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People who work in brand admire Apple for very good reasons. An iconic brand that delivers revolutionary, beautifully designed and incredibly profitable products.
In light of recent events we wonder if we are starting to see weakness in the Apple Brand. Recent Wall Street iPhone 5 expectations were not met, brand loyalty is diminishing while Samsung’s popularity is increasing. The share price is suffering too. Is the brand struggling to retain its status as the Apple of people’s eye? Consider these points:
▪ Leadership? Steve Jobs was a superb brand marketer, visionary and was core to Apple’s brand story (starting off in the garage etc). Tim Cook has very big shoes to step into. Can he really match up to Steve Jobs with regards to vision, brand strategy and product innovation? A tough act to follow.
▪ Questionable brand personality? Apple was recently ordered to remove a banner from its site that hid the court ordered apology to Samsung relating to the recent IP case. Apple has also been in the press with regards to questionable working practices. Will consumers identify with this type of brand?
▪ Stronger Competitors? Samsung is launching products people are buying. Similarly, Samsung is starting to poke fun at Apple’s coolness in its recent campaigns. This indicates growing confidence. More importantly, this advertising strategy serves a deep psychological and emotional purpose – to get Apple consumers to question their decision making motives and chip away at emotions concerning conspicuous consumption. Insidious? Maybe. Clever. Definitely. Similarly in brand hungry countries like China Apple’s position is being challenged by increasingly powerful incumbent brands. Apple’s iPhone 5 is also struggling to get traction in China’s mobile market through up-channel relationships with key players like China Mobile. Apple needs a piece of the Chinese mobile market pie but key channels are not playing ball.
▪ Losing focus? Walk into an Apple store. Cool kids, Dancing Dads and Silver Surfers all lean against counters and poke product interfaces with varying levels of success. Are the Cool Kids really happy to hang out with the Dancing Dads and Silver Surfers? We don’t think so. Focus is an issue that beset BlackBerry when it moved into the youth market with BBM. They’re now refocusing on their core enterprise market.
▪ Is Apple A Mirage? Apple is a wonderful brand marketing and user interface design company. It’s also involved with engineering (or more accurately procuring engineered components that are assembled by other firms). Recent lawsuits have opened consumers’ eyes to the fact that a lot of the iPhone is actually made by other brands such as Samsung (memory chips, flat screen displays etc). Will consumers like the fact they’ve been seduced by a mirage and are paying a premium for that? We think Samsung is being very canny here. The IP case is exposing Apple in this respect.
▪ Apple’s getting a little greedy? New products are being launched at an unrelenting rate. Is Apple over leveraging its emotional connection? Is this turning people off? The recently launch iPod provides an example. Who will buy this?
▪ Product price points? Even the most die hard Apple fans have to confess the price point for the new MacBook Pro with retina display is well, eye watering.
▪ Is the brand losing it’s lustre? It’s got to the stage that Apple products are being sold on Groupon. Who would have thought that? We’re not sure Groupon is good for brand value.
▪ Is Apple becoming a control freak? Talk to anyone that tries to use a non Apple product with an Apple product. They live in a world of pain. Consumers need choice and to be (or at least feel as if they are) in control. Apple doesn’t provide this. Its logic for developing a closed environment i.e. its bullet proof OS was shattered with the OSX hacking scandal. The argument for control starts to unravel.
▪ Other App Markets are Growing? Apple stole an early lead with regards to apps. It was the prototypical brand. Android is now catching up with a more flexible and open developers’ environment. Choice is increasing outside the App Store. There’s a plausible alternative and people are taking it.
▪ Questionable Product Quality? Yes, Apple products are aesthetic delights and user interface masterpieces. At the core product level there have been problems. The infamous “death grip” and mapping issues spring to mind. If a brand can’t deliver core functional benefits i.e. talking and using maps people will churn away before they can enjoy more emotional and experiential benefits which is where Apple truly excels.
Are we seeing the first signs of weakness in a truly incredible brand?
What do you think?
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Dr. Darren Coleman, Managing Consultant,Wavelength Marketing®
Sponsored by: The Brand Positioning Workshop