I’ll admit it, it was love at first sight when I purchased my first MacBook. It was my iPhone that prompted my decision to give up years of PC efficiencies and dive head first into learning a new operating system, but familiarity had kept me complacent for too long.
Still, I remember the excitement of unpacking my new laptop. It struck me then that Apple knew me better than I knew myself. I marveled at the sleek, clean design and beauty that the company wisely brought to what once felt like the most mundane of devices. My old laptop wasn’t pretty, after all.
Clearly I have a strong brand relationship with Apple, but what most impresses me is that this brand relationship feels reciprocal. Apple seems intent on ensuring a lasting love between its brand and me. It shows an ever-increasing interest in satisfying me, the customer, even as my demands grow.
When it comes to customer-centric marketing, the company is in a league of its own, but that is not all it has to offer. Following are the top five lessons that all brands can learn from Apple.
1. Customer-Centric Mastery
Apple always has been all about the customer. That is why it refuses to let its techies lead product innovation, and instead directs its designers to create something that they themselves would want to use. That means that the design is customer centric — meeting customers’ needs first and foremost.
It is no wonder that Apple is known for its products’ ease of use. The company knows that the last thing users want when it comes to their device is something too difficult to manage.
Apple also understands that the customer “wants” list is constantly growing. We customers are not satisfied for long, it seems. Rather than fight this reality, Apple has embraced it. That is why it constantly improves its devices based on what customers want, often making changes that customers didn’t even know they needed until the latest version is released.
Here’s a case in point: the removal of the home button years ago on the iPhone. Surely the same applies to the dual and triple cameras within the iPhone 11 series. While other brands claim to do the same, Apple is the master of customer-centric marketing.
Moreover, Apple’s customer-centric approach doesn’t stop at new features. The product design is another example. Its prowess for creating lustrous designs is well-known. Apple knows that its customers value stylish, elegant design as well as an array of in-vogue color choices. In these respects, Apple never disappoints.
It constantly pushes the bounds of product innovation with alluring color palettes. Lavender iPhone case or Pink Sand Sport Apple Watch, anyone? This speaks to Apple’s ability to be cutting-edge while honoring one of the top desires for buyers, namely the ability to look, well, cool.
2. Brand Ambassadors
Apple understands the value of turning customers into brand ambassadors. Instead of purchasing endorsements from celebrities or well know influencers (which would be an easy lay-up for Apple), the company realized that it just as easily could turn its customers into raving fans who can’t wait to tell their brothers, sisters, cousins, neighbors, mail carrier — well you get the idea — about how much they love Apple products. That is exactly what they have done.
Apple’s ability to make customers happy ensures that they will stay loyal and continue to purchase from the company over the long haul, while bringing in new customers in the process. That never was lost on Apple.
Unlike other brands, Apple isn’t transactional. It isn’t trying to get customers to buy once and then just cross fingers that the customer will buy again. Always at the forefront of thought-leadership, it knows that when customers eat, sleep and live the brand, it becomes that much more influential and powerful.
Having customers promote a brand to friends and family not only gives it credibility, it provides a memorable distinction. Creating customer advocates is something that most brands aim for, whereas Apple actually has achieved it by making customers feel valued.
This approach also gives the brand an extremely human feel because the pay-to-say element isn’t there. These are true brand/customer advocates. That doesn’t mean that Apple doesn’t use influencers — it means it doesn’t need to, which is a critical distinction.
Other brands would love to be in Apple’s shoes when it comes to artfully turning customers into brand ambassadors. They just haven’t figured out the secret sauce yet.
3. Real World Connection
When is the last time you took a glance at Apple’s Instagram feed? If it has been a while, grab a cup of coffee and take a gander. The bio on the page says simply “everyone has a story to tell,” and looking through the feed one can see the merit of that statement.
The page is a sea of engaging user-generated imagery and video. This isn’t just about showcasing the features of the iPhone via the #shotoniphone user-generated campaign, it’s about creating connections to the company’s audience.
While it is clear that many of the images are from professional photographers with large follower counts, there is also a healthy mix of amateur photographers and enthusiasts, which makes for a potpourri of unique and interesting pictures. Real people sharing captivating, personal images and video from their iPhones breaks away from the brand-speak and makes an impression on the audience.
The artful curation puts the focus on the user while showcasing the breathtaking imagery that can be achieved while shooting on an iPhone. Beyond the obvious promotional benefit, it underscores that we know photos are personal. They are intimate. They are a reflection of who we are, and we value that.
All of that reinforces the company’s point: What matters to you matters to Apple. This page easily could look like others with logos, product shots, and other brand-centric messaging, but Apple is too smart for that. It knows that typical brand-centric marketing on its page would detract from the authenticity that it works diligently to foster and maintain.
Apple knows the value of a tribe. It understands that belonging to a larger group provides real-world connections that are priceless.
4. Aspirational Lifestyle
Apple understands that people buy identities, namely their own. The company understands that bringing lifestyle to a brand is like bringing water to the desert. It is most appreciated.
Apple is a lifestyle brand for a reason. It understands that having its products embody the interests, aspirations and motivations of its customers is smart business, because it separates its brand from the competition.
The company does this by representing the emotions, values and identities of its audience. It helps customers express who they are. It knows that the more the brand represents how customers want to feel, and the more it reflects customers’ aspirations, the better.
That is why Apple has positioned itself as a high-end or luxury brand. The brand is perceived as worth the expense. The Apple Watch and other Apple products are considered a status symbol. They are a representation of wealth or affluence.
Many people love to feel wealthy, and buying an Apple product is a way of fulfilling that need. That is not the only reason people buy Apple products, but coupled with the emotional influence, it makes for a winning proposition, because it speaks to the human experience. It also breeds brand loyalty.
5. Brand Equity
Perhaps more than anything else, Apple recognizes the power of branding and the real-world profitability that successful brand awareness, married with brand preference, creates.
Apple is a hugely valuable brand. It has an exceptional brand image and brand positioning. These things didn’t occur by accident — they were done by design. Apple has crafted its brand strategy carefully, with an eye on perpetually delighting the customer — and I do mean delighting.
In an increasingly crowded market, Apple understands that making the customer feel important means that no matter the hordes of similar products in the market, its brand always will be one that customers know, trust and seek out. In an era when the branding can be minimized or devalued, Apple is a model of branding done right.
The thing with Apple is that it does so many things right that it is hard to think of areas of improvement, but as I have said, I’m an Apple fan through and through. Still, even taking into account my obvious bias, it’s clear that marketers can learn a lot from the company.
Studying what it does and applying its genius to other brands is a meaningful exercise. This may seem sadly unoriginal, but seeking out new ways to deliver customer-centric marketing and branding, utilizing Apple as the case study, is just smart strategy. After all, Apple is the world’s most powerful brand for a reason — and there is no shame in aspiring to greatness.