Apple dodges brand-killing bullet by not launching cheap iPhone

Apple iPhone 5CI’ve read (primarily in the mainstream business press) a lot of criticism of Apple’s recent iPhone 5C unveiling since the big presentation last week. Most of that criticism is directed at Apple’s failure to add a device to its lineup that can compete with cheaper smart phones, deemed a particularly important strategy for competing in China and other Asian markets.

I don’t really understand the surprise. Apple has spent many years and a lot of money building their brand, one of the strongest brands in the world. A brand that offers beautifully designed, simple to use devices that deliver an incredible user experience … at a premium price. You can add to that products that last, thus providing value for dollar. I had my last iMac for eight years; granted, it was pretty slow by the end, but find me a PC that old and lets compare.

Had Apple followed the expectations of the investment community and launched a cheap iPhone, they would have destroyed their own brand. Suddenly, the conversation would shift away from “do I want pay for an iPhone or settle for something not quite as cool/beautiful that I can get a deal on?” to “which device can I get for less?” The brand would have started down the road toward commoditization.

Look what happened to Krispy Kreme in Canada when they started offering packaged doughnuts in gas stations. Their brand was built around the experience of getting a fresh, hot doughnut as opposed to one that had been sitting on the counter for hours. Or Starbucks when they expanded too quickly and started replacing baristas with machines. They killed the experience and nearly their brand – thankfully, for this brand fan, they pulled up in time.

There are hundred of other stories of brands that abandoned their core value to chase a market. Most end the same way: short-term gain that leads to the ultimate demise of a previously strong brand. Apple, wisely, dodged that future last week and held firm to their strategy. For a great explanation of what they did do in launching the iPhone 5C, have a read of this Daring Fireball blog post by John Gruber.

I think the biggest risk right now to Apple’s brand (other than our inability to re-animate Steve Jobs) is that they are publicly traded and the pressure that puts on delivering short-term results at the expense of building long-term value. I am not an expert on what it takes to succeed in places like China and India. I don’t know what Apple will need to do to build market share there, but I’m glad they were smart enough not to compromise their brand to do it (this time).

But I don’t think anyone should be surprised or disappointed by what they saw last week.

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You can still impress with simple gestures

Happy customersA great impression doesn’t have to come from something big, or even something tied to your core product or service.

I’ve previously written about how small things can make a big difference to a customer experience. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to get the big things right, too, but it’s often the small, unexpected things that leave a lasting impression.

Recently I bought a new iMac from the online Apple store. After spending hours agonizing over how fast a processor I needed, how much memory, what other add-ons I should get, I finally clicked the Process Order button. What followed was a sensation that reminded me of how I felt as a child when I would find my Christmas presents hidden away in my mom’s closet weeks before Christmas. I knew what was coming, but all I could do was wait, and wait.

After a day I got a confirmation email that my new Mac had shipped. The delivery date was four or five days out. It seemed a little long, but it was coming form California to Toronto, by ground I surmised.

The next day, though, while I was doing some yard work in front of my house, a FedEx van pulled up and there was my new computer. I have no doubt that Apple padded the delivery date to account for worst case scenarios and to ensure they under promised and over delivered. It’s simple concept, but it still works. I was thrilled. I had already resigned myself to the worst case scenario delivery date and they amazed me by killing it.

It’s not a hard thing to do, and it’s a far cry form their core competency, but they clearly spent some time orchestrating and opportunity to surprise me. Never under estimate the ability of the seemingly simple to improve a customer experience.

There are lots of small opportunities to amaze your customers in areas they don’t expect, an in ways that don’t cost you a lot of money. Find some of them, it’s worth it.

Why do we care so much that Steve Jobs is dead?

I am poring over my Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin feeds today and reading verse after verse extolling Steve Jobs and what he gave the world. I even posted one myself. I am struck by the depth of emotion that his death evokes.

The majority of those posting never met the man. They did not know him. Their connection was through the devices that his company created. But their grief is real, I don’t doubt it.

I think it speaks to need we have to put a face on a brand. To connect on an emotional level with our chosen purveyor of goods. Our attachment is to the devices and the brand, but we have a need to transfer that love and respect to a single person. Not a company. Not a team of engineers. A single person. If Jobs still had a partner, an equal, I wonder if the outpouring would be as great. I don’t think so.

It’s a terrible loss, no doubt. But what are we really grieving?