Apple is unveiling its newest iPhone at tomorrow’s Sept. 12th media event. Various projections estimate they will sell between 5 and 10 million iPhones in the first week of its launch. On paper, Apple’s product seems inferior to those of their competitors, with other phones having faster processors, bigger screens, more memory and better cameras. Why then is no one willing to camp outside other stores in anticipation of these products? Because Apple delivers a unique brand experience that none of their competitors have been able to imitate.
RiechesBaird — as a brand strategy consulting firm — has encountered client engagement scenarios like this more than once:
Client: “We selected you because you really put in the time to understand our business, and we believe your process will really help us capitalize on the strengths of our brand.”
RiechesBaird: “That’s great to hear, we believe you have a lot of potential. What do you see as success for this project?”
Client: “Well, we’d really like it if you could make us like Apple.”
While this is a great goal to shoot for, brands need to be careful about focusing on something someone else has rather than looking internally at their existing strengths. The first challenge is to understand what “like Apple” means to them. Do they want to emulate Apple’s specific qualities? Do they want to take a leadership position in their market? Do they want a highly differentiated product that is sold at a significant price premium? Do they want their customers to be loyal, fanatically devoted fans of everything they do? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. All of those things are enviable qualities, but none of them are the key to Apple’s success.
What is the secret to Apple’s brand success? It’s not their name, logo, or tagline. Those are just symbols. It’s not even their business model, products, or customer service. Sure, they do all of those extremely well, but there is one thing that drives all of their success that they do better than everyone else. They make people believe.
Brands don’t live in words on a paper or in ads. They live in people. Your brand isn’t real until people believe in it. I hear people say that Apple is a successful brand because they make great products, but I believe it’s the reverse. Apple makes great products because they have a focused brand strategy that is aligned around delivering a strong promise, which has nothing to do with electronics, and everything to do with human experience. And their organization is aligned from top to bottom around fulfilling that promise. Nothing explains that promise better than this quote from Steve Jobs:
“Our customers want to know who is Apple, and what is it that we stand for? Where do we fit in this world? And what we’re about isn’t making boxes for people to get their jobs done, although we do that well. We do that better than almost anybody, in some cases. But Apple’s about something more than that. Apple at the core, its core value, is we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better.” - Steve Jobs
For a great lesson on branding, listen to the full speech given by Jobs after his 1997 return to Apple.
What does that have to do with computers, phones, or portable music players? Nothing, and that’s the beauty of Apple’s purpose. Steve Jobs reversed Apple’s downward financial spiral after realigning the company around the original purpose that inspired him to start it in the first place.
There are many examples of successful brands who are aligned around a strong promise. McDonald’s and Nike both sell commodity products that are not highly differentiated from their competition, but their brand makes them international cultural sensations. IBM sells primarily to a crowded B2B technology market, but as of 2012 they have the second highest brand value at $116 BILLION. (Apple is #1 with $183 billion.)
You can check out more brand valuations in the full 2012 BrandZ report by WPP.
So you want to be like Apple? Here’s what you do:
1. Determine the core purpose that motivates you and your employees. What makes you get out of bed in the morning; what makes you excited to go to work? What are the strengths and unique qualities that differentiate you from your competitors?
2. Align your team around that core purpose. Live it from the executive level and be inspiring, supportive, and inclusive all the way down to your interns. Even people who don’t touch customers need to believe in your brand promise to make it a reality. Investing in your employees will bring much greater ROI than any advertising initiative. This also helps you acquire the other thing that makes Apple ridiculously successful: talent.
For more information on building an inspired company culture, check out this post: Culture eats strategy for breakfast.
To learn more about the author of this blog post, please visit the Jeff Lanzi page at RiechesBaird.