As Apple surpasses oil group Exxon to become the world's most valuable company by market capitalisation, one has to ask the question; how did they manage to build such a strong and effective brand?
Apple has built a lifestyle brand and not a functional brand, it's peoples perceptions of what Apple says about them (lifestyle brand) and not what it does for them (functional brand). In the fast-moving technology sector functions are bench-marked by competitors at the speed of light, and can't be used as enduring differentiators. So it's down to consumers to decide if they want to be an Apple person or a Sony, Dell, Microsoft, etc. person.
A Lifestyle Brand
Apple has been able to build a lifestyle-brand by making Apple mean "Creative" in the sub-conscious minds' of consumers. No-one will claim you'll become more 'creative' by using Apple products, but you will belong to the 'creative-class'. So why do people find 'creative' so appealing? Why do people want to be seen as creative and identify with creative people?
‘Creativity’ is a highly sought after quality in the opposite sex. It’s an indication on intelligence and problem-solving abilities which again could lead to high financial earnings in not only the traditional business world, but also, and more importantly, in the creative industries like entertainment, advertising and design. It part of evolution and fits with human reproductive strategy; our perception of what Apple says about us will affect how we feel which again will affect our decision-making-process benefiting Apple's bottom line.
Apple's Brand Strategy
So what have Apple done to create this ‘creative’ brand? Well first their brand philosophy has always been ‘Think Different’. And the act of thinking differently represents; smart, innovative, clever, and creative. Then they have lived up to the claim of 'thinking differently' by actually 'acting differently' by going against the norm - always asking the question; "what's different about this?". One example is when all personal computers where gray and dull, they came out with the fun and colorful iMac.
From Strategy to Execution
So let's have a look at how Apple has translated "Think Different" into all its brand touch-points. What they have done to make all their brand touch-points communicate "creative"?
This is probably where they shout "think different" the loudest. From colorful iMac's to iPods, iPhones and iPads, no other company has changed the way products look, feel, work more than Apple. They are the complete opposite of a me-to company, not satisfied with small improvements, only leaps and bounds will do.
A lot of companies invest heavily in product design, trying to create an object of 'desire' only to keep the same old interface. Apple on the other hand can radically change the interface but keep the product's physical design unchanged, the iPhone 4s - introducing Siri, being an example.
Apples retail stores basically visualizes brings a creative lifestyle to life through a combination of product and retail design. Walking into an Apple store is almost like walking into a creative design studio, where products aren’t sorted by type and stocked in shelves, but rather displayed together on tables. iPod, digital camera, printer and speakers are plugged into a laptop with iTunes installed, for customers to walk over and start to 'play'.
After so many years of shop facades, it took a company like Apple to really 'think differently'. Not content with a sign like everyone else, they have created facades which resembles modern churches where people can come an worship the latest iPhone.
Have a look at the video below and ask yourself if the ad is focusing on 'product' or 'lifestyle'. Most ads will mention the products new features, performance, quality or price. Apple on the other hand barely mentions what the product does for you (functional-brand), instead it's all about what the product says about you (lifestyle-brand) - who you are when using an Apple.
If you compete on price you're no better than the rest. If their product is a bit 'shit', yours' must be as well - seeing as it costs the same. Apple enjoys one of the highest price points in the industry, to the envy of it's competitors, who all bang on about 'value for money'. Only problem for them is that customers know "you get what you pay for".
Let's just quickly have a look at the faces of Apple and Microsoft. On the Apple side you have cool, trendy and innovative Steve Jobs, the underdog. On the other side you have geeky, bad dressing Bill Gates (sorry Bill), with his dominating big business. One represents design, innovation and creativity, whilst the other represents product, functionality and corporation. In human sexual selection strategy a product that will increase your reproductive success will always win over one that mainly represent functionality (survival). It doesn’t matter how ‘clever’ or cool looking the Microsoft phone is, when they compete in a highly visual category where products have become jewelery it’s what the brand represent that matters. People don’t buy the product for it’s functionality but for its self-expressive benefits, it’s brand image. So customers will choose Apple over Microsoft if they are going to use the product in public.
How you noticed how all Apple staff look like laid-back designers and media people? They all look like they belong in a creative agency, and know what they are talking about. Apple's HR strategy ensures that the staff also communicates "creative".
Their main user base of Apple products has traditionally been the creative industry, usually known to be designers and media people. This endorsement has helped Apple enormously in selling the 'creative' lifestyle as it helps customers imagine cool and trendy creative people, sipping cappuccinos, tapping on swanky laptops and lounge in stylish offices. Another company which have manged the same level of customer endorsement is no doubt Harley-Davidson; with it's free-loving, no-nonsense, tattooed customers. It's free advertising, just make sure those customers represent a desirable lifestyle.
Return on Investment
So what's the value of a lifestyle-brand? A creative lifestyle brand which people can use to build their own image, an image that would send out the ‘right’ message about them, to increase their chances of reproductive success. Apples share price says it all.