With this piece, we take a look at the story of Apple. This isn’t a long story, it rather focuses on the important pointers that make Apple what it is today. We broadly talk about 4 aspects – the simplicity of Apple products, their marketing, the structured nature of the organization, and finally, Steve Jobs, the face of Apple. Let’s jump right in the piece!
On November 10th 2020, Apple launched its new MacBook devices. Unlike all other Apple events, the hype wasn’t around the latest devices and the features they offered. It was about the new journey Apple’s MacBook ecosystem is venturing into. These MacBooks were the first to launch with Apple’s M1 chip based on ARM architecture. Previously its MacBook lineup was based on Intel chips and lacked ecosystem control like iPhones, which Apple always desired.
It is hard to imagine the most valued company in the world going back to its vertical integration philosophy when all technology companies are opening and collaborating. But that’s what makes Apple the company it is. A non-conventional innovation generating machine fueled by the visionary leadership of its founder-Steve Jobs. We will try to understand how Apple and Steve Jobs have built this brand.
What makes Apple, Apple?
Products and Experience:
Apple products like iPod, iPhone, iPad, and much more, fundamentally changed the industry’s structure. The influence of some products like iPod extended across sectors, and it was able to revive the dying music industry by introducing iTunes integration. In marketing, we have often heard how commoditization has led companies to focus more on creating a differentiated customer experience. Hardly anyone in the industry does a better job than Apple.
Related: Take a look at the rise of Audio OTT economy in India
A common theme that emerges out of Apple products across categories is “Simplicity.” Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication was Apple’s tagline on its first marketing campaign launched in 1977. In a product company, the design and engineering departments are always at war, as their priorities often clash. In Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson, Apple’s marketing chief Phil Schiller says, “Steve kept impressing on us that the design was integral to what would make us great.” When Jobs returned to Apple, the design took the front seat on everything, even if it meant compromising the functionality in some cases.
Apple is known for its marketing campaign, be it the 1984 Super Bowl advertisement introducing the new Macs to the world or the Apple events they host every year for new product launches. Its marketing genius again revolves around ‘Simplicity’ that delivers a key message. In the recent Apple event, the presenters used 5G, a fundamental value proposition of new iPhones, more than fifty times. Go ahead and count if you want to. In fact, on YouTube, you will find spoofs made from it. However, on a serious note, it highlights how Apple delivers a message to potential customers.
In 1997 Apple launched an advertisement campaign to showcase that it is alive after the return of Steve Jobs in 1996. The ‘Think Different’ tagline was chosen to highlight the rebellious brand that Apple wanted to create. It featured people like Gandhi, Lennon, Chaplin, King, Picasso, Dylan, James Watson, and others as the voice of Richard Dreyfuss read –
“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.“
This and many such marketing campaigns have established a cult following for Apple products around the world.
Organization and Leadership:
As with many successful companies, one of the critical reasons is how it is organized. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, it was organized into business units led by GM responsible for their won P&L. However, Jobs believed that this was one of the main reasons behind the lack of innovation and creativity in the organization. He quickly brought all units under himself, putting the entire company behind one P&L. The functional structure allowed for collaboration across different product lines and provided flexibility to add functions like AI&ML, Environment & Sustainability in the rapidly changing market. Generally, as a company grows, it is organized in a multidivisional structure that provides better control for the executives.
However, like in almost everything else, Apple is an anomaly and has continued with the last forty years’ functional structure achieving historical valuations.
Steve Jobs – A Brand himself
Irrespective of how big Apple becomes, regardless of how many path-breaking products they launch, Apple will always be identified with Steve Jobs and vice versa. His vision, product innovations, attention to detail & aesthetics defines Apple as a brand. So powerful were his keynotes that a term was coined for them called ‘Stevenote.’ As most product launches were announced in his keynotes, it caused major swings in Apple’s stock prices. His keynote product launches are a master guide of corporate storytelling. He never shied away from using words like ‘gorgeous,’ ‘fabulous,’ ‘cool,’ etc., to describe the products because he genuinely believed them to be precisely that.
A story from ‘Steve Jobs’ had remained with me when he returned to Apple and started conducting product reviews. Jobs was annoyed with so many variants of the same product that he started asking a simple question like “Ok, Which ones of the products do I tell my friends to buy?” It highlights the vision of Jobs about Apple products. He always cared about the details and never really liked PowerPoint presentations. His design reviews were famous where the designers made models of designs for Jobs to look and feel. His partnership with Jony Ive was a landmark in influencing and shaping Apple’s design philosophy.
Turning around a failing company and building it into a cult brand indeed signifies the perseverance of everyone who has been associated with Apple, and Steve Jobs brilliantly captures it through –
“My model for business is The Beatles. They were four guys who kept each other’s kind of negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other, and the total was greater than the sum of the parts. That’s how I see business: Great things in business are never done by one person, they’re done by a team of people”