Thursday, March 15, 2007

USA Today on Apple: What's Success Got to Do with It?

This rather fawning piece on Apple's marketing left me wondering what the writer, Jefferson Graham, would pick as a metric for marketing success. Call me old-fashioned, but I think selling products should fit in the definition somewhere.

Apple's marketing machine has done it again.

While the biggest names in tech were in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics Show in January showing off new gadgets and gizmos, Apple gambled it could extract attention in San Francisco for a sneak-peek debut of the iPhone, the combination music player/cellphone and Internet device.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs' bet paid off like a gushing Vegas jackpot. The avalanche of headlines and TV news stories about the iPhone — which hits the market in June — already have generated $400 million in free publicity, says Harvard Business School professor David Yoffie. "No other company has ever received that kind of attention for a product launch," Yoffie says. "It's unprecedented."

Windows 95 or XP, anybody? Even Graham seems to realize that this doesn't add up.

Apple's arsenal of attention-getting tools holds lessons for any company: design cool, innovative products. Have a streamlined product line. Invest in memorable ads. Work your customer base to make customers feel special and create word-of-mouth agents. Most important: keep the world and media surprised, to generate gobs of attention.

The company's masterful buzz machine has helped generate record profits (thanks to the worldwide digital music cultural icon, the iPod), but it's barely nudged Apple's computer market share. Apple executives declined comment for this story.

The iPod has done great things for Apple's financials, and they do a good job of mining their niche in the PC industry, but the idea that this is a model for other companies is kind of odd, unless you imagine people sitting around doing the business plan for their new start-up saying, "Guys, some day we'll have 3% market share, too!"

Graham claims that Apple's "success" demonstrates that everyone should design incredibly innovative products and simplify their product line. The logical question would be, then why does Gateway have double Apple's market share despite being regarded as something of a disaster? That strategy is a good one for some products in some markets, but the idea that it's a universal approach is pretty idiotic.

The iPhone is getting its share of buzz, and the ads are cool, but... nobody's actually bought one yet, so it's a bit early to be congratulating Apple for its success. (I'm not making any prediction other than nobody's $500 phone that's available from only one mobile carrier is going to sell in enormous quantities. And I'm sure Apple knows that.)

Graham also does the obligatory nod to Apple's advertising. That advertising is amazing simply because it shows that you can spend a lot of money on creative, a lot of money on media, and have something really cool that's so off-message that you wind up with declining market share. (Do people really think the Mac Guy in those ads is more appealing than the PC Guy, by the way? I always think of the Mac Guy as the most irritating hipster at the coffee shop.)

It would be nice to see marketing covered in mainstream business press by people who seemed to actually know something about marketing, and didn't write like they were channeling one of Apple's PR people.

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