Brand addicts may have heard in today’s financial media, that Apple has overtaken Google as the world’s most valuable brand.
What makes Mac users so loyal?
Leander Kahney, journalist at Wired asked that question back in 2002. This was her own reply: “The answer, of course, depends on who is asked: Marketers say it’s the brand, psychologists say it’s a social relationship, and Apple loyalists say it’s the merits of the machine, its friendliness, its simplicity”.
Musician Barry Adamson in an interview with The Guardian newspaper once said “Apple is like a strange drug that you just can’t quite get enough of. They shouldn’t call it Mac. They should call it crack!”
The way in which people are buying into the brand, one would be excused to think he is right.
A lot of people discuss Apple’s branding, and with good reason, since the company was once very close to going bust. It didn’t, largely because Apple made four changes:
- They fixed their finances and supplier chain.
- The brought co-founder Steve Jobs back (to hard-core fans, Steve IS Apple).
- They fixed their products. Killed some off and launched the first iMacs.
- They fixed their brand.
For a company that started out being purchased as a statement to the few (advertising people, designers…), it has become a brand of many. Today, Apple aren’t selling products, as much as they are selling relationships and perceptions. Apple fits today’s world, where consumers seek materialistic products to be happy. To many, their Apple product is like a designer bag. It makes them feel good and they feel it projects a certain image about them. It’s not a product, it’s a friend. And like with designer bags, consumers don’t pay top money because they cost a lot to make. They pay because of the brand (and that’s why Apple stock holders loves seeing Apple products all around town).
For the same reason, the Apple brand personality is lifestyle focused. It’s about aspirations, passions and innovation. Apple doesn’t make for a good case study though, mainly due to the nature of their brand architecture. Where many brand specialists today argue that ‘brands are brands, companies are companies – there is a difference’, Apple have taken a page out of Kellogg’s book and market all products under the Apple company umbrella. However this can come at a high price, when a problem with one product, can more quickly spread to affect other products, when they are associated by brand name.
Steve Jobs sharing his views on the Apple brand to senior staff back in the nineties, launching the ‘Think Different’ Campaign.
Having put some thought into it, here are my suggestions as to what makes the Apple brand so successful:
- They started with their core users. Mac became famous for power and ease of use. The fact that they still adhere to these two philosophies means they haven’t lost many customers to the ‘other side’.
- They have a brand, which is relatively simple to adhere to, and is so clear that even consumers get it.
- They have a unique visual identity, which consumers instantly recognise, both on the packaging, websites, and in products. If an iPhone user would try to guess the design of the next generation iPhone, chances are they would not miss by much.
- They don’t launch products until they are ready. This means that consumers very rarely end up with products they feel are half-baked, and that Apple can go all out on each launch.
- They nourish their fans.
- They have top rated customer service – at least in the U.S.
- Apple has traditionally had a relatively narrow product focus, and the products had almost natural connections. This has changed today with a product line that includes desktops, laptops, iPads, iPhones, iPods, music/films, apps and some accessories. It has worked so far, but the danger is that it very hard, and expensive, to own and protect many different markets at the same time.
- The positioning of their products are so clear that just about anyone is able to have an opinion of them. What do you think of Acer Laptops or Logitech Keyboards? Chances are you won’t know them well enough to have an opinion. Right? That’s not the case with Apple.
In the end, Apple has succeeded in not doing something, rather than doing something. They have found something that works, and they stick to it. They question is, what happens when something people first bought as a sign of individuality, end up being owned by everybody? Will it still be as successful?
Note. This is just one of several blog posts I have written about the Apple brand. To read more, type Apple in the search field at the top of this page.