After months and months of hype and rumors, Apple last week finally released its highly anticipated iPhone X to throngs of eager shoppers. The $1,000 smartphone is expected to be a hot commodity this holiday season, and Apple shares are expected to hit an all-time high as the company’s new device goes on sale.
Back in September, Apple lifted the curtain on this latest evolution of the iPhone (among other things). And, as always, the keynote event was simultaneously a two-hour advertisement, business announcement and entertainment forum.
How exactly does Apple entice customers to watch a feature-length commercial when today’s Netflix and DVRs encourage audiences to eschew everything but their chosen content? There are a couple of answers.
The first harkens back to Simon Sinek’s Start With Why presentation from 2009. Apple has a rapt audience because it has connected with people who share its beliefs. The tech giant no longer uses its “think different” tagline, but Apple leadership still manages to do just that.
The second answer to the question is that Apple creates storytelling-driven content experiences. This was on display during the latest Apple Event, particularly when presenters spoke about how the Apple Watch leverages technology to help people take charge of their health. Instead of beginning the Apple Watch presentation with an overview of its features, the company told stories about how the technology affects people’s lives.
Park Howell from the consulting company Business of Story summed up this approach perfectly, saying, “It’s not what you make; it’s what you make happen in your customers’ lives. What you make is a commodity. What you make happen is your differentiator, and it’s what makes people care about you and your brand.”
Even though Steve Jobs is gone, Apple remains a premier storyteller in tech. Not every company is able to emulate this example, but Apple provides a shining example of how to transform product messaging into an authentic conversation.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Entrepreneurs who attempt to copy Apple’s model without understanding why that model succeeds often do more harm than good. There’s a fine line between operating within the confines of a company’s successful strategy and transforming that success into natural engagement.
It’s relatively easy for a founder to say, “Let’s make our product simple, beautifully designed and tremendously useful.” As Sinek pointed out, Dell did all those things correctly and still lost to Apple. Forming connections through products is not as effortless as Apple makes it seem.
Relying on individual tactics rather than considering total strategy is a risky proposition. Companies routinely make mistakes in content personalization for this very reason. Instead of asking whether to use an overlay or a slide-out widget, we should consider what role those decisions play in the experiences we want to create.
Of course we might feel that creating experiences that connect with audiences and emulate the Apples of the world are outside our reach. Carla Johnson of Type A Communications calls this problem “brand detachment disorder.” She suggests that rather than discounting the work of great brands as being beyond our capabilities, we should take the time to study the aspects we love of those bigger brands.
Then we can go back to our own companies and transplant those elements into our own communities and products, relying on our own missions to drive the narrative.
Company leaders who know their product, audience and purpose can tap into that knowledge to create their own experiences. Instead of following in Apple’s footsteps, they can generate their content from within, steal inspiration from Apple’s strategies and create their own narratives.
Create meaning, not marketing.
Talking about authentic conversations is one thing, but having them with customers — and getting customers to have them with one another — is another beast. The following tips will help founders steal pieces of Apple’s strategy and apply it within their own organizations:
1. Know thyself, love thyself. Identify what drives customer engagement; then, capitalize on larger trends reflected within the organization. Just as Apple presents itself as an enabler of creative expression,identify what your company does best and brand that advantage as a personality differentiator.
My hometown of Sacramento has long lived in the shadow of the Bay Area. Originally a gold rush town and an important part of U.S. history, it struggled to transcend that “gold” label — until recently. Sonya Bradley, CMO of Visit Sacramento, helped reinvent California’s capital as “America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital.” This strategy capitalized on a timely and authentic foodie phenomenon in Sacramento, turning the city’s authentically impressive farming prowess into a tourist attraction.
2. Be the mentor rather than the hero. Apple transcends boring business presentations by connecting with audiences through storytelling and delivering content experiences that feature customers. The company isn’t the hero that carries customers into the promised land; it’s the mentor that shows customers the path toward enlightened, fulfilling lives.
Apple’s ads certainly highlight certain features, but they’re never tech demos. They show customers laughing in the sun and using their iPhones to enrich their already fabulous lives. Prioritize unique value propositions rather than price, and appeal to emotions rather than logic. This powerful combination will create brand loyalists who see your company as more than a vendor.
Apple has mastered the art of telling stories about the result of using its products (and how consumers’ lives are enriched through technology). Apple stores have become more than places to buy the latest and greatest products. According to the keynote, retail outlets will soon become “town squares” where people can hang out with friends, check out local artists and play with new gadgets.
Apple has fostered this sense of community by forming authentic human connections. These rebranded town squares will add a new role alongside geniuses, called “creative pros.” Creative pros will be responsible for showing customers how to use Apple’s products and how they can use those products to lead better lives.
3. Create content experiences that fulfill a promise. Content-driven experiences separate companies with empty promises from brands that hold up their end of the bargain. Whether through written content, videos, podcasts, live events or hands-on workshops, provide more than advertisements to close the gap between who you say you are and who you are in practice. The fulfillment of that promise cements your message and brand with audiences.
Keep content engaging by discussing topics your audience members care about rather than aspects you want to cover. The Content Marketing Institute has reported that 69 percent of North American business-to-business marketers prioritize audience over brand, but only 53 percent of B2B enterprise marketers create content with their audiences in mind. Don’t add unnecessary fluff — show audience members the true nature of your product, connecting the dots between purchase and personality.
The Apple lifestyle continues to resonate strongly with consumers — so much so that The Verge claims that only the most dedicated fans are likely to snag an iPhone X before next year. Emulating Apple’s cultural finesse requires a delicate touch, but it’s not impossible. By following these three strategies, entrepreneurs can steal a piece of that success and start growing their own rabid fan bases.