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…

 

Leave the specs behind…welcome to the world of 4D

Just when I’ve finally got my head around all the talk and hype surrounding 3D, Bauer Media has only gone and ruined it all by introducing 4D. Admittedly, it has absolutely nothing to do with dodgy glasses and TVs, but is in fact the fancy new label for a new male demographic that is apparently emerging.

According to Bauer Media’s new research, the 4D man (which I now proudly class myself as) is not as tribal as his predecessors – the metrosexual and the lad, lives by a more “individual interpretation of masculinity than their predecessors” and is more interested in culture and his health. This new segment is supposed to reflect the shift to ‘retrograde hyper masculinity’, whatever that may be???

The problem with the media’s penchant for categorising and labelling consumer groups is that however much research is carried out they never quite capture the true essence of people and their behaviour. For example, if you were to ask yourself what defines the mid-20 male of 2010, then I think most people would be hard pushed to find a distinct trend or characteristic that couldn’t be applied to the female demographic as well. Whereas in the 90’s, men with their mod haircuts and Parker coats were only too happy to be swept along by the wave of lad euphoria. While the ‘metrosexual’ tag of the noughties was more a concept born in the pages of women mags rather than a true reflection of common male behaviour itself.

You could argue that Facebook is the modern equivalent of the punk Mohawk, the Teddy Boy quiff or Beatles’ bowl cut and is in fact more of a powerful tool of self expression and personal identity than any previous cultural trend. Could it be that the digital revolution has sound the death kneel for the cultural icon??? When your personal identity can be painted more vividly through your status updates, profile picture, photos, groups and comments, the psychological need to physically represent who you are or how you want to be perceived has [arguably] diminished as a result.

Think 50s, think Elvis. Think 60’s, think Woodstock. Think 70’s, think Punk. Think 80s, think Club Topicanna. Think 90’s, think Britpop. And think 00s, think iphone. More than any particular fashion or music scene, nothing represents our lives today (the central role of technology, our insatiable appetite for information and self expression), more than this iconic electrical device.

Where does this leave magazines such as FHM, Q and Empire? Where does this leave marketers? Well with the challenge of targeting an audience defined less by collective consumer groups and more by the apps on your phone…marketers good luck!!!

The power of the iPhone

If you thought the hype surrounding the iPhone was starting to settle, you’d be wrong. Like a laptop in your hand, there is something for everyone, with everything you need in one place.

Since its first release in July 2007 the Apple iPhone has been a hot commodity. Now, less than three years since its debut, hardly a day goes past without a new iPhone application popping up, attracting attention from consumers, brands and marketers alike.  My personal favourite has to be the retail apps.

Oasis was the first retailer to launch an iPhone application last summer allowing consumers to shop on the move, view latest collections and track down their closest store. It wasn’t long before other big names including Ikea and Warehouse all created software tools for consumers to download on to their mobile phones.

Most recently, Argos announced the launch of an iPhone app to take advantage of more consumers using Apple mobile devices to access its website. The application provides a ‘click and collect’ service with over 17,000 products available for in-store reservation.  

Getting the basics right is essential when it comes to developing iPhone apps. It seems the best approach for retailers to is to have a full features application where you can browse every section of the web site, every department and product, and physically buy from via the phone.

The majority of them do what it says on the tin – creating a beautiful version of their catalogues on an iPhone, not to mention providing a greener way to distribute a catalogue. Moving forward, brands that are quick to adopt and experiment will deliver consumers exactly what they need.

Clearly not a passing fad, the soaring popularity of the iPhone is set to continue and with more than 150,000 different apps currently available, rarely costing more that a few pounds to download, I’d say the more the merrier!

This time it’s (too) personal?

Real-time location based marketing – the ideal made real or a step towards a very scary future?

“There’s been some increasingly excited chatter about real-time location based marketing recently, with some particularly interesting examples that have been generating debate about whether this new technology is a really good or a really bad idea.

It’s no secret anymore that smartphones and branded apps are an incredibly effective way to target and engage consumers, in a way that is also very cost effective. By creating tools that your customer base can download and use on a regular basis you can integrate with their lives in a way that ‘mere’ advertising never has. Virgin’s iPhone app for example, based around its ‘Flying without fear’ course allows consumers to access relaxation exercises, fear therapies with a personal video introduction from Sir Richard Branson himself. It’s smart, intimate and useful on a runway (in safe mode of course).

However, the next generation of apps are all using smartphone’s GPS capabilities in a way that enables brands to hit a moving target, so to speak. The mobile social network / game Foursquare signed up its first national UK brands (Debenhams and Domino’s Pizza) this month. The app detects players’ whereabouts and when they visit shops and restaurants they gain points for ‘checking-in’.

Brands get involved by offering deals to users based on for example the number of times someone ‘checks in’ to their local branch. Businesses get increased footfall, and ideally, a network of brand ambassadors who will pass on recommendations. The consumer gets great deals that are relevant not only to who they are, but where they are.

Win-win right? Well not according to pleaserobme.com which aims to highlight the dangers of giving your exact location on social media sites in case the information is used to burgle your house.

Personally I think that’s a bit reactionary (although a number of Liverpool FC’s players may disagree with me) but it does raise an interesting point all the same. The ideal of advertising is similar to the ideal of PR in that the greater the relevance to the audience, the greater the value, whether it’s a genuinely interesting and newsworthy story to a journo or a half price burger to a hungry commuter. But where do you draw the line?

Don't be...

Google Buzz is another new development which has been getting a great deal of ink but it’s the mobile version of the platform that appears the most powerful, by some distance. However, as has been pointed out, you could argue that “Google isn’t really a search engine, or a chat tool, or an email provider. It’s an online advertisement-pushing juggernaut”

So just as Gmail scans the content of your emails to present you with relevant ads, Buzz will combine this with your locational data.

All of which could lead to a day where from waking up and being immediately offered a hangover cure (because Google knows you were at the pub last night) to the local Buzz-linked McDonald’s ‘Buzzing’ you at lunch time and asking if you’re in need of a quarter pounder (as Google knows you went there last week) to a local bar ‘buzzing’ you to see if you fancy another post-work beer (because Google knows what time you leave the office)… And so it goes ad infinitum until there’s no one point in your day when you’re not sharing personal data with Google, and having personalised ads thrust upon you.

It will be fascinating to see how brands will be able to heap innovation upon innovation with this new technology, but it will be crucial that consumers are handed the power to control the medium, otherwise the potential for brand damage could exceed the huge opportunites for new forms of engagement.”

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.