Marketing to Early Adopters – Apple story

I have often spoke on the topic of “feminine values” that brands need to embrace in order to emotionally connect with their customers.   It is truly the states of our emotions, moods and passions that drive our expectations and behaviors….and ultimately our buying decisions.   But I was told the word “feminine” is loaded.  And it is.  So, I figured the best way to describe this is through a case study with Apple.

Apple is one of the few companies that understands and knows how to market to early adopters. (See the article on early adopters).  The announcement that a new Apple product is available prompts consumers to line up in the wee hours of the morning to be among the first to purchase.  And it’s not just one product. There were long lines for the iPod, the iPad and the latest iPhone. What is the key to Apple’s ability to tap into this market of eager consumers?

First, let’s look at early adopters. Early adopters are those who absolutely must have the latest product, technology or look. But they are more than the person looking like she just fell off the runway in Paris.  Companies take early adopters very seriously, especially in this age of social media.  Early adopters often take their self-appointed role and blog about their opinions of the product.  A few respected bloggers giving a thumbs up on a new product can quickly push it from a fringe following into the mainstream, while negative reviews can squash any marketing momentum.

Apple has experienced both – and dealt with the good and the bad brilliantly.

When Apple introduced the iPhone back in 2007, early adopters rushed and willingly paid $599 to be the first with this game-changing phone.  But a few months later, Apple dropped the price to $399, leaving its loyal early adopters feeling betrayed.  They supported the phone from day one and helped generate the positive buzz around the phone…. and the next generation of buyers gets rewarded with a price break.  Grumbling was vocal and went viral.

Apple noticed and reacted swiftly and honestly.  Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, noting correctly that the technology market changes rapidly – as well as price points – also admitted the company “needs to do a better job of taking care of our early iPhone customers as we aggressively go after new ones with a lower price. We want to do the right thing for our valued iPhone customers.  We apologize for disappointing some of you, and we are doing our best to live up to your high expectations.”   The apology also came with a $100 rebate offer. The apology was accepted and the early adopters stayed squarely in Apple’s corner.

How many companies do you know that get stuck in the break-even analysis of this type of $100 rebate programs? More often than not, most companies reject this type of customer satisfaction rebate for immediate short-term EBITDA risks. And how many of those companies do you know that succeed long term in the New World?

Apology is a form of emotional connection. When a customer is unhappy, and tells you so, they want you to make it up to them….they want to stay with your brand.   Ask yourself, how you can include that loyalty in your break-even analysis to meet EBITDA hurdles.  Consider this:  the next time a variation of the iPhone came out, 14 percent immediately upgraded to the new operating system within six days.

Most brands provide a list of features and benefits, just like Apple.  But they forget to provide a template ~ or strategy ~ for emotions and “feeling good” …… the “feminine values” a brand needs to embrace.  (Ooops, there goes that loaded unspoken word again).

International Data Corp. (IDC), a global provider of marketing information, estimates it takes about 12 years for a new product to truly find its market.  Apple, with its iPhone, accomplished that in four years.  In 2007, when Apple introduced the iphone, it sold 3.7 million units — solid performance.  In 2008, 13.8 million units were sold and in 2009, 25.1 million were sold.  Of course, in June of 2010, Apple introduced the iPhone 4 and the market was ready.  It had 600,000 preorders on June 14, the day before it came on the market.  It was estimated that Apple could ship and sell 2 million in its first month.

Jobs stated it was Apple’s most successful product in its history, but soon complaints about uncovered problems relating to the design and the antenna started getting traction.  The technical problems had a sketchy impact.  An IDC survey showed that 66 percent of current iPhone owners delayed their purchase but 74 percent of non-iPhone owners said the problem wouldn’t impact their purchase.

Again, Apple reached out.  A new antenna design was introduced and a free case was offered to all iPhone 4 users.  Apple offered tips on holding the phone so the antenna wasn’t covered (the death grip).  Jobs went front and center.  “We’re not perfect.  We know that, you know that,” he said in a press conference.  “Phones aren’t perfect either. But we want to make all of our users happy.  If you don’t know that about Apple, you don’t know Apple.  We love making our users happy.”

Customer satisfaction starts with customers “feeling” good about you and your products.  Trust is earned through honest communication and superb customer service.   Customers come first. Customers’ feelings and emotions matter!

The Apple stores are amazingly designed to change the way you feel when you enter them.  Their service consultants validate your feelings and frustrations when you bring your products in for repair or replacement.

Apple is succeeding because they’ve figured out how to embrace the feminine values of emotional connectivity with their customers.  They achieve this through designing products that are sexy, slightly feminine with curves and touches, and superb customer service that is unbeatable.

Customers tend to be very forgiving when it comes to product shortfalls because the Apple experience neither is nor will ever be just about the products.  Their superb one-on-one customer service and attention allows people to get products replaced with no hassle or third degree.

Let’s face it….iPhone fanatics and Apple cult followers don’t give a damn about the death grip.  The new iPhone users may, but that may be a small trade off for Mr. Jobs.  And look at all the publicity they got just on this death grip.

Apple is a perfect example of knowing your customers, knowing how early adopters influence the masses, and how to embrace the feminine values of a brand.  It’s a relationship Apple works very hard at to make happy.

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