Apple has a branding problem

August 21, 2008 § 11 Comments

What’s that you say?  Is this heresy?  Apple, your favorite example, the paragon of branding, the lords of iEverything – that Apple?  A branding problem?! Surely you jest!

Well I hate to say it, but it is true.  Apple has a branding problem, and its name is Steve Jobs.

Now don’t get me wrong,  I love me some Apple, and I still think that the company is one of the greatest branders of all time, but I callz’em like seez’em and there is a fly in the soup.  The company has so embraced and promoted the Steve Jobs is god message that it has begun to harm the corporate image.  Speculation about Steve’s health prompted by his gaunt appearance earlier this year has caused a ripple of concerns on Wall Street and started a rumor-mill regarding succession planning.  The impression is that Apple, once saved by the return of Steve Jobs, now can’t survive without him.

No doubt, Steve has been the miracle man for Apple and his demanding approach to leadership, insistence on high design, and self-appointed role as chief-presentation-officer have only added to the mystique, but one man does not a company make – especially not a global, multi-billion dollar, public company. As an example, a study of the 5th generation iPod, revealed a supply chain of up to 10 parts vendors with manufacturing occurring in 5 different countries.  Steve gets around, but c’mon this isn’t a one man job.

Steve the mastermind, the guru, the dictator, the showman these are all legitimate parts of Apple’s brand and all grounded in truth.  So what can Apple do to patch this chink in their brand armor?  I think the approach of the Wall Street pundits is wrong – rushing to find a suitable successor will not heal the problem.  I think the thinking is akin to the logic behind ripping off an adhesive bandage – it is going to hurt no matter what, so let’s just get it over with as fast as possible.  However, this thinking assumes that the cut under the bandage has already healed…. pick the successor, take the hit, and performance will solve the brand issue.  But it doesn’t work that way.  People believe in Steve Jobs.  I believe in Steve Jobs.  We’re bought into the cult of thinking different.  To solve the brand problem of Apple can’t be Apple without Steve Jobs the answer is to do what any cult does when faced with the loss of its spiritual founder and leader.   They must be canonized.   The answer to the brand dilemma is to present Steve’s impact as being so profoundly transformative that the culture he catalyzed now has a life of its own.  Yes, I’m saying that Mr. Jobs should be elevated even more than he already is.  Fanboys rejoice!  For his Jobness has bestowed a lasting organization on the principles of Steveitude.  iCommandments anyone?

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§ 11 Responses to Apple has a branding problem

  • I found your site on Google and read a few of your other entires. Nice Stuff. I’m looking forward to reading more from you.

  • Blad_Rnr says:

    @David,
    “The company has so embraced and promoted the Steve Jobs is god message that it has begun to harm the corporate image.”

    Please provide some examples. Because WE (Mac diehards, the press, Windows fanbois) do this to Steve, not Apple. Usually the CEO IS the spokesperson for any company. It’s like saying Warren Buffett is not the spokesperson for Berkshire Hathaway. And he’s been in that position for decades! Apple is a fantastic company when it comes to promoting their products, thanks to their culture and Chiat/Day. Even John Sculley was a very good presenter during company keynotes.

    But Phil Shiller has also had plenty of air time during keynotes, as have other Apple employees.

    I think Jobs is a master at presentation. So why wouldn’t Apple want him up there at every opportunity? He’s engaging and he just has a knack for it. That makes him a god? Please.

    And geez, give the “cult” term a rest. Most people who buy Apple products have no idea who Steve Jobs is. Believe me. I have to explain this all the time to people who are Apple product/Mac users. We are not part of a cult! WE like Apple’s products so we buy them.

  • davidscohen says:

    Branding is always something that lives at the juncture of company and customer. I agree with many of your points. Jobs is a master presenter and uses those skills to great effect.

    I use the term cult because it has become common parlance in branding, see books like The Culting of Brands, or articles such as Cult Brands Make For More Valuable Brands”, and it is a desirable attribute at that. It is certainly not a term that is only applied to Apple, although their success in branding has made it one of the more frequently cited examples.

    Thanks for the comment even if we don’t see eye to eye.

