What Would Apple Do?

Originally published in the 2011 Winter Issue of the MN Auctioneer magazine.

The practice of marketing a product or service is very interesting to me. So interesting, in fact, that I decided to go to college to study it in the form of graphic design. At the time, I didn’t realize the connection between design and marketing, but I have since learned that great graphic designers are also great marketers and so much more than people who arrange pretty pictures. However, I think my thrill for marketing comes from the fact that I love to sell - it was the way I was raised. It stemmed from the one-liners I used to hear on auction day when my dad would stop his chant for a second or two to make the crowd smile...the results were often amazing. It came after college when I found myself in the kitchen of a farm house as my father and I sold a family on accepting an excellent bid on their family farm. It also came two or three times a year as I would watch a keynote presentation by modern marketing genius, Steve Jobs.

I know that by the time you are reading this, the news of Steve Job’s death will be old news. I also realize that you may be tired of hearing about his life. However, while he was a brilliant technology developer, he was also one of the greatest marketing minds of the last 50 years. So many quotes describe him, but the one that epitomizes his marketing success is, “people don’t know what they want, until you show them.”

He began by creating a company whose products found strength in their simplicity. After a run of success in the early 90’s, Jobs was fired by his own company. He went out and built two other companies, one of which was Pixar. He knew that digital animation was going to be something everyone wanted in movies. He was so right that later, Disney would purchase Pixar and bolster their aging animation studio. When Jobs was brought back into Apple, times were tough. The small market share that Apple held was slipping away and hope was dwindling. Jobs was at the helm as they redefined the personal computer much as they had done in the 80’s, but he was not done yet. He released products that we didn’t even know we wanted. First came the iPod. Paired with iTunes, this was Apple’s extremely successful answer to pirated music. Next was the release of the iPhone. In the first generation of this device, Apple defined what is now expected out of every smartphone six years later. Most recently, Jobs trumpeted the “post PC (personal computer)” era with the release of the iPad.

 

Through all of these releases, Jobs entertained us and defined what device was the next “must have.” He had vision for where he could grow his company and he took the risks. In fact, his vision has not only created new markets with the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, but he built a reputation rarely seen in the business world. Apple and its retail stores have built a reputation of providing devices “that just work” (often quoted by Jobs). In fact, the goodwill that Apple has earned has also increased their market-share in the personal computer arena as well. Ever so slowly more people are adopting the Apple brand for more than just entertainment. Apple’s brand and marketing has turned a fledgling company on the verge of bankruptcy into one of the top corporations in the entire world.

Can we say the same for our business? No, Apple is the epitome of business success. However, one of my favorite techniques when encountering a marketing challenge is to ask the question, “What Would Apple Do?” Of course the easy answer is to make everything simple and pretty, but there is always something more. Jobs was often fond of this technique during project releases by saying, “oh, one more thing.” That ‘one more item’ was probably a brand new product or service that would blow the minds of everyone, but it was a trademark of his presentations. When I consider the mantra of “What Would Apple Do,” I look at how they approached the product itself. They may have had bells and whistles, but they always had a quality product behind the hype. The same can be said of your business; does your service or product live up to the hype? Could it be that your product or service is amazing but you have no hype? Do you feel like all of your products or services are stale, or possibly that you have run out of fresh ideas to push your business forward?

The answer to these questions are not always easy to come by. Often, those answers require asking some tough questions of both our business practices and ourselves as professionals.