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The Devil We Know: How Apple Leverages Basic Human Behaviour

In Martin Lindstrom’s book Buyology: Truth and Lies About why we Buy, Lindstrom explains that companies deploy a powerful marketing strategy that, at its core, relies heavily on three things:

  • 1. ROUTINE
  • 3. TRUST

For the purposes of this article, I’ve decided to take a look at Apple, a company whose current net worth is valued at $700 billion, and how it incorporates these concepts into their marketing.


Humans crave routine. The act of following a prescribed set of steps gives our life structure and helps us make sense of where we stand in the world.

For example, on a micro level, we wake up, hop in the shower, make coffee, eat breakfast, and get ourselves ready for work. Perhaps we change up the type of coffee that we drink or the suit that we wear, but at the most basic level, we create an order of actions to remove some of the doubt, analysis and, ultimately, effort into making new decisions. We trust that by following these actions, we will be appropriately prepared and on time for work.

“The only thing that’s changed is everything.”

In 2008, Apple organized its first World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC). Catching momentum from Macworld Expo in the year prior, Apple hosted its first conference, in which the sole aim was to showcase their upcoming products to media, influencers, and excitable consumers.

As early as 8:30 a.m., people were eagerly standing outside, anxiously waiting to be let into the building. It was the first event that Apple sold-out, with a total of 5,200 tickets purchased. Since then, Apple has organized WWDC in 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Starting from 2013, Apple has also hosted a second annual event — simply titled Apple Special Event — which commonly takes place in September.

These events benefit Apple two-fold:

Routine is the cornerstone of Apple’s marketing strategy when it comes to pushing new products.

Another great technique involving brand-specific ritual is Apple’s use of a cyclical vs. linear time orientation. Like clockwork, a new iPhone is released in the fall of every year.

Consumers now anticipate when the new iPhone will be revealed, as well as when it will become available on the shelves.

This shifts the debate for iPhone owners from whether or not their next phone should be a Samsung, Google or Motorola product to should I upgrade to this year’s model or hold out for the next one that’s inevitably around the corner.

This is not unlike the trend of “fast fashion” that currently dominates the apparel industry.

For industry behemoths like H&M and Forever 21, one of the most effective marketing strategies is creating 52 ‘micro-seasons’ each year.

While a pair of jeans at Forever 21 is much cheaper than an iPhone 8, there remains an underlying notion that something new is always around the bend and it’s pivotal to always remain as current as possible. The outfits that you wear are no longer the sole expression of your identity, so too is which smartphone you carry in your pocket.


“Marketing is about values. It’s a complicated and noisy world, and we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. So we have to be really clear about what we want them to know about us.” — Steve Jobs

These are a few words that come to mind when you see the iPhone.

Now, more than ever, the material goods that we own are used as a metric to determine our place in the world.

We are no longer just an owner of a smartphone.

We are someone who values luxury, innovation and minimalism.

We are a member of a creative community who appreciates beautiful, intuitive, and simplistic design.

iPhone owners no longer purchase a product; They purchase an identity. For only $1,000, they can buy a sense of self. With a swipe of a credit card, we can embody, and identify, with those who “think different.”


“Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.” — Steve Jobs

Until the iPhone X, you could sit beside someone on the subway and not immediately recognize whether they’re holding an iPhone 6, 6S, 7 or 8.

Is this a design flaw? Or a marketing tactic baked in the product itself?

Apple markets its products as both intuitive and forward-thinking. Yet, when it comes to the design of the iPhone, Apple is remains conservative in terms of radically changing its design and operating system. At its core, Apple is more motivated to generate a consistent experience rather than reinventing the wheel every single year. Apple knows that whatever they’re doing is working, and there’s no need to drastically deviate from that formula.

Before they hand over their credit cards, customers will know exactly what kind of product they’ll be getting right out of the box. No upgrades, plug-ins or modifications required.


“Get the confidence of the public and you will have no difficulty in getting their patronage.”

— Harry Gordon Selfridge

Note: Although it appears that Apple’s iPhone sales are on a decline, Apple reportedly sold 29 million units of the iPhone X in Q4 ’17 and will also see a 5% growth within the first six months of 2018.)

Although Samsung and Apple are consistently neck-to-neck in terms of market share in the U.S. (and Samsung outperforms Apple with respect to Global sales), Apple consistently leads in terms of customer retention — which arguably may be a more important consideration.

According to an AlphaWise survey, 92% of surveyed iPhone owners “somewhat or extremely likely” to upgrade in the next year plan to stick with Apple, in comparison to Samsung’s 77%.

Since June 2007 — when the first generation of the iPhone was released — the iPhone has gone through a significant evolution in terms of build and design. However, without a doubt, the core values that underlie Apple’s golden product has remained the same: minimalist design, intuitive operating system and remarkable user experience.

In other words, the consistency of Apple’s ethos have now become engrained and …routine. While this certainly isn’t Apple’s sole marketing strategy, this undoubtedly has made a significant contribution — especially within the realm of customer retention. Once a brand has successfully put their successful marketing tactics on autopilot, like Apple has done, consumers no longer second guess spending $1,000 each year upgrading to the latest reincarnation of the product that so fundamentally represents their self.

In Summary:

  • In order for any brand to succeed, brand-specific rituals must be baked in the message, the product and the experience.
  • Customers need to know what to expect from your product, when to expect the product, and why your product over your competitors.
  • The best thing you can do is set the bar high in terms of expectation… and then surpass that threshold every single time.

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Jennifer Chan

Productivity, craftsmanship, and the pursuit of excellence at work. Writing now at