Apple and The Neverending Story

Q: How do you know if someone’s got an iPhone?

A: They tell you.

It’s a decent joke, and often true. With Apple getting set to announce its fourth-quarter results tonight and some analysts predicting the company will become the most valuable in the world by market capitalisation, surpassing both Exxon and Microsoft, the Apple brand is highly unlikely to go away any time in the near future.

This caps a remarkable transformation under Steve Jobs who has taken the company, since re-joining as chief executive in May 1997, from a total value of $2bn to $274bn.

Obviously there are a huge number of fascinating aspects to the Apple brand and the Apple story, but one I find particularly interesting is how the company has managed to become such a regular topic of conversation in workplaces and homes around the globe.

This ‘chat factor’ is a central goal of the majority of PR strategies unless, of course, you’re trying to keep your client out of the Limelight.

Pure material escapism?

 

And whilst the idea of some shadowy PR director hypnotising the world into talking about the Apple brand is imaginatively appealing, I think the real reasons are somewhat simpler.

Apparently Steve Jobs told a team of coders at the start of his second tenure, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back to the technology – not the other way around.” And it seems that this approach is at the heart of the brand’s success.

Apple does make excellent products, whether they are actually worth the money or as innovative as they are visually attractive however, is up for debate. But there is no doubt that they are aesthetically unparalleled and a joy to use.

The topic of conversation, when you get down to it, is not usually about the company, but about the product in someone’s hand – whether that’s the iPhone 4 or the iPad.

This is compounded by the general snowball effect of consumer fashion and the increased prevalence of digital media and technology in our lives and there you have it: a juggernaut that just attracts debate and analysis, just like I’m doing here.

But I can’t shake the feeling that maybe, just maybe, there’s something else going on…

 

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Excitement or hype… Apple gets ready to unleash its latest gadget

If you search Apple iSlate on Google it currently returns over 7 million results. There are even websites set up specifically to speculate about rumours such as http://www.islate.org and http://www.tablet-news.com. They are being fuelled by bold claims, such as someone overhearing Steve Jobs say “This will be the most important thing I’ve ever done”.

Any tech blogger worth their salt (techcrunch, mashable, BBC, Gizmodo just to start) has spent the last month working themselves up into a frenzy with wild predictions about what it is and perhaps more importantly whether it will change our reading habits forever. All the while Apple has been fighting hard to prevent any leaks, with baying lawyers ready to pounce on bloggers, who hungry for exclusives, have offered cash for information.

As someone who hasn’t quite been converted to the iPhone yet and who also had a good chuckle over Tanya Gold’s recent column on our national addiction to the iPhone, I’m not eagerly awaiting the announcement with quite the same passion as some. But I am intrigued to see whether the communication strategy used for this launch will work out well for Apple.

As a company that is regularly nominated as one of the most pioneering and disruptive in the market place (as Scott Anthony found when looking at the most disruptive companies of the decade on his HBR post), Apple certainly looks like it could be about to change our habits again, as it has done so successfully in the past. But the excitement is at such a fever pitch, that there is also a risk of a massive deflation if this miracle item doesn’t quite live up to all the speculation.

So is it a good idea for high profile companies like Apple to go for the big reveal option or would they be better advised to launch it more softly allowing news outlets and increasingly important for technology companies, bloggers, pick up on developments as they happen? Apple has to some degree protected itself from pointing fingers by saying absolutely nothing. But that won’t mean that a backlash won’t occur if the iSlate is not all it’s expected to be.

The answer to whether silence is the best communication strategy in this case, will probably be better understood later today when the event finally takes place.