  • kubricklove says:

    I agree with Blad_Rnr. It is the media that promotes this idea of rock star God, as well as the idea of the people who use macs as being religious in some way. There are a minority of users who do behave in this way, but I believe most mac users are just that, computer users who use macs, nothing more. Apple can’t come out with a statement every time a “journalist” starts waxing rhapsodically to create an entertaining article. I thing what you’re doing is confusing media generated folklore with Apples’ actual branding strategy.

  • Peter says:

    “Even John Sculley was a very good presenter during company keynotes.”

    We must have seen different keynotes.

    I saw Sculley at WWDC ’91 and he was bo-ring. Even Bill Gates did a better job presenting than Sculley.

  • ardaz says:

    Ii agree with Blad_Rnr, you’re way off beam. It’s the media who created the Apple myths, they endlessly refer to mac zealots, the cult, his highness etc. Apple have NEVER ONCE referred to either itself or it’s users in this way. This being so, your point is … well pointless.
    Apple will go on and the media will always have a problem with perception and so do you it seems.

  • John says:

    Except for the keynote speech at MWSF we rarely see Steve Jobs so this is a media creation. Part of the issue is that Steve does have a good stage presence. Watch the keynotes. When some other CEO comes on stage they mumble and fumble. When Steve comes back on the energy comes back up. Not that he is doing anything special, he is just very smooth and looks good on stage.

    Given that, Steve clearly did have a huge effect on Apple. After his return he turned it from a money loser to a stellar performer. He says that he tries to hire the best people he can find. That is a great quality. I’ve seen plenty of cases where managers are intimidated by talent and hire people they can push around. Also, looking from the outside, he seems to have a talent for organizing people and keeping them marching in one direction (not necessarily the best direction). This is hugely important. Imagine the difference between a marching band where everyone is self directed versus one where everyone really snaps-to and keeps their position. Or a heart that is fibrillating or one that beats normally.

    I’m not sure what may happen to Apple after Steve. I think they have a huge amount of talent, a very strong corporate culture, fantastic technology, great vision. The only thing I’d worry about is them not having a strong enough leader to keep the competing voices (which are needed) from pulling the company in disparate directions.

  • dlaw says:

    Look, folks, Steve Jobs died on July O8 in the year of our lord 2008 at exactly $179.55.

    That’s when the Iphone went on sale and the marketplace looked for the Next Big Story. That story was the death of Apple founder Steve Jobs.

    Now you could say it was B.S. all you wanted, but you were going to ride AAPL down for 25 points no matter what and all your blaming of the media wasn’t going to do you or anyone a bit of good.

    In fact, it was worse than pointless.

    Worse, because Apple makes a tremendous, brilliant, very expensive effort to brand their products in the media. And that – Apple-istas on this comment thread – is because of the truth the Apple corporation and Steve Jobs know even if you don’t:

    The media *made* Apple.

    And the technologist and designers at Apple are damn glad they have a CEO who knows how to make that happen. You see, there’s this essential, little matter of the people who make Apple products COMMUNICATING with the people who BUY Apple products.

    You may think the message of Apple truth comes from on high or from the specs, but you’re wrong. The message of Apple truth comes from very smart, very hard-working people who think and think and think and think about how to explain the value of complex products simply.

    Those smart, hard-working branding people know they are damn lucky to working for a company whose CEO knows the importance of branding and is willing and able to help them in that process. So take a moment and learn something. You’re darn right the media made Steve Jobs into a myth. He worked really hard to see that it happened – for his company.

    Steve Jobs worked *desperately* hard to create the Apple “myth” because, as CEO, that is his job. And it’s not “myth,” it’s *brand*. Now Jobs has a problem because he, like all men, is mortal. And if you don’t think he knows it’s a branding problem and if you don’t understand how hard he is working RIGHT NOW to solve it, you don’t understand Apple.

    But the guy who writes this blog clearly does.

    On August 03, 2008, the market got tired of looking at the “Steve Jobs is Dead” story and let him – and AAPL – come back to life. But the market gave Apple a warning.

  • […] Apple has a branding problem Apple has a branding problem. […]

  • Jono says:

    All this cult, religion, SJ is God stuff is the creation of the Anti-Apple-Taliban and a gullible press who love a cult for obvious reasons.

    I buy Apple products, because after 15 years of Microsoft, they are a real pleasure to use. I advise other people to do the same and they all thank me and do the same again for others.

    You have to ignore the cult remarks and treat them for what they are: frauds. A bit like Microsoft and Windows really.

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