Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) has been wildly successful for more than a decade, making products that trounce the competition and redefine industries. The company's marketing strategy is equally stellar and defies common wisdom.
Here's how Apple keeps its brand polished:
Apple makes great products. Macs are extremely reliable, easy-to-use computers. The iPad is the first tablet to succeed in the marketplace, after many other companies tried. The iPhone was a breakthrough in smartphone design, and, while it has tough competition from Android, it's still hugely popular. Apple leads on surveys of customer satisfaction.
If you make great products, then everything else is less of a struggle. Your customers become your best advocates. If your products are crap, then you're fighting reality and your customers to get your message out.
Apple doesn't say much. Most technology companies promiscuously give out interviews, review copies -- Google recently gave away thousands of netbooks running its new Chrome operating system -- and responses to requests for information from prominent journalists, bloggers, and other social media influencers.
Apple, on the other hand, is stingy with its communications. It makes a few announcements every year, along with its quarterly earnings reports, and makes very few other public comments. Rumors and speculation about its products only fuel demand.
Apple doesn't use social media. Or, if they do use it, it's read-only. I expect they're monitoring what bloggers and Twitter users are saying about them. But you won't find an official Apple Twitter account, nor an official Apple blog. Most of the time, Apple is content to let others talk.
Apple's got a big gun, and it uses it sparingly and decisively. With Bill Gates off curing malaria, CEO Steve Jobs is the most famous CEO in the world. He's a charismatic speaker, the best possible salesman of the company's own products.
He makes one or two announcements each year in front of a live audience of fans. He commands the stage like Sinatra reborn. Other than that, he appears on one or two earnings calls, and grants very few interviews.
Apple knows that familiarity breeds contempt.
Last year, Apple had to break its usual pattern of silence when reports came out over the summer about flaws with its flagship iPhone 4. After letting rumors swirl for weeks, Apple knew it was facing a serious PR problem. So Apple acted decisively, flying key journalists in from around the country, holding a press conference with Jobs and other top execs, and opening its super-secret phone lab for inspection.
Apple's use of overwhelming force worked. The problem disappeared from the headlines almost immediately.
Most of what Apple does flagrantly flouts the common wisdom about marketing and PR in the Internet and social media era. Marketing experts, including us, urge companies to be more transparent, to share more, to blog, to tweet, to use Facebook and LinkedIn and every other tool possible to get the word out. Apple does none of that; its marketing strategy is grounded in the 20th Century, based on advertising, TV commercials, word-of-mouth, and its Apple Store.
Apple is the opposite of transparent. Its marketing strategy is inspired by Willy Wonka.
And it all works brilliantly for Apple.
What does that mean? Is the common wisdom wrong? Should companies copy Apple and use silence as a marketing tool? Or is Apple a freak?
— Mitch Wagner is Editor in Chief of The CMO Site.
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