Anyone who works in the agency business and has responsibility for new business has heard these words: “We want to be an iconic brand like Apple.” I’ve heard these words a handful of times from eager clients. What I’ve always wanted to say in return, but stopped myself from saying is, “So, you’re ready to invest billions of dollars in your brand…well, that is welcome news!”
Let’s leave the need for huge piles of money on the table for the moment. Let’s say the client has the money and wants to invest. Does the company in question also have the right DNA, a history of enlightened leadership, and the correct frame of mind to act like Apple? Do people outside of Apple Computer even know what it means to act like Apple?
Thankfully, Apple’s original angel investor, first chairman of the board, and VP of marketing, Armas Clifford “Mike” Markkula wrote things down and we now have a glimpse into his mind and the company’s magic.
Note that this document appears in an abbreviated form in many places on the Internet today. What follows is the complete text, reproduced here from a copy of the original document, which I found on computerhistory.org.
The Apple Marketing Philosophy
Empathy | Focus | Impute
We normally think of marketing in terms of forecasting, strategic and product planning, selling, advertising, merchandising and the like. While these functions are indeed the kernel of marketing, Apple believes there are more fundamental concepts which determine the success with which they are performed. Everything we do in the marketing department revolves around one or more of these concepts. The essence of Apple’s marketing philosophy is contained in just three words…empathy, focus, and impute.
Empathy — Understanding so intimate that the feelings, thoughts, and motives of one are readily comprehended by another. If we have empathy for our customers and dealers, we will truly understand their needs better than any other company. We will know how they feel about our products and about Apple, what thought process they go through before making a decision to buy, and what motivates their actions. Just ‘being sensitive’ is not enough to do an Apple marketing job…it takes an understanding of our customers, fellow employees, competitors, and our dealers…empathy.
Focus — A thorough and complete understanding of the marketplace always provides more opportunities than can or should be attacked. In order to do a good job of those things that we decide to do, we must eliminate all of the unimportant opportunities, select from the remainder only those that we have the resources to do well, and concentrate our efforts on them. This process requires that we set priorities carefully, and that we discipline ourselves to religiously stick to our plans.
Impute — the process by which an impression of a product, company, or person is formed by mentally transferring the characteristics of the communicating media to the product, company, or person. In other words, people DO judge a book by its cover, a company by its representatives, a product’s quality by the quality of its collateral materials, etc. Here are just a few examples of how Apple has used this concept…
We created the impression that Apple was a successful company by advertising like a successful company. We created the impression that the Apple II was a high quality product by producing high quality ads, brochures, manuals, and other collateral materials. We created the impression that Apple was a highly solid company by making and publicizing contracts with large, high credibility organizations like Dow Jones, Bell & Howell, and ITT. We created the impression of being an ‘industry leader’ by arranging for articles to be published on us in major magazines such as Business Week, Time, and Fortune.
The general impression of Apple Computer Inc., (our image) is the combined result of everything the customer sees, hears, or feels from Apple, not necessarily what Apple actually is! We may have the best product, the highest quality, the most useful software etc., if we present them in a slipshod manner, they will be perceived as slipshod, if we present them in a creative, professional manner, we will impute the desired qualities.
ACM Dec. ‘79
Armas Clifford Markkula wrote the Apple marketing blueprint and it’s beautiful in its clarity and simplicity. I love how the philosophy leads with empathy. It is all about connecting with humans—we have to do that before we can impress anyone or sell them a thing.
How did Markkula know these things and end up making it a centerpiece of his work at Apple? According to the Computer History Museum, Markkula always considered ethics in business to be of paramount concern. He brought those ideas to Apple, and years later he helped fund the establishment of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. Today it is the largest ethics center in the world.
Ethics? Empathy? Yes and yes again. The bottom line is it pays to be a humanist at heart. Until we care about the people in our audience and spend the time to truly get to know them, we won’t understand what moves them.
Markkula’s second pillar—the need for rigorous focus and making hard choices—is the essence of strategy, yet few companies practice it with any rigor, or to use his language, too few of us “religiously stick to our plans.”
His third pillar is the easiest one to make happen. To “impute” brand value simply requires an investment in brand guidelines and the deeply held belief that every touchpoint matters, including “brochures, manuals, and other collateral.”
To sum up, we can learn from Apple and begin to incorporate parts, if not all, of their sage advice. Care more is the company’s fundamental lesson. Care more about people, more about processes and systems, and more about every little detail. That’s acting like Apple and that’s also why so few companies ever take a page from this winner’s book. It’s too hard to care that much.
Seriously. The problem with caring deeply and acting meticulously is it typically takes more time and money. You don’t “advertise like a successful company” without spending top dollar on the best talent and taking the time to consider all their wild ideas. Caring deeply is also an added pressure on the team to always perform at the highest level (and thus an added pressure on management to properly support the team). Therefore, it’s an exceptional thing to do, to truly care.