Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Apple Way: Step 5 of 5 to Insanely Great Marketing

The final component in "The Apple Way" is something that most companies intentionally decide against doing

Component 5) Surprise and delight your customers.

It is not that companies do not want to delight their customers. Every computer maker wants their computers to be exciting. Even the purchase of a cheap computer should be a fun event. Most computer makers feel that the excitement is in the product. The packaging is just a way of getting the product from the store to the home. The shopping experience can be utilitarian. However, Apple takes a different approach.

Apple is sometimes criticized for selling expensive computers. However, numerous reports have shown that Macs are only slightly more expensive than comparably equipped Wintel computers. Apple makes a premium product for the consumer who knows the difference. Apple never loses sight of that and they reinforce the premium experience by delighting the customer.

Apple stores feel more like a museum than a store. The product line is limited so there are no crowded racks of product. Each item is neatly on display with enough room for several people to gather around. Customers are encouraged to try the product for as long as they like with no one watching over their shoulder. The store design is elegant and contemporary. The employees are friendly, well spoken, and very knowledgeable. I can step into the local Apple store on any weekday morning and ask any store employee a quick question and always get a useful answer. Nights and weekends are a bit more difficult because the Apple store is packed with people. It has become a destination of choice for people of all age groups.

The local Circuit City (back when they were in business), was a different story. It was about the size of a super market (the Apple store is the size of a 7-11). It was packed with racks of products. If you tried a product, a sales rep was close by "to see if you had any questions", but his nervous body language communicated that he was there to keep you from breaking anything. Most of the products were not connected to power so you could not test drive them. A great deal of the information I got from the sales clerks was only moderately accurate or useful. Most of the time, they simply did not know the answer. The environment was more like a Costco than a museum and the store was virtually devoid of customers. No one wanted to come and stay. The experience was not delightful.

When I purchased my first MacBook, I notice that the box it came in was “super premium”. Rather than simply being corrugated cardboard, the box was made of material similar to “gift box” cardboard. The image on the outside of the box was an artistic photograph of the MacBook. Once the box was open, it was almost a crime to unwrap the product. It was so carefully wrapped in such excellent materials a person could not help the feeling that they were unwrapping something of great value.

The Dell notebook I was replacing had been an expensive, high end notebook in its day. It came in a brown corrugated cardboard box with “Dell" printed on the outside in blue ink. The packing materials were functional and gave the impression that "efficiency" was the chief criteria, not delighting the customer. The product was a very good product. The presentation was not.

If you are in the market of selling inexpensive products to the cost conscious, then surprising the customer with a positive retail experience,unparalleled free advice, premium packing, eye popping product design, etc. will not be significant. But staying in the premium market, and doing it well, is what made it so Apple made money when other computer makers could not. Not to mention the fact that Apple has more cash on hand ($76 billion) than the Federal government ($74 billion). That is shocking to consider.

James Snider is Business Development Director at Accelerant  Marketing Alliance, LLC == Marketing, Communications and Design
Corporate Market Department ... one hour at a time.

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