Having spent my career as a PC user, I was struck reading the quote in this Denver Post story, not about the iPad hype and its appeal to gadget fans, but by the brand loyalty that continues to drive Apple users to purchase every product the company introduces.
What’s their secret to customer loyalty? Not owning a single Apple product, I have watched this cultural phenomenon from the outside, and have some (perhaps) unbiased ideas:
1. Apple products are different, not better
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post that true product innovation yields “different” products; not products that add insignificant bells and whistles to the category leader, believing that people will flock to a “better” product. When Apple introduced Macintosh, they introduced a “different” way of computing and aimed the computer to a target audience of designers and creatives, not managers like me working on endless spreadsheets. Compaq introduced the “better” PC to IBM’s unvanquished gold standard, and look what happened to that “better” product line.
2. Apple continues to delight and entertain
When people buy Apple products, they not only expect a flawless technological piece of hardware, they expect something that delights the eye, the mind and endlessly entertains the owner. I have never once heard anyone say that an Apple product is boring. Can the rest of us make that claim for the products we represent?
3. Software development adds staff to the innovation team
When I saw external software developer introducing $.99 apps, I thought something was wrong with Apple’s business model. As I now know, giving some access to the code was strategic brilliance on Apple’s part. Why should they devote resources to developing apps in-house, when Apple can engage the greater world to do these at no cost to the company and have superior and more varied product add-ons? It’s crowd-sourcing that works.
4. Innovation doesn’t stop with the hardware
The adventure continues with Apple products long after the new smell wears off the hardware. The iPhone apps are one example, but the original category-buster was the iPod. When it was introduced, the iTunes store wasn’t even a rumor. Yet, this “accessory” not only solidified and continued the consumer revenue stream, it revolutionized the way the music is bought and sold industry-wide. Not bad for a hi-tech, “hardware” company.
The elusive emotional bond between a customer and a brand is personality. Those companies who don’t have a distinctive leader sometimes use spokespeople or animated mascots effectively, but you can’t deny the sway that a founder like Steve Jobs has over the early adopters and cult users.
A second part of Apple’s personality is design. Their products are marketed to designers, so award-winning product design is the norm. Don’t you have the impression that Apple users are more creative? Smarter? More hip than the rest of us? Good design says a lot about the product—and its users.
And lastly, Apple has projected its brand personality through advertising and marketing. Who can forget the watershed commercial “1984?” White space has never been used as well as it is in communication & visuals online, in print and even the look of the Apple retail stores. Apple isn’t afraid to take marketing risks, because it reinforces their brand image as the category leader. The day Apple copies a competitor’s product or marketing, will be the end of the brand mystique and love affair with their loyal fans.
With such great marketing and brand equity, it’s just a matter of time before Apple converts the rest of us PC stalwarts. What was the tipping point with your first Apple product?