Many people, including we Passion Capitalists, are wondering what is Apple’s success secret. For instance in 2008 Michael S. Malone, one of the US best-known technology writers tried to answer this question. He wondered:
“Why aren’t more companies as innovative as Apple? After all, it’s not as if Apple engineers are superhuman. I live just down the street, have them as neighbors, eat at the same restaurants — and trust me, they are no different from any of the other engineers around Silicon Valley. Frankly, most of the ones I know are less Apple-obsessed than the company’s customers: Most are just happy to have a job in such a successful company, enjoy being the object of envy by their peers, and do their best to stay out of Steve Jobs’ line of sight.”
Frankly, Michael Malone he has got a point. Apple employees are only human after all. Why are not more companies able to replicate Apple’s succes? To answer this paradox he came up with three explanations, favoring the last:
1. Competitors are stupid.
2. Competitors don’t want to respond.
3. The competitors are unable to respond.
Don Reisinger, technology columnist at CNET, on the other hand claims that “Apple’s success is due to significant skill and a healthy portion of good luck.”
If you ask me, none of them got it right. Check out this illustration which I recently found on teqnolog:
In the picture you see which people have appeared in Apple’s new product entry videos. Looking briefly at it you will realize two things: Firstly, the senior VP of Design hasn’t change his shirt and style ever since 1997. Secondly, Apple is probably sexist as only one women ever made a single appearance. We will go a little bit further, however first take a look at the “What is iPad?” and afterwards the “What is Newton?” commercials:
How come that a company which is so ” innovative” replicates the same spot used for a product, which was pretty much anything than a success, more than a decade later to announce its newest innovation? I believe that taken these things together this gives us the insight to unlock Apple’s secret success story: consistency.
Apple is not primarily innovative but simply consistent. Apple has the same VP now for more than 10 years. It uses the same way of communicating to the consumer ever since. Same tone, same look and feel, same story, same people … even the same t-shirt.
The consumer knows what to expect. As a result the fear of making a wrong purchase decision at the consumer level is reduced to zero. Consumers camp in front of Apple stores to get their hands on the newest Apple gadget. Because of Apple’s consistency in product development, level of innovation, marketing communication and even employees consumers do not fear to try out and adapt new Apple products. Consistency, along with high quality and error free products reduces the felt level of risk of the customers. There are no early adaptors needed anymore to serve as guinea pigs.
Which insights should competitors and companies which want to replicate Apple’s success with them?
Apple’s consistency stems from consistency in people (recall how long (Jony Ivey, Phil Schiller or Steve Jobs have been doing the same job). In the fast moving consumer goods industry Assistant, Junior and Brand managers change their brands every 1,5 to 2,5 years on average. If every new marketer has new and “better” idea of building an existing brand image it is quite questionable whether this will lead to a consistent brand image. I believe that brand managers should last longer on their “babies” and take ownership. The lack of broad experience and additional risk in the life of a manager must be rewarded though. Long term bonuses together with full accountability and responsibility should be put in place. Strong Passion Capital will prevent the most valuable employees from leaving. Needless to say, such radical changes are not easy to implement. Moving communication in-house could have similar effects.
Furthermore, people combining both left and right brain thinking should be leading key brands. In my opinion, another industry which got consistency right is the haute couture luxury industry. I would like to see brand managers with little Karl-Lagerfelds or John Gallianos in them being in charge long term. Everyone knows that Karl-Lagerfeld has a different style than Coco Chanel. Nevertheless the consumers still continued to adore Chanel when he took over. The reason is that Karl Lagerfeld is aware of his heritage. Brand managers and creative directors must understand that their brands are somewhat tied to their personality but more importantly also to their predecessors. Confused consumers do not lead to sustainable business results.
Finally, reduce the amount of new product launches but focus on quality rather than quantity – not only for the sake of complexity issues. Focus on real innovations which will not disappoint the ones who love your brand the most. The reason is that, those who try your innovations first are most likely your biggest fans. A disappointed early adaptor who used to be a hard-core lover of your brand is the last thing you want to see.