Steve Jobs is dead. Are you the next Steve?

Posted by Jason Dunstone on September 16th, 2014 at 4:46pm

In 1997 Steve Jobs returned to Apple as interim CEO, after his 12 year exile from the company he, Steve Wozniak and Ron Wayne incorporated 1976. The two Steves had been tinkering with electronics since the late 1960’s, including illegally selling ‘blue boxes’ that allow people to make phone calls for free.

Jobs’ first cab off the rank on his return to Apple in 1997 was the marketing campaign ‘Think Different.’ The poetic campaign used the words ‘the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world — are the ones who do,’ and pulled a stellar cast from Einstein, Henson to Baez. The ads celebrate the ‘round pegs in the square holes,’ as a mirror to the Apple brand.

In a fascinating ‘internal meeting’ to launch the campaign to his team (search YouTube ‘Steve Jobs on Think Different’), Jobs described the new campaign as “one of our first marketing campaigns for several years.” He also notes that the campaign builds on their new philosophy of “trying to get back to the basics of great products, great marketing, and great distribution.” And, that Apple “has drifted away from doing the basics really well.”

Jobs shared his thoughts that the Apple brand had suffered from neglect and there was a need to bring it back. Not, to bamboozle consumers with technical mumbo jumbo, but “our customers want to know who is Apple, and what is it we stand for, where do we fit in this world? And what we’re about isn’t making boxes for people to get their jobs done (although we do that well, we do that better than almost anybody in some cases). But Apple is about something more than that. Apple at the core, it’s core value, is that, we believe, that people with passion, can change the world for the better.”

Was the ‘Think Different’ campaign successful? Sales actually fell backwards for the next few years, and it was only in 2005, with the iPod and iTunes bedded down the sales started to climb, and climb. Now, with the iPhone 6, iPad, bricks and mortar stores, sales are beyond $170 Billion after wobbling at around a mere $10 Billion in 1997. It’s hard to say whether the ‘Think Different’ campaign helped or hindered Apple in the short-term. Yet, it would seem fair that developing a clear and simple philosphophy was critical. There would also be limited debate that Apple’s commitment to their brand and connection with consumers was fundamental to the acceptance of products away from the core range of computers.

No wonder every ambitious young, or not so young, aspire to be Steve Jobs, or perhaps Richard Branson. Their accomplishments are largely based on brash ‘up-yours status quo.’ But, Steve is dead — RIP Steve. And, both Jobs and Branson started their crusades in the 1960’s. They were brash and brave and perhaps even naïve to the realities and risks. While their triumphs are something to wish to emulate, it is fair to say that the world is somewhat different to 45 or so years ago.

To me, the key takeouts are that accomplishment of such magnitude takes time, a long time. Although, Zuckerberg is sure to disagree. It also seems that shit will hit the fan from time-to-time. The future is uncertain. Clearly, getting the basics right is critical. Is the product or service right, and how will it be distributed? A strong brand story is vital, it seems. What does the brand stand for? However, importantly, a strong brand is not enough, and the business model and strategy needs to be robust.

However, overriding this, Steve etcetera had a f__k the status quo mentality, or at least a drive to help make the world better. As the 1997 Apple campaign stated “‘the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world — are the ones who do.”

My guess, is that they had three consistencies in their thinking …

  1. No brand is an island, it fits within a broader context. Their own brands were largely category reinventions to offer products to help make customer lives better in some way, shape or form. Apple looked beyond the category to evolve.
  2. Consumers are not rational, nor morons. They understood that to entice customers, there is a need to be strategic and offer a compelling enticement (beyond price). Apple has been a quality, not price leader, and has adopted other strategies to generate strong sales enthusiasm for seemingly non-essential products.
  3. Brand value builds with a strong story, and extended experience.They tell a compelling and relevant story, that leverages a great product and distribution, illustrates value beyond price and extends the experience before and post the sale. Steve Jobs told a great story, and while the Apple story has changed, the underlying narrative remains. Extending the experience above the basics. Apple’s extension beyond computers, into redefining mobile phones, cameras and portable music is well beyond their traditional category.

Great leaders reinvent the category. Built on a clearly defined vision, solid consumer understanding, ability to conceptualise the world around them, and from this are able to develop and implement killer ideas. And, never worry about seeming a little bit crazy.

Good luck!

Originally posted here for Australian Marketing Institute

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Originally published at think.squareholes.com on September 16, 2014.