the cool functionality. This same style was used for the iPod touch and iPhone. The result is a much more engaging commercial that creates an almost un-natural desire for the product. After all, no one needs an iPad, but after seeing the commercials, they create a very strong "want." And why? Because by showing how the products work, they showcase one of the major benefits of the product: it's just really cool.
Take away: People are visual creatures. Whenever possible show your product at work, don't talk about it. And this doesn't take a huge budget. A simple YouTube video can work wonders. Just ask the folks at Will It Blend.
4. Keep it simple
When you see an Apple commercial think about what is going on. You are not bombarded with multiple messages. You don't see processor speeds and storage capacities. What you usually see is one single message. Take for example, the MacBook Air commercials. A simple slow pan of the computer and a quick voiceover. The result is that you know that this computer in incredibly thin, incredibly light (by the way it is being held), and yet a fully functioning Mac computer.
The original iPhone commercials never mention anything about the phone until the last few seconds when it rings. Instead it conveys a single message that the iPhone runs a bunch of very cool and useful apps. And oh yeah, it's also a phone.
Take away: People can only process one thing at a time, especially if your target is men. So choose one thing you want to get across to people in every marketing piece. A single communication objective. Ask yourself, after the target sees this ad, banner, TV commercial, etc. what is the one thing you want them to remember about your product. Then drive that point home simply and visually.
This is probably the best thing that Apple does and the hardest to emulate. Apple (almost) continually delivers on the hype. I say almost because there have been a few missteps here and there. Although even their failures have been with innovative products. But especially with the advent (and tremendous success) of the iPod, iPhone, iPod Touch and now the iPad, innovation is a basic element of the brand. In fact, it's not hyperbole to say that Apple has changed how we listen to music and consume content forever. Its customers expect great things from Apple and Apple delivers.
Take away: Marketing should be an amplifier of your brand, not a distortion of it. If you want to be seen as the greatest thing since sliced bread in your sector, then BE the greatest thing since sliced bread in your sector. Do not over-promise and under-deliver. This is a recipe for failure. Instead, make excellence the standard, not the goal.
We want your opinion. What other things do you think Apple does well that we could all learn from? Or are there things that Apple doesn't do well that seem to always get glossed over? Let us know in the comments section.
Kevin Duffy is the Creative Director for The Duffy Agency's Boston office.