When most people think about Apple, they think of iPhones, iPads, AirPods and the Apple Watch with the iconic logo. If you’re an older millennial like me, you probably think about the high energy, dancing silhouette commercials for the iPod circa 2003.
And since I’m a marketing nerd, I often think about Apple’s marketing strategies and how they (mostly) win big.
What sets Apple's marketing apart from other major companies? How do they sustain their revenue growth as more competition enters their space?
As marketers, we can learn a lot from the fundamentals Apple uses in their strategies. And the results of their marketing expertise, needless to say, speak for themselves.
The Results From Apple's Marketing Strategies
Apple has a rabid fanbase, but they didn’t always have this cult-like following.
They earned it through conducting innovative product development, cultivating a strong brand identity, and speaking directly to their many segments.
Apple appeals to so many audiences. The young professional. The artist. The middle-aged executive. The music lover. The filmmaker. The breadth of the brand's appeal is impressive, and so is their revenue growth.
Certainly, a lot of factors are at play here, but their marketing tactics are a big component in helping the company achieve their biggest milestones and driving their continued success. Take note of their marketing successes and check out these takeaways.
Simplicity At Its Finest
From their product packaging to their site design and everything in between, Apple’s main focus is simplicity. In fact, the user friendliness of their products is what converts new customers into devotees.
This is why all ages flock to Apple products. Older and younger generations alike enjoy how simple it is to learn and use their tech products. Plus, owning their products acts as a status symbol now.
Bottom line: Apple lets their products and the experience they create speak for themselves. Marketing just drives the simplicity of their brand home.
For example, look at their most popular ad campaign. The “Get a Mac” ads open with an all-white background with actor Justin Long dressed in casual clothes. He introduces himself to the viewer. “Hello, I’m a Mac,” he says.
Comedian John Hodgman stands next to Justin Long, wearing a suit and a tie. John says, “And I’m a PC.” Each commercial followed a simple format. Both of the men would have a brief exchange. John as a PC would often come off as uninteresting and too formal, whereas Justin would be laid back, often talking about cool Mac features.
These ads were simple and straightforward. And they worked well. Really well. The campaign included 66 ads and ran from 2006 to 2009.
Strive for simplicity in your content and your style if it fits your audience. Most modern buyers are turned off by overly flashy content or loud, disruptive messaging.
This emphasis on simplicity extends throughout all of your marketing assets, from your newsletters to your ad copy and even your website, which often follows a minimalist aesthetic in its design to appeal to modern tastes.
Value Props Over Price
Speaking of cool, modern website design, look at how Apple positions its products on their website. For example, check out this page for the iPhone XS.
Notice the emphasis on stunning visuals showcasing the beautiful appearance of the phone. As you scroll, you see more of the phone’s appearance, but you also get a concise description of what makes the product superior.
The content is lean but informative enough to get visitors excited. Apple highlights their unique value proposition (UVP). For example, they showcase the retina screen, materials that are water resistant, security, camera, etc.
Notice the language of their copy. It’s specific to common user problems, like taking high quality photos, ensuring personal devices are secure, and incorporating big screens.
This is the right language to use with their audience. They list the tech specs on their site, but they don’t include it in their product webpages. Why bother spouting out details on processing power and megabytes?
Instead, Apple’s marketing team uses phrases like:
- “Smartest, most powerful chip”
- "Most durable glass ever in a smartphone"
- “Most secure facial authentication ever in a smartphone”
- “This is the smartest, most powerful chip in a smartphone”
- “Amazing augmented reality experiences”
These phrases are impactful for the audience. They give the buyer a description they can understand, and this language also encourages users to learn more about the technical details if they want to.
This central focus on what makes the iPhone stand out is what makes it so effective. And they don’t play price wars either. Sure, they’re charging $999 for a base model of the XS, far exceeding the price of their competitors.
But they don’t drop their prices to match the rest of the premium smartphone market. They let their UVP speak for itself.
Buyers look at Apple as the gold standard in the tech world, and they’re happy to pay for that. This is why the term “iPhone” is synonymous with smartphone, just like how iPods became the go-to term for MP3 players in the early 2000s.
Consider the reader experience when you’re developing content for your site. Large chunks of text with overly technical language can be off putting.
Research your audience by reviewing your buyer personas and spending time in their watering holes.
For example, check out relevant subreddits to see how your audience speaks about your industry and the products and solutions you offer. This research should inform how you present your value proposition in each of your marketing channels.
Stay on Brand
Apple’s marketing team is not perfect by any means. They’ve experienced some big missteps in recent memory.
