Apple may be the best case study for how to build a brand in the history of modern marketing. Here are seven lessons leaders and marketers in any industry can learn from their incomparable branding success:
1. One Voice
Apple knows who it is and has consistently voiced its brand with nearly perfect pitch for over 25 years. Early on they recognized most people aren’t turned on by raw technology–they’re turned on by what technology enables them to do–so their voice celebrated creativity, individuality, the human spirit, and in doing so created a brand experience that touched people at their core.
Lesson 1: Identify your authentic brand voice, then consistently and artfully apply it over an extended time. If you find yourself changing your brand’s voice every few years, you haven’t found an authentic voice yet. Authentic brands do modulate and evolve–they don’t overhaul without extraordinary reason.
2. One Agency
With the exception of a brief dance with BBDO under John Sculley’s reign, Apple’s 20 year partnership with TBWA/Chiat-Day has produced one of the most fruitful marriages in advertising. Chiat-Day is the keeper of the Apple’s brand flame, and by osmosis has absorbed their client’s very DNA. You can’t replicate their success by changing agencies every 2 years. Can not.
Lesson 2: Find a branding partner who understands your brand, its vision and can communicate it fluently. Then stick with them for as long as possible. As in marriages, with the right partner, things get even better over time.
3. Be Different
Apple simply refuses to look, walk, or talk like its competitors. Starting inside its products and working their way outward, they aim to be so different that at a glance one can recognize the distinction. Here’s proof of how successful they’ve been: put your thumb over the logos of any of Apple’s competitors’ advertising, then try to identify the brand. Now, put your thumb over the logo on an Apple ad . . . Remarkably, Apple almost doesn’t need to use their logo any longer. That’s the highest expression of a fully actualized brand.
Lesson 3: You can’t stand out by blending in. Don’t only “Think Different”, strive to be different in every point of comparison with your competition.
4. Detail is Everything
For Apple, everything counts. They understand every second a consumer spends with their product holds the potential for a positive and memorable brand experience, so everything is designed: from the moment you open the box containing an Apple product until you turn that product off, every single moment of your interaction has been thoughtfully designed to within an inch of its life.
Lesson 4: Make this your mantra: “When it comes to our products, our services and our brand, there are no insignificant details. None. Everything Counts.“
5. Beauty Kills
In athletics, it’s often said “speed kills”, as in when you match a wide receiver who runs a 4.1/40 against a defensive back who runs a 4.5, bad things can happen. In matters of design the same can be said about the power of beauty. Apple simply refuses to do ugly–they only do beautiful, dare we say, sexy product design. In the mp3 player category, Apple’s +75% market share isn’t due to technical or value superiority–there are competitor products that are more fully featured and less expensive–but rather to the cache’ their beautifully designed and branded products confer to their owners.
Lesson 5: Beautifully designed products and brand assets can provide a significant competitive advantage.
6. Feed Your Fans
Apple’s fan base displays a degree of devotion that can be matched by very few brands. Apple’s computer market share may be only 5%, but that 5%’s evangelism quotient adds a potent multiplier effect. Apple feeds their brand cult by making every significant product release a bona fide event whose drama is heightened by a legendary degree of secrecy preceding the release. They also brilliantly established an aura of exclusivity in the early 80’s, with campaigns stating “Soon there will be 2 kinds of people. Those who use computers, and those who use Apples.” followed by “The computer for the rest of us.” in 1984 and have continued to play on people’s desire to be “in” ever since.
Lesson 6: Create a sense of theatre with your brand–one that heightens the intangible rewards of their membership in your brand’s culture.
7. Insane Greatness
Ultimately, Apple’s greatest brand asset is not its advertising, it’s the quality of their products and the people who make them. Their brand communications are but an extension of that essential character. Steve Jobs’ mantra of making Apple an insanely great company is manifested in everything they create: from their packaging to their products, to their retail stores, technical support, and finally their brand communications: it’s all best-of-class because that’s all the company’s leadership will accept. And, what their consumers have come to expect from Apple, accompanied by a demonstrated commitment to pay a premium for that expectation being fulfilled.
Lesson 7: Your father was right: “If you’re not going to do it right, don’t do it at all.”