The first weekend of iPhone 6s and 6s Plus preorders are behind us, but Apple already looks ahead. This morning, the company presumably sought to quell last week’s Wall Street jitters in statements to CNBC, Financial Times, and MarketWatch, among other news services popular with investors. This is perception-management at Apple’s finest, and it is metaphor for success selling smartphones and why most competitors flounder by comparison.
I didn’t receive the statement and so cannot attest to its veracity. But presuming esteemed financial news services accurately report, misdirection isn’t much better than this. Apple doesn’t give an exact figure, instead stating: “We are on pace to beat last year’s 10 million unit first-weekend record when the new iPhones go on sale Sept. 25”. How circumspect is that? Ten million the first weekend two weeks later?
Apple has good reason to calm storms of doubt about the new devices. During fiscal third quarter 2015, iPhone accounted for 63 percent of the company’s total revenue. Future fortunes, and the present, largely depend on the handset’s continued sales success. Perception management matters, but it’s core to Apple marketing, too.
Look at how the company calls out otherwise mundane features by naming them. Throw a rock. It’s the Lake Erie of nomenclature. You can’t miss: 3D Touch, AirDrop, AirPlay, Family Sharing, iSight, Lightning, Touch ID, and more. Each of these carries connotations that are aspirational and/or feel good. More importantly, the naming makes the features easier to market and explain to potential buyers. Why no other phone manufacturer effectively imitates the tactic is brain boggling. There are attempts, like Microsoft’s Cortana or Google’s Android dessert names, but they are fleeting and inconsistent.
Effectively, Apple does in 2015 what it sought with the Macintosh in 1984: To make technology everyday useable and to make it more approachable by imbuing, at least in marketing, human-like qualities. The approach creates positive perceptions about the brand and products bearing it.
That’s not enough. Apple’s light shines brighter by building, and selling, a lifestyle around its products. No other tech company comes close. There is something elitist about that lifestyle. The marketing communicates that users of iPhone and other Apple products are special. They belong to a community sharing similar values and ideals, and the capability to pay more for it. Behind all is aspiration: If you buy Apple thingy X your life will be better.
The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus ads leading up to last week’s successor launch are superb examples, like the “Shot on iPhone” series, emphasizing the photography lifestyle, or “Loved“, using catch-phrase: “If it’s not an iPhone, it’s not an iPhone”. Apple doesn’t rattle off features in its marketing but demonstrates what people can do with its products, Additionally, by naming some features, the company makes their benefits easier to identify and remember. My daughter has always referred to webcams as iSight. Perhaps someone you know does the same? Vernacular like that is the marketing gold medal. Wait until some kid in the not so distant future exclaims: “Apple invented the pencil!”
Marketing, Marketing, Marketing
Selling something still requires promotion. Even with iPhone being so successful, Apple keeps brisk advertising pace that no competitor matches. Why the frak is that? I occasionally run live TV in the background some weeknights just to see who advertises what. I might see a dozen commercials, and often more, for Apple products—mostly iPhone, and some from cellular carriers—but few to none for other smartphones. “If it’s not an iPhone, it’s not an iPhone” is right when consumers see nothing else; like there is only one choice.
The digital lifestyle Apple promotes around its wares is aspirational and compelling. The company creates good feeling about tech and creates community around it. “If you buy Apple Watch, you belong to something”—or Apple Music, Apple Pay, iPhone 6s, or 6s Plus, as several other examples.
Why does no competitor copy Apple and perfect the approach? Samsung used to advertise more, as did Google. If you asked me to identify one feature about the newest Galaxy smartphones, I would say Edge, being part of the product name. But nothing else. However, I remember the Samsung commercials poking fun at so-called Apple sheep standing in long lines to buy new iPhones and what Galaxy handsets offered that iPhone didn’t.
The weakness in Apple’s marketing is the herd. Belonging isn’t for everyone. Many people desire to be individuals; to stand out! Granted, Apple appeals to creatives and others who want to express their individuality, but always within context of the one community bearing the bitten-fruit logo. The Apple Way.
Apps enable freedom for personal expression on either Android or iOS, and there, where Apple excels, is identifying categories that matter more—like personal or professional healthcare. Google and its partners must do better.
Android’s advantage should be choice and customization. No device is more personal than a smartphone, and that’s something competitors supporting Android can exploit. Funny, fanboys get this concept. Why don’t over-paid executives?
There’s irony here and opportunity for competitors to read and copy the Apple playbook. After Steve Jobs’ second coming in the late 1990s, Apple started the “Think Different” marketing campaign. At the time, the herd belonged to Microsoft and its Windows OEM partners. The bitten-fruit company appealed to people wanting to express their individuality and desiring tools that would enable them to do it.
Ironically, in 2015, Apple is the herdmaster, over a vast landscape of iOS users. Android may command larger overall global market share—82.2 percent based on second calendar quarter 2015 smartphone sales, according to Gartner—but Apple presents the only unified mobile platform with significance install base or continuing sales. Android is fragmented, even when considering market leader Samsung, which bleeds share (down nearly 5 points year over year to 21.9 percent; Apple, 14.6 percent. In the United States, Apple leads Samsung as measured by subscriber share, according to comScore—44.2 percent to 27.3 percent for the three months ending in July 2015.
The smartphone market is ripe for someone to do to Apple what it tried against Microsoft: Pitch “Think Differently”. Sell Android as the platform for individuality, free expression, and freedom to choose. Renegades. Figuratively raise the rebel flag over Android much as Steve Jobs literally did over the original Macintosh development team in the 1980s.
Marketing must be sharp, creative, and funny—and blast the airwaves and InterWebs as frequently as Apple’s, if not more. As I expressed in 2009, iPhone cannot win the smartphone wars. Android’s numbers are too great. But Apple can win the mobile platform wars, which ultimately matters more. If the company’s users are sheep, competitors are lemmings. They have been jumping off the cliff for too long.