Tuesday, October 20, 2009

iMac part two

In 1998, Apple had to overcome a huge barrier. As stated earlier, the people "in the know" were counting Apple to be as good as dead. It was risky to buy an Apple. Apple might not be around in a year or two. Apple was not going to succeed in selling to the computer savvy buyer. Apple had to target a computer buyer who did not know that Apple was a risky purchase. Apple had to go to the first time computer buyer; the home computer buyer. Not since the early days of Apple had they targeted the first time home computer buyer. This was a bold step backwards for a company that prided itself in being better than everyone else. 

To reach this new market, Apple had to identify the reason why a person would finally breakdown and buy a computer? The answer was, "To get on the Internet." The "information super highway," as it was sometimes called, was getting a lot of attention and people were motivated to get a computer simply so they could get on the Internet.

Next question to answer was, "What is the first time buyer worried about?" The answer, "Computers are hard to use." Now Apple had the hook they needed to get this market segment. Apple ads stressed ease-of-use, “Three steps to the Internet”. They had the message, but was that going to be enough to entice buyers to buy an Apple instead of some brand that their tech smart friend recommended?

An average CEO would have played to "not lose" and would have developed another beige box. However, that is what got Apple into trouble in the inter-Jobs period of Sculley, Spindler, and Amelio; playing to "not lose". That was not Jobs' style because that was not going to generate any sizzle. Sizzle is Jobs' most effective weapon. He had to leap frog the competition. Small steps were not going to be adequate to save Apple.

Apple launched a Jetson’s futuristic, fun computer that got the kids pulling Mom and Dad over to the Apple display in the store. Apple put ads on TV with Rolling Stones music and computers tumbling and spinning. These computers were not acting like computers. Computers do not tumble and spin. These were fun electronics; fun and playful. Apple was not selling computers. They were selling fun. The Jetson's were part of the shared American childhood and these Jetson's looking computers were friendly, inviting, non-intimidating fun.

The commercials were so entertaining that people watched them over an over. When customers went to the store, they did not see a strange looking computer that looked nothing like all the other computers in the store. The different look of the iMac could have easily made customers shy away. What the customer saw, however, was that cool computer they saw on TV. Apple overcame the commercial fatigue and got their message into the minds of the consumer. This was fun. Joe Average was buying an Apple and entering the Apple cult.

For most companies, this would have been stellar success, far beyond expectations, but for Steve Jobs, this was just the beginning. The first step in a much larger plan.

With the release of the iMac, Apple revolutionized the PC industry with a new look and attitude. However, the iMac also delivered a second game changer. They removed all peripheral ports except for USB. No other computer maker dared to be that bold. However, Apple was targeting the first time computer buyer who had no peripherals. USB was the easiest way to connect peripherals. 

Apple accomplished in one product release what Intel could not. Apple started the USB revolution. After three years of effort and the vast worldwide resources of Intel, USB was an unused port on 90% of the computers on store shelves. There were no peripherals to connect to the USB port. Intel makes chips for computers. They have total influence over PC makers. They have no influence over peripheral makers.  USB was a flop and Intel was about to pull the plug on it.

Apple works closely with a limited number of peripheral makers. They make computers....the thing that drives the sales of peripherals. Apple influences their peripheral makers. Now there were USB peripherals entering the market and they were selling well. More peripherals followed. USB was saved.

But what about the people who already owned peripherals? There were virtually no USB peripherals in the market until Apple launched the Bondi Blue iMac. This new Apple computer was going to place a hardship on current Apple users as they would have to replace all their peripherals with ones that had USB ports on them. As it turned out, Apple loyalist were willing to accept a lot of inconvenience in order to move up to the next cool thing coming out of One Infinite Loop. Apple's bold move even attracted them.

The Bondi Blue iMac was only the first step in a series that would turn the world upside down. The next step would come in a matter of months and it involved FireWire.

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

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