When It Comes To Marketing, It's Time To Stop Admiring Apple & Start Acting Like Them

Ask any marketer who their three favorite brands are and more often than not Apple will make the list. Not only does Apple have one of the most iconic brands, they also have one of the most valuable. Unfortunately, even the most sincere admiration won’t get your organization any closer to Apple’s level of success. Instead you need insight from someone with decades of experience inside the beast. You need Ken Segall. Ken is creative director with years of experience inside both Apple and NeXT computer. Ken is also the author of Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success. In the post below, Ken outlines what makes Apple so special and how you can channel your inner-Steve Jobs to elevate your marketing campaigns. 

William: How would you define what Apple's brand is and what it stands for?

Ken: Back in 1997, when Steve Jobs returned to Apple, we answered that question with the Think different campaign. Steve was extremely proud of this work because he thought it so perfectly captured the spirit of Apple (past, present and future), and what made it stand apart from other technology companies. Apple always had this connection to "creative thinkers" that the others did not. It existed to create tools for people who are "crazy enough to think they can change the world." A lot has changed since 1997. The company is now just Apple and not Apple Computer. Mobile products have revolutionized the revolution. But Apple's values haven't changed. It's still about helping ordinary people do extraordinary things. Though Apple still thinks different, for most customers today that means innovation, design, simplicity — which together add up to empowerment.

William: Why do so many marketers admire Apple's brand? (Why do people want to be like Apple? / What makes them so different?)

Ken: For the past decade, I've worked with marketers in many different companies, and I've found one thing in common — they constantly cite Apple as an example of marketing done right. For decades, Apple has spoken to customers in a human voice, creating a brand that connects emotionally. Marketers admire this consistency, and the way Apple creates totally integrated campaigns, from TV and print to digital and retail. They admire the way Apple coordinates facets of its marketing to "turn on" at the very moment a new product is launched. And marketers certainly admire Apple's clarity. Its messages are always simple and clear as they are being human and clever. This kind of simplicity is not something that just gets tacked on at the end of a process. It's the result of an organization that believes in simplicity at every level.

William: What do you mean simplicity? (What is it? What does it look like inside a marketing context? Can this be mimicked?)

Ken: Simplicity can be many things: a product, an idea, a corporate structure, a way of communicating, and so on. It's really more of a lens through which one sees all of the things in his or her world. Along with the commitment to simplicity comes a commitment to resist the destructive effects of complexity. Simplicity is something that communicates quickly and clearly. Oftentimes it's just good old common sense. In a marketing context, simplicity can be best achieved when workgroups are kept small, processes are streamlined, the work environment is kept informal, and the ultimate decision maker is involved throughout the development process. In the final marketing, simplicity shows up as clear thinking, quick communication and an emotional connection. Simplicity is most frequently found in smaller companies that possess a startup mentality — which is why Steve Jobs used to boast that Apple was "the world's largest startup."

William: What else can and can't marketers replicate about Apple marketing strategy inside their own organization?

Ken: There's really no reason marketers can't replicate Apple's marketing strategy in its entirety. It does require a serious commitment in time and effort to get it right — as well as an ability to resist compromise. I've worked in many organizations where the goal was there but the commitment was not. In these cases, an organization will quickly revert to its old ways despite the eloquent speeches that launch a project. It's within the capabilities of any marketing department to keep workgroups small, minimize meetings, streamline processes and deformalize the work environment. Importantly, the benefits of working Apple-style are best achieved when there is buy-in from all involved. However, this is not likely to be an issue — as morale goes up when people are offered the opportunity to simplify and follow common-sense guidelines.

William: What can marketers be thinking about every time they create a marketing campaign to be more like Apple? (What questions can marketers ask themselves?)

Ken: When creating a marketing campaign, marketers should be mindful of several key questions: Does the message have a single focus, or is it trying to do too much? Is the message impossible to miss? Does it feel "important"? Is it interesting? Is it likable? Is it human?

In many ways, Apple simply follows the basic rules of marketing to achieve all of these things. It distills its messaging to the point where it's extremely well focused, zeroing in on a single product benefit. And it presents that benefit in a human, engaging and memorable way. How? Purely from a quality standpoint, it's a matter of putting the project into the hands of smart, talented people. But Apple's "processes" are set up in such a way that encourages great marketing. Again, the "small group of smart people" concept comes into play. Inside Apple and its agency, you don't see hordes of people thrown at a project. As important, the final decision maker is involved from the start, so the work is far more likely to have a positive reception. I can't tell you how many times I've seen weeks' worth of work tossed aside when the final decision maker questions the basic strategy at the final presentation. This can't happen if he or she is involved earlier. And then there is that little matter of focus group testing, which is famously shunned by Apple. At companies like Dell and Intel, it's amazing how much time and money is invested in international focus group testing — especially when the end result isn't nearly as good as what Apple achieves with zero testing.

William: If our audience could only read one chapter of your book which would it be and why?

Ken: My choice would be: "Think minimal." This is the essence of simplification. Minimizing is the process of reduction; it's the act of identifying and removing the unnecessary. It's an important concept because it applies not only to product design but to corporate hierarchies, product lines, product naming, marketing and retailing. The preference for simpler things is built into our DNA. Universally, human beings will react more positively to a message that's quick and clear, and absent confusing extras. It is said that perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing less to take away. That applies to every endeavor at Apple, and it would benefit any organization to adopt the same philosophy.

About Ken Segall

Ken Segall worked closely with Steve Jobs as ad agency creative director for NeXT and apple. He was a member of the team that created apple’s legendary “Think Different” campaign, and he’s responsible for that little “i” that’s a part of apple’s most popular products. Segall has also served as agency creative director for IBM, Intel, Dell, and BMW.


wgriggs@spredfast.com's picture

William Griggs

William Griggs is a Field Marketing Manager at Spredfast who specializes in pipeline generation.