Wholesome Marketing Ideas, Bite Size

Wholesome marketing ideas, bite size

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Apple, directionless?

The Apple Maps App fiasco is having an interesting effect on the company’s brand and its loyal fan following.

The inevitable “this would not have happened had Steve still been here” conclusion is all over the internet.

Of course, that conclusion ignores the antenna problems with the iPhone 4 when it was launched, and it ignores the fact that Siri was launched under Steve’s watch even though it was (and still is) not ready for prime time.

What is more interesting at this stage is how the company handles the mess. Here’s how Tim Cook has responded, with his apology on Friday.

The “To our customers” letter starts with “At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers.” It ends with “Everything we do at Apple is aimed at making our products the best in the world.” In the middle he suggests customers use map apps from other companies such as Bing, MapQuest, and Waze. Interestingly, the best maps app, Google Maps, is still unavailable at the App Store.

The launch of a defective product could have been devastating for a lesser company. Apple has been able to withstand several defective product launches, and will likely come out okay from this one, thanks to the depth and breadth of its customer loyalty. Its customers are willing to forgive the company almost anything. (As in Samsung’s brutal parody of Apple fans, one fan says “…yeah, yeah, but they make the coolest adaptors.”)

But what is disconcerting in his letter is that Tim Cook views Apple through the lens of its products, that he sees the company as product-centered: “Everything we do at Apple is aimed at making our products the best in the world.” He spends a good chunk of his letter explaining and excusing the product problems, instead of allaying customer risks and rebuilding trust.

These are signs of misplaced strategic emphasis. Products should be a means, not an end. The end should be to make more customers more loyal to the Apple brand. That is what will build an enduring company and leave competitors behind. His statement should have read: “Everything we do at Apple is aimed at providing the utmost value to our customers and winning their lasting trust.”

Customers are the key source of competitive advantage in the 21st century. Products are merely a means of creating value for customers so they will stick around. Yes, defective products erode that trust, but a company at the cutting edge of bringing hi-tech to mass markets will have an inevitable occasional glitch. It is the existing stock of customer trust that allows the company to weather these glitches.

If the company obsesses about its products rather than its customers, Tim Cook’s job should be to turn it around so that it is facing its customers. Despite occasional product and pricing problems, Steve Jobs seemed to intuitively know where Apple's customers were at, and steered the company in their direction. Tim Cook, on the other hand, looks like he will need a good map to guide him. Oops.

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Cameron Bramwell said...

The apology letter reads like something written by RIM.... and we all know that story. Technology companies are notoriously product centric and customer oblivious. A company-wide, deep understanding of customers is essential and difficult, but immensely rewarding.

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry to have to agree with your post - for someone that has enjoyed Apple products for the past 6 years since they broke through in consumer centric design and useability. While I have always call the "disposable luxury" based on their pricing versus the longevity of their products- I still always enjoyed their plug and play features - i am concerned that they are losing it now - here's a quick feedback note I sent to Apple after my unheard off experience:
After a frustrating 2 hour call on why airplay in Mountain Lion did not work properly - see transcript of case # 356682008 - i was told to connect via ethernet cable to identify the issue. Ethernet Cable - in my household they went the way of dinosaurs as the one feature that made me upgrade to mountain lion was the ability to use airplay wirelessly - without having to connect the $60 Apple cable to my HDTV anymore. I do not even know the last time I had an ethernet cable in my hands.

The fact that nowhere in your literature as of this morning requested an ethernet cable as part of the specification for use of the features of Mountain Lion basically equates to false advertising - either that or the MacBook Pro you sold me lack some of the functions that you were supposed to provide - I would like to know how are you going to fix this situation that does not require me to waste any more of my billable time with you.

Anonymous said...

While your post is not unreasonable, I am viewing this in a different light. I am a iPhone5 user and know how frustrating the maps app is. This being said, I thought it takes courage for the world's most valuable company to publicly admit their short-coming and apologize. My frustration with the maps app took a back seat, when I read the letter from Mr. Tim Cook.
Anyone who knows Apple just a little bit knows that this is not usual with Apple. They are known for making ground breaking products and being the market leaders and trend setters. If we all stay put, we know that Apple will come back and turn our frustration into smile. They always do.
On a side note, while Mr. Steve Jobs was a legend, let’s stop speculating if this mishap would happen if Steve was alive. There never will be an answer to this speculation, so the best is to avoid it. RIP Steve Jobs.

IPhone5 User.

Niraj Dawar said...

Hi iPhone5 User, thanks for your thoughtful comment. Yes, I agree -- glitches are practically inevetible. The relevant question is not whether this would have happened were Steve still here. The relevant question is how well will Apple handle this, and how would Samsung, Nokia, RIM, and HTC handle such a glitch? Apple will come out fine.

Malcom Tucker said...

Dear Niraj Dawar,


1. It took Google many years to make Maps usable. Even if you put 1000 engineers and cartographers and add additional year of R&D, your product will be far from perfection, I am referring to Maps. Going with bugs is inevitable strategy and cloud sourcing will fix it. Company with balls can do it.

2. If I tell my mother in law, let me buy you new car with utmost values and winning lasting trust. Will she get it? I don't think so. Remember What, How and Why concept? Apple is a product company and focus is always around product and great benefits that transform people's life make them more productive, creative and educated. Company that in search of internal culture, mention word brand every time are the ones that simply disguise their "WHY" mission. We are here to buy low sell high in other word rip you off.

Kind regards,

Malcom Tucker

Wilson Zorn said...

All I can say is that Cook's apology was refreshing. It puts Apple into a more favorable light than the arrogant Steve Jobs days, for me, and makes me at least start to consider their products a little more seriously. To me, far from "losing their way" and showing some kind of misunderstanding of their (potential) customers, it shows a maturity and that they actually are gaining RESPECT for their customers. As an aside, I have always found Apple's approach limiting and disrespectful; they claim to be designing best-of-class products with great service yet exude and treat their customers with the kind of arrogance that more often denotes the kind of luxury item approach reaking of snobbery and artifact worship; Cook looks to be considering that maybe some luxury customers want to be treated WELL and not like a bunch of sheep worshipping a company that "knows best."