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5 things you can learn from Apple

Branding expert Catherine Kaputa has five marketing tactics to give your business a shot of Apple buzz.
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Everyone talks about Apple’s innovative products but it’s also a leader in creating marketing buzz. In researching hundreds of successful entrepreneurial companies for my new book, ‘Breakthrough Branding’, I was struck by strategies and tactics used by Apple to create media and consumer buzz that were not commonly employed by other brands.

If you want to build buzz like Apple does – and maybe someday get your stock to their level – try these five marketing tactics:

1. Do a teaser PR campaign to fuel speculation and buzz

Secrecy is important in new product development, particularly in the tech industry, but Apple is a master of the teaser marketing campaign, dragging on the suspense for as long as possible. For weeks – if not months – before the release of every iPhone or iPad, the media conversation builds to deafening levels. Apple stokes the buzz by providing virtually no information. It announces upcoming press conferences with no advance information.

The lack of information about Apple’s press conference scheduled for October 23rd 2012 has got the media abuzz, speculating that the press conference will be about the new iPad Mini. In essence, Apple is creating a cliffhanger. All the bottom-up speculation in the media and blogosphere generates phenomenal consumer interest – for free. Only after weeks of free buzz does Apple launch a paid media campaign to keep the momentum going.

What you should do:

Marketers have always known that the best way to promote your product is to get others to do it for you. Nothing is more valuable than getting third-party experts to tout your brand. Start building relationships with the media and bloggers. Nurture and expand them over time. Remember, the internet is word of mouth on steroids. Take another page from Apple’s marketing book and launch a teaser campaign, a series of short, cryptic announcements that lead up to a larger, full-blown marketing campaign, and watch the interest and momentum build.

2. Create the appearance of scarcity to increase demand

Luxury goods marketers have long realized that scarcity (real or perceived) makes a product more desirable and in demand. Scarcity not only increases the value of a product, it propels the procrastinators and all us who want to be part of the trendy crowd to step up and buy. That’s why it’s a favored tactic of designer handbag manufacturers and other luxury goods. 

Apple has found its own ways to hype the sense of faux scarcity. It does not have enough hot gadgets available when a new product goes on sale. Just one hour after the iPhone 5 went on sale for preorders on September 14th 2012, the Apple website reported that heavy demand had necessitated delayed delivery. Adding to the illusion of scarcity was the fact that initially you could only preorder the phone, and lines were long. The tactic worked. Not only did the iPhone 5 set a record for first-day sales, even two weeks after the iPhone went on sale, it was on a back order of three to four weeks, prolonging the difficulty (and desirability) of owning one.

What you should do:

Consider intentionally restricting production of a product to create scarcity and fuel demand for your product. Other tactics you can explore are making the offer only available for a limited time or until a certain number have been sold. Or you can report on your website or customer sales calls that only a small number of certain items are left in stock – but only if that’s really the case.

3. Make the customer experience “friendly” and special

Apple products have always been designed to be different, delightful and friendly. I say “friendly” because the core driver of every Apple product is the removal of complexity in favor of ease of use with innovative features, such as touchscreen “gestures” for zooming and scrolling or SIRI, your personal assistant. Its history of innovative, “friendly” gadgets creates anticipation about what they will do next to advance the consumer experience.

What you should do:

Think outside-in as smart branders do. Begin with your customer first (outside), then figure out how you can improve your product or service to meet that customer need (inside). Ask yourself, “What would make your product easier to use for customers?” and “How can you make the customer experience special and different, at every touch point?” 

Think of the customer experience holistically. Don’t stop with the product design, but look at the way it’s sold and displayed in the store or on your website, as well as the customer service experience with your call centre.

4. Wow customers through design and packaging

Don’t overlook opportunities to differentiate through design and packaging. Steve Jobs famously looked outside the tech world for design and packaging inspiration, at Japanese packaging design and Italian car finishes. He was one of the first technology leaders to realize that beautiful design can be an important product differentiator.

Apple’s brand architecture is monolithic. Every touch point conveys a modern, minimalistic brand image from the product design itself, to its packaging, to the Apple store where you can buy it. Go into an Apple store and you’ll find the same design aesthetic and brand personality as you’ll find in the gadget in your hand. Many customers are so wowed by Apple’s beautiful “open me first” packaging that they don’t throw it away, which is called “unboxing”.

What you should do:

Make sure every touch point where customers come into contact with your company and its products conveys your company’s brand personality with a unified visual identity, a distinct look and feel that sets you apart from others. Find a visual hook, a visual something, a design, a color, a logo or a shape that your brand can own in the minds of customers. Aim to have a visual identity that is instantly recognizable like Apple’s.

5. Build a passionate brand community of fans who identity with you brand values

While other tech manufacturers see their products as utilitarian, geeky and inexpensive, Apple is the opposite: cool, friendly, and upmarket. Apple has created a brand culture that has attracted a passionate brand community of followers who identify with the brand’s innovativeness, simplicity, and coolness. They are fans who lock into the entire family of Apple products and must have the latest gadget right when it comes out, even if it means waiting in line for hours. It’s quite a phenomenon to behold.

What you should do:

Write down your brand values that define your brand culture. Remember Apple’s “Think Different” ad campaign, that defined Apple’s brand values and brand culture? Here were the opening lines: “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in square holes…” 

Once you have defined what your brand stands for, zero in on the types of consumers who share those values, and create digital communities through social media, blogs, or in-person meet-ups so that it’s easy for your brand’s fans to connect to your company and each other.

If you want to get your products noticed, maybe it’s time for you to start breaking the rules as Apple does.

Catherine Kaputa is a brand strategist, speaker and author of “Breakthrough Branding: How Smart Entrepreneurs and Intrapreneurs Transform a Small Idea Into a Big Brand”and “You Are a Brand! How Smart People Brand Themselves for Business Success”. She is the founder of SelfBrand.

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