Apple marketing strategy
The concept of branding is still a relatively young one, the idea was first given authority in the 60’s. Companies previously relied on product focused advertising as the primary method of selling merchandise to consumers. Product focus marketing was hyper informative, boring and a less attractive method of selling. Fast forward 60 years and today’s marketers consider product focused marketing as obsolete, whilst consumers consider it aggressive.
The tech industry is a prolific example of how quickly consumer purchasing habits can shift. Nokia, Motorola, Tumblr, Yahoo were all once household names, yet have all fallen victim to the volatile disruptions within the industry. Today’s tech giants are faced with more formidable challenges such as the unprecedented competition from China and South America. Industry leaders like Eric Shmidt the former chairman of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, has warned that China will overtake America in artificial intelligence (AI) by 2025. In the “Made in China 2025 programme” Chinese president Xi Jinping has stated China’s aggressive intent to produce leading Chinese companies in 10 key industries, we can be certain that behind these companies will be a wave of cash and incentives to manufacturers and consumers providing Asian firms additional resources to compete with their American competition. That compared to America’s federal-government spending on R&D which was 0.6% of GDP in 2015, a third of what it was in 1964. Additional factors such as slow paced technological innovation has allowed Asian mobile manufacturers such as the OnePlus mobile phone to catch up with their American counterpart, offering a cheaper alternative without substituting on device performance. The OnePlus is beginning to yield promising sales results too - between years 2014 and 2016 the OnePlus doubled the number of worldwide device shipments, transforming what started as a cult trend into a credible market competitor.
Subsequently this has prompted a change in marketing strategy in the tech industry. Mobile companies are no longer considering device specs as lucrative sales advantage and brands like Apple have understood the need to offer customers more holistic incentives, by investing heavily in the brand communications Apple have re-distributed much of their value into the branding and communications associated with their products.
“Smart companies are evolving into smart brands.”
Tech companies were not traditionally perceived as savvy brands. The assumption was that consumers would naturally purchase the most cutting edge device on the market. However, whether Apple, Google or Samsung have the best camera or portable speaker is debatable, but the Apple brand clearly reigns above all.
Apple’s shift toward intangible values expressed by the communications associated with their products was a visionary strategy guided by the late Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs realised that ideas can be sold where merchandise cannot. This understanding helped Apple become the world's most valuable company in under 20 years of Steve Jobs’ return to the company. The brand values are definitive, original and most importantly: cannot be replicated or manufactured by Apple’s competitors; this has made the company distinctive in product design, philosophy and as a brand. Apple have become a symbol which represent a set of community ideals and principles recognised by the world, Appreciated and embraced by consumers AKA Appleites. These unique ideals unify Apple’s consumer base beyond the device specifications strengthening all round customer loyalty.
Developing a refined brand message such as Apple’s requires profound aesthetic management which includes the curation and consistency of font typeface, typography layout, colours, and research on complex questions such as whether to address the consumer in first or second person etc. Smart brand aesthetics can fall under a number of categories, however the three primary categories are: Message, imagery and community.
Apple’s use of emotional branding is a dynamic cocktail of anthropology, imagination, sensory experiences, and a visionary approach to branding combining the basic instincts which all mammals share: tendency to seek freedom, companionship, guardianship (God) and community/family.
Four basic elements the brand is delicately positioned to imitate, Luc Speisser Managing director of Landor puts it well “Great brands are like friends - you encounter a huge number of them everyday, but you only keep in contact with the ones you Love” -
With that in mind, Apple resembles a beloved mentor or creative collaborator to its consumers. Apple advertising is often reassuring, supportive and reaffirm the message that “Apple believes in you”. Their campaign visuals place the consumer at the heart of the image whilst, controversially, barely displaying an Apple product. Similarly Apple’s campaign messaging is manufactured to be a personal, private message directed specifically to the reader such as their 2014 Dreams campaign “you’re more powerful than you think”. At first glance It’s difficult to see the logic behind such advertising strategy considering there isn't an Apple product being sold or the Apple name being grossly promoted, but stop and ask, which is more valuable - the Apple brand or the Apple product? Of course, the brand - because Apple is not a tech firm, Apple is infact a lifestyle brand.
“The message represents the communication of principles associated to (X) brand which helps build relationships with consumers who share those principles.”
Marketers often focus on how to get the message “out there”, How to get as many people to see the message as possible? But Smart brands ask “what is our message? What do we want to tell the world?”
Modern marketing centres on companies building compelling connections between consumers and objects, becoming irreplaceable and create a lifelong relationship. A difficult task for mere device components to achieve, however, branding expands omni-layers for companies to develop communications that humanize objects; through the development of brand identity companies can carve characteristics into their products such as a voice, a name, an entire personality even. however the more “personal” a brand becomes the more it must develop and communicate its world views. The study of cultural cognition reveals that there is a process by which all of us filter new information in ways that will protect our preferred vision of the world. If new information seems to confirm or agree with that vision we welcome it and integrate it easily. If it poses a threat to our belief system, then our brain automatically gets to work producing intellectual antibodies to repel the information. Brands must understand the preferred vision of the world their consumers seek and effectively communicate that vision through the brand message.
“Brands use distinctive imagery, language and associations to encourage customers to identify with the brand. This process is facilitated by a visual identity that is easy to remember and immediately recognizable.”
Humans possess five senses, touch, sound, taste, smell and sight; each receptor is an opportunity to increase awareness and build customer loyalty. Great brands focus their resources on discovering comprehensive strategies which simultaneously stimulate as many human senses as possible. Sight more than any other sense provides the brain information about the world, whether it be fear, empathy, love or in Apple’s case - inspiration. Through repeated exposure, symbols become so recognisable that companies such as Apple can afford to drop their logo from national advertising leaving colour, aesthetic and style of photography to communicate the brand. Apple’s visual communications strategy is identical to what we have come to expect from a lifestyle brand. Creating campaigns that place the consumer before the product. Using real people rather than traditional models to transform the subject into someone real we can recognise in our own lives techniques likened to documentary style photography which adds to the sense of authenticity.
Apple’s latest campaign “shot on Iphone” highlights the quality of the device’s camera, which is important to wider consumers, however stating who captured the image elevates the advert to provide a unique pride only associated with the Apple community resulting in the birth of #shotoniphone social media hashtag. The campaign has lead organic word of mouth marketing, with community pages run by fans and brand loyalist all over the world, consumers who share one thing in common, they all own an Apple product. This is a powerful self feeding cycle. As long as Apple continue to understand and communicate the prefered vision of their consumers the consumers will continue to use the Apple brand as a method of self identity.
Apple’s success lies in the level of coherence, every aspect of what they do reinforces everything else. Apple are clearing a foggy path into a new, more complete era of branding and communications, presenting a working method on how to become a productive umbrella brand in the millennial/digital era. Marketers must watch carefully and learn from them what we can.