Apple Computer, Inc. is all about creating brand experience. The company has survived in an incredibly difficult technology marketplace for one simple reason: it’s a brand designed for participant experience. Beginning with the infamous Orwellian Super Bowl commercial in 1984, Apple defined itself as a technology company meeting the needs and desires of people.
Today Apple has a lower market share than at any point in the last 20 years, yet it continues to survive and even show signs of life – despite the best efforts of its competitors. The reason that Apple remains viable in a market that has done everything possible to weed it out is their focus on people – creating the best possible experience for those who participate in the Apple brand.
Here are a few of the ways that Apple has remained an important part of the computer industry:
* Friendly. The original Mac OS was so far ahead of its time. Compared to contemporary interfaces, the early Mac was intuitive, friendly and powerful. It took Microsoft more than a decade to catch up, and even today Windows XP is only incrementally better than the original Mac. Amazing.
* Portable. The original Mac computers were just a box, with the monitor and disk drive fully integrated. You could unplug it, tuck it under your arm and take it with you. That was a far cry from the bulky “IBM”-style computers of the time, and Apple has remained at the industry fore in improving portability.
* Emotional. In the beginning, computers were largely designed to make tasks easier to accomplish. Math and finance. Bookkeeping and accounting. Inventory and management. Apple identified the similarly important place for communication and personal expression in the computing experience. Whereas “traditional” computers treated those as afterthoughts and trivialities, Apple took a leadership position in graphics programs and peripherals, heralding the rise of desktop publishing. More, Apple understood that the need for an emotional connection went beyond the product and into the actual brand association.
* Integrated. Before Palm Computing, Inc. was even a glint in Jeff Hawkins’ eye, Apple was well on its way to developing the first PDA, the Newton. While the technology at the time was not ready to sustain the vision, Apple’s attempt to integrate the power of computing into daily, mobile tasks harkened to the technology of today and the potential of tomorrow.
* Personal. Apple recognized that people who purchase their machines want the computer to be an extension of their individuality. So, rather than mass producing all of the machines in the same white-grey-black spectrum, they introduced the iMac with different, friendly colors and even heightened that approach by making the “debut” of new colors a big event. Today, most major manufacturers at least offer optional add-ons to approximate the same approach.
* Progressive. After the music industry won a legal battle against Napster-like music providers, they quickly began losing the battle to profitably sell their product online. Enter Apple’s iTunes Music Store. By applying their participant-friendly interface and culture to a revenue model that listened to people’s needs and desires – providing song ownership for 99 cents per download – they introduced a platform and approach that generated more than five million downloads in the first eight weeks.
* Powerful. Even though Microsoft and other major competitors are now aggressively playing in the more people-friendly domains, Apple is nimble enough to recognize that and re-focus on market opportunity. Just this week it was announced that Apple’s new G5 chip is twice as fast as anything that PC-based systems are using. And the most delicious irony of all? It is designed and produced by Apple’s original main competitor, IBM.
Apple is an excellent example of building an organization, from products to market, around the people who will participate in the experience. Particularly for graphic designers and other creative types who grew up appreciating Apple but perhaps being unfamiliar with what marketing is and how it works, Apple Computer, Inc. is a textbook case of a company successfully identifying the needs of their market and participants, then getting the organization behind it to successfully deliver on that promise. While the poor market position of Apple today – although keep in mind that they are profitable – is an indication that their strategy did not result in the most possible business success, it does illustrate that the road less traveled – if traveled with real people in mind – can also provide success.