Apple is a Case Study for Great Marketing

Written by Brendan Clarke

Apple are a marketing business over everything else. If anyone needs to see a case study on the power of well-executed marketing, then surely Apple is the most prominent example.

Apple positioned themselves as the ultimate lifestyle brand for creators and cool kids. Back in the 90’s and 00’s, when computers were beige boxes for tech geeks, Apple stood out and decided that computers could be modern, well designed, and desirable. The fact that they’re a tech business is secondary. Their primary purpose was (and is) to create products and experiences that answer the needs of their consumers.

When I say “their consumers”, I mean their target segments. Apple products weren’t created for everyone, they were catered to solving the problems of their primary target audiences.

This is why today, die-hard PC geeks will often criticise Apple’s products on pure processing performance, “comparative” cost-per-spec, or why the UI can sometimes seem to be simplistic and omit advanced functionality. But this is by design. Apple design easy-to-use products that aren’t really comparable to their PC counterparts, and “die-hard PC geeks” or gamers, are simply not the target audience, and so these segments generally aren’t interested in Apple products.

Remember, that before advertising, Apple and Apple’s partners invested a huge amount of work spanning the whole spectrum of marketing. At the end of it all, came the advertising. For advertising to work effectively, everything that came before it had to be perfect, and the success of Apple’s advertising campaigns have been a testament to the dedication to the marketing process. Without marketing, advertising would merely be an undirected and limp call to action (and ultimately show in the results of the advertising).

We can’t see everything that went into producing the marketing strategy, but we can see how effective the very end-results have been. The colourful iPod silhouette ads were everywhere. I remember seeing them on TV, outdoor, and in print, and they spoke to my peers and I. The Mac vs PC guys were fantastic examples of TV creative, leveraging their refined marketing strategy, and emphasising the Mac features intended to lure in their target audiences.

Apple brought clarity to their products. The PC manufacturers of the time wanted to create many products with overlapping specifications and features, and this meant a complicated product line-up that confused non-tech-savvy people. Each of Apple’s products were brought to market for a specific purpose and to reach a specific audience segment, which avoided confusion. The features were communicated effectively, rather than relying on numbers and specifications, they often translated their product advantages into simple statements. Ultimately, Apple showed that less is often more.

When Apple first introduced the iPod, they didn’t labour on the “5GB hard drive”, which meant nothing to most people, they simply promoted “A thousand songs in your pocket”. Instead of communicating what it was, they let everyone know what it did for them. Apple knew they had to trigger an emptional response to create a relationship between the consumer and the product. People didn’t just have iPods or Macs, they loved them, they become fantastical about them, and in turn became brand ambassadors.

Not only that, Apple knew how to price their products perfectly. At a time where PC manufacturers were racing to the bottom (and churning out dull products as a result), Apple unashamedly positioned themselves at the upper end of the market. Apple products were beautifully designed, perfectly engineered, and almost a fashion product or status symbol. If Apple had decided to position their products too cheaply, then the perception of their products would not have been of high quality, but mass-manufactured tat. Apple showed their consumers that a computer didn’t have to be just a cheap utility. They distanced themselves from commoditisation, by creating experiences. You’ll notice that Apple are very protective of their pricing, and you won’t find discounts.

This creation of experiences didn’t stop at the product, it eventually covered everything from the packing (and ultimately gave popularity to the “unboxing” phenomenon), right through to retail. If you wanted an Apple product, you went to the Apple Store, perfectly designed around their target audiences.

These subtilties that cover the spectrum of the marketing process (which are too numerous to include in this article) demonstrate that Apple knew who their audiences were, knew how their product answers their needs, and crucially, how to communicate it effectively. If anyone needs a good example of marketing done perfectly, then delving deeper into Apple (post-1997) is a good place to start.

Steve Jobs summed up Apple’s approach to marketing pretty well in a speech, see video below.