Wednesday, 31 October 2012

7 Lessons to Take Away from Apple’s Marketing Strategy

Yeah, so I know that Apple kind of blew it on the iPhone 5 launch.  It’s not that sales numbers weren’t good (as usual, they were very, very good!).  Instead, Apple screwed up by releasing products that weren’t yet fully-formed – something that never would have occurred in Steve Jobs’ Apple.

However, if we look past these small missteps, there are still plenty of important lessons that can be taken from the way Apple has grown to dominate different elements of both the mobile device and personal computer marketplaces.  These lessons can be applied to just about any business – no matter what your budget is or what industry you’re in.  I hope you find them interesting!

Lesson #1 – Build the products you want to own
When Apple first announced the release of its first generation iPad, industry speculation pretty much doomed the new device to failure.  At the time, there simply wasn’t a market for tablet devices, and those that had been released by PC manufacturers were clunky and failed to differentiate themselves from laptops in a meaningful way.
Obviously, that didn’t stop Apple, who went on to have one of its biggest launches ever with its new tablet device.

The lesson here is that market research doesn’t always give you the full picture – especially if you’re an innovator with a totally new idea.  Before the iPad’s initial launch, consumers couldn’t have answered surveys stating that they would be interested in Apple’s tablet device, simply because similar products hadn’t ever existed in the marketplace.

The bottom line is this: If you have a good idea for a product, don’t be afraid to jump.  Focus on making the types of products that you yourself would like to own, and eventually, the right market will appear.

Lesson #2 – Don’t apologize for charging what you’re worth
Everybody who’s ever stood in line for new Apple releases knows – at least in their rational brains – that they’re going to wind up shelling out the big bucks for the privilege of purchasing the company’s newest products (which may or may not be significantly better than the devices they already own).  But that hasn’t stopped the millions upon millions of people from dropping everything to wait for their own chances to buy.
Apple has never shied away from charging a higher price for its products than what the market might seem to bear.  The company produces a great product and charges appropriately for it – something that’s incredibly rare in a world of undercutting and freemiums.

Of course, Apple has a natural first mover advantage, as its new product lines are often the first ones to market – and thus – the most desirable.  Being the only company with a new product type certainly gives you the flexibility to charge whatever you want for your goods.

However, it isn’t just Apple that can pull off this type of marketing.  Any business owner that has a quality product or service can charge a premium for it – he just has to justify his costs in a way that’s acceptable to consumers.

Personally, I see plenty of undercutting in the world of SEO.  There are always new consultancies forming and new tools being offered at cut-rate prices compared to existing competitors.  But this type of competition has never stopped me from charging exactly what I believe Single Grain’s value to be worth.  Instead, I focus my efforts on helping prospective customers understand why good SEO consulting costs as much as it does, as well as how they’ll benefit from working with my company – even if there are others out there who are charging much less.

Lesson #3 – Cut the clutter
While Apple has absolutely done things right when it comes to implementing sound marketing strategies, there’s no arguing with the fact that the company couldn’t have achieved its dominant industry position without the high quality products needed to back it up.

What makes Apple products so special is – by and large – an interface that’s appealing and easy to use.  Apple doesn’t cram in more features than are absolutely necessary.  Instead, it starts from a pared-down state and then adds back in only the elements that enhance the user experience.

Now, whether you’re a new company or an existing business, it’s always a good idea to pick over your existing products with a fine-toothed comb.  What have you half-assed in the past?  Which elements can be removed without affecting the enjoyment consumers take from using your products?  In plenty of cases, business owners have tried to appease too many people with a single product, resulting in an opportunity to cut back on the clutter and deliver an item that better meets users’ needs.

Lesson #4 – You can’t be everything to everyone
Throughout its tenure in the mobile device market, Apple has been unapologetic about releasing a select number of devices at top price points.  Only recently has the company started releasing lower market versions of some products and allowing previous versions of new models to remain on the shelves following new launches.

When Apple released the iPod, it didn’t set out to create a portable music device for customers in every market.  Instead, it produced a well-designed piece of equipment that, as a result of its pricing strategy, would only appeal to some consumers.

In a way, Apple said “No” to some customers in order to say “Yes” to the right people.  It’s not a strategy that will work for every business, but at least in Apple’s case, it’s resulted in an immense group of “Apple fanboys” who will line up for hours in order to get their hands on the company’s next release.

This lesson can be applied to just about every business out there.  Instead of trying to make everybody happy, isolate your product’s evangelists (that is, those who purchase multiple times and recommend your brand to others) and build a product that these people alone will love.  You might lose a few customers in the process, but the loyalty and referrals you’ll get out of the process should more than make up for a few missed sales.

Lesson #5 – Control your distribution
You can’t just walk into a Radio Shack and purchase an iPhone.  Instead, you’ll need to either work directly with one of Apple’s cellular service partners or head to an Apple Store, where the company has carefully controlled each element of its retail design to create an atmosphere that resonates with Apple’s existing branding.

As a result of this carefully orchestrated supply chain, Apple is able to create the optimal buying environment – one that conveys the company’s branded image and encourages additional purchases through accessory recommendations made by knowledgeable staff.
Business owners can take a lesson from Apple’s playbook on this one as well.  Though the temptation for retailers is often to sell as many products as possible, in as many venues as possible, there’s something to be said about the advantages of keeping things close to home.  Limiting product availability can enhance desirability, rather than a market that’s flooded with similar items.

Lesson #6 – Create a feeling, not a product
Do you remember Apple’s earliest iPod ads?  They rarely talked about product features or benefits (outside of the remarkably catchy tagline, “1,000 songs in your pocket).  Instead, they featured hip, young people dancing to the music that was playing on their new portable music devices.

That concept captured the essence of Apple’s product line and value proposition more than any series of words could have.  They didn’t create an advertisement – they created a feeling that other people wanted to be a part of.  And yep, you better believe it was a success!

As you get ready to sell your own products and services, think about the attitude your offerings convey.  What exactly are customers buying into when they purchase your goods?  While you may not be able to craft as well-defined a feeling as Apple (which certainly benefits from being a high-end consumer product retailer), at least putting some effort into connecting with your customers’ emotional sides will go a long way towards encouraging future sales.

Lesson #7 – Account for all aspects of your product
Have you ever heard of “unboxing?”  Basically, there’s a whole community of Apple buyers out there who film the process of opening their latest purchases and sharing these special moments with others on Youtube.

It sounds crazy, until you consider just how deep Apple’s commitment to good design has gone.  Apple products aren’t just things of beauty – the boxes that they come in have been designed to convey the same exquisite sense of enjoyment.

There’s a great lesson to be had there for other business owners, and that’s the importance of exciting your customer at every step of the buying process.  If you sell a physical product, that means taking into account everything from the atmosphere of your website, to the language you use to describe your product and to the packaging used to deliver your goods.  If you sell a service, you’ll want to carefully analyze your follow-up process to ensure that the same level of excitement and emotional connection carries through to your buyers.

Like I said earlier, mimicking Apple is easier said than done.  Certainly, the company has marketing and R&D budgets that most businesses can only dream of, while their existing popularity with consumers allows them to take risks that might sink other companies.

However, by tapping into the fundamentals of what’s made Apple so successful – for example, it’s commitment to producing quality products and connecting with consumers on an emotional level – it’s possible to apply some of these same lessons to your own company’s products or services in order to bring about a higher level of success than you’ve experienced thus far.

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