For instance, their ad campaign for the 2012 London Olympics was widely criticized. Each of the commercials within the campaign follow an Apple genius helping Mac users in everyday situations.
One of the commercials centers on a customer knocking on the genius’s apartment door. The customer is in a rush because his wife is giving birth, and he asks the genius how to create a photo card for a birth announcement. The genius informs him that he can make letterpress card with iPhoto, before ushering the customer out of the apartment to go to the hospital to be with his wife during the birth.
The issue: They deviated from the more simplistic style. Instead, they tried a humorous approach with a broad comedic tone, with over-the-top characters. Also, it was an odd choice to portray Apple customers as incompetent and overly needy.
Taking risks in your marketing is important because you can discover new opportunities and test new tactics. But don’t deviate too far from what you know your audience likes about you.
This rare misfire cost a lot of money (the airtime during the Olympics carries a high price tag). And while this campaign ultimately didn’t hurt the company, it was definitely a blemish on their marketing team’s reputation.
The Magic of Mystery
Fans of Apple are highly engaged with the company and often stay in the loop with their community of fellow devotees. What’s amazing is how vast the Apple fan community is.
There are dozens of highly popular online resources, like blogs and message boards, that solely focus on Apple products. Some of the most popular Apple-specific blogs include MacRumors, 9to5Mac, MacWorld, and AppleInsider.
A common interest among these readers: new product releases.
For example, the term “new iPhone” is searched between 118,000 and 300,000 times each month, according to Moz’s keyword research data. That’s a lot of people eagerly searching for the latest news on just one of Apple’s products.
The company hosts quarterly events, including the annual Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) where they make major announcements, like unveiling the latest Apple Watch, new AirPods, or the next best MacBook Pro model.
They market these events in an engaging way, stoking excitement around the mystery of what exactly they’re announcing. The Mac communities are always abuzz until the day of the event.
Apple is notoriously tight lipped about all their product development, and instead of the traditional marketing approach (where companies build whole campaigns around promoting new releases), Apple withholds information and teases out details. For example, there are usually unintentional leaks of new product information, which stokes the fire of their excited fanbase.
You don’t need to go to the extreme lengths of Apple’s marketing plan for new products to create some mystery for your audience. Consider how you can capture your audience’s imagination to compel them to stay tuned for more information about your products or services.
The Roles of Emotions
Apple aces emotional marketing, which is the practice of using emotion to engage and attract your audience. Usually, emotional marketing efforts aim to stir up a singular emotion.
For example, the classic iPod commercials included dancing silhouettes with upbeat music. This touches on happiness and joy. The audience can relate to the excitement being experienced by the subject of the commercial.
The 2018 commercial for Apple Watch shows a man interacting with multiple versions of himself. He stands up, then starts running with himself, before another version of himself sprints into the water and starts swimming.
This ad evokes excitement and even plays on optimism – the commercial ends with a simple message: “There’s a better you in you.” This encourages the audience to better themselves by using Apple’s device.
Consider your buyer personas’ range of emotions you want to elicit with your campaigns. What kind of impact do you want to have on buyers through your branding? How will you tailor your messaging? What kinds of marketing tactics will you use to engage your buyers on an emotional level?
Map out your strategy, and align your marketing efforts with these target emotions. Test your marketing content to see which emotional responses are more valuable to your business.
Consistency in Customer Experience
Another aspect of Apple’s marketing plan is how they develop the customer experience in their brick and mortar stores. Everything that we covered – the simplicity, the mystery, the emphasis on UVP – is all front and center at the Apple Store.
There are interactive product displays, wide open spaces, and vivid graphics. It’s a welcoming environment that draws people to their products, but it’s also laid out in a way that encourages people to congregate and mingle.
When I went into the Apple Store in Tampa to get a new battery for my iPhone, I lined up with a group of people near the iPad table. Naturally, we started chatting while playing with the tablets. This layout acts as an invitation to congregate around products and test them out while you wait for assistance.
The community of Apple fans is the company’s greatest asset. And instead of creating aisles of products and stuffing a support desk in the corner for customers to wait in a line, they opt for the open floor plan to deliver a more personal, intimate experience.
New stores have ditched the Genius Bar branding in the back, instead using a table where geniuses can sit right next to customers they’re helping.
To put it simply, the Apple Store experience works on multiple levels. The aesthetic of their digital presence and product design is captured in the store’s design, and the layout encourages fellow customers to gather.
Stay consistent in every customer touchpoint. From all your digital marketing assets to the physical assets (like your products or the experience you’re creating in person), you want to delight your customers with what they love most about your company.
With these marketing tips, your team is ready to thrive. And remember, when you’re at the drawing board, take a note from Apple: Think different.