The success of the Apple brand is based mostly on a unique marketing and communication strategy which manages to attract new customers and turn them into avid fans. But how does Apple do it? In this case study we will analyse the communication and marketing strategies used by Apple over the years.
Founded almost fifty years ago by Steve Jobs, Apple has become one of the most famous companies that ever existed, thanks also to its targeted marketing and communication strategies which have made it a unique brand. Capable of creating enormous economic profits and guiding trends throughout the technology market, its success has made it a symbol not only among its customers but also among those who have never used an Apple product.
All Apple products have, in one way or another, revolutionised their target market while maintaining the same unmistakable captivating and modern style. The Macintosh computer has allowed to spread the use of PCs thanks to its usability, the iPod has substantially contributed to the digitisation of the music industry and the iPhone can be considered the first smartphone used on a large scale, on which all the current ones are still based.
Recently, Apple has also dedicated itself to the smartwatch and home-assistant markets, even going so far as to develop its own film and TV series streaming platform. Certainly, these products are very different compared to the ones at the beginnings, yet they share the same minimalistic design and testify the innovative drive of the brand.
How was it possible for a company to differentiate its offer so much, while always maintaining the same typical characteristics? In this case study we will analyse the pillars of the marketing and communication strategies that Apple has implemented over the years, focusing in particular on some historical moments.
Table of contents
The reasons behind Apple’s success
Countless studies have been conducted to try to fully understand the secrets that have allowed Apple to become the brand we all know today. Perhaps, the fact that even today no other company has managed to match it may mean that we are still missing something. However, all marketers agree in identifying the following 4 pillars at the basis of the marketing strategy that contributed to Apple’s success:
1 – The positioning
One of the things that most differentiates Apple from all other competitors on the market is the high cost of its products. Or, rather, the positioning that the brand has chosen for itself and its offer.
Major competitors generally aimed to offer the lowest possible prices, in order to get closer to more customers. Apple, on the other hand, has interrupted this habit of the tech world, proposing prices that are above the average but that are also justified by the benefits and by the high-quality standards. This meant that the brand was perceived as niche and alternative, suitable for all those people who were trying to stand out from the crowd. In fact, in addition to selling at a cost far above the market average, Apple almost never applies discounts (usually not even during Black Friday), even if it implements various sales strategies such as cross-selling (we will discuss this later in the article).
The products marketed by Apple generally have a low production cost but are sold as luxury goods, so the company makes a huge profit from every single sale – which it can reinvest in other services. It is interesting to point out that, according to some professionals in the industry, Apple would have “lost the PC war against Microsoft”. Yet, Apple is still one of the most successful companies ever.
2 – The communication
Another important element within Apple’s marketing strategy is the style with which it presents and advertises its products: it does not describe their characteristics but uses storytelling to explain how products can allow the audience to achieve the status they aim to.
To fully understand this, we can look for example at the commercial for the Macbook Air, presented as “The world’s thinnest notebook”, that we have already analysed in our blog.
Instead of communicating a series of technical information that, after the end of the video, we probably would have forgotten, Apple has chosen to focus on a particular information (the compact design) conveyed through a simple and direct message that is immediately understandable and easy to remember. It does so by associating the product with something everyone knows: a normal shipping envelope.
Apple’s communication does not use specific technical jargon, but rather a language that anyone can understand. Those who buy a Macbook Pro, for example, are not buying a simple laptop because the RAM is bigger or the graphics card is better, but because they identify with its style and what it represents: a product for a specific type of people, who act according to completely different canons compared to those of the mass and which allows them to define their own personal identity on the basis of that of the brand.
This allowed Apple to diversify its offer and move from computers to smartphones and smartwatches, while keeping the credibility of its brand intact.
The simplicity of the communication carried out by Apple, which does not waste resources on unnecessary digressions but goes straight to the practical effects that the brand can have on society, can be identified in other aspects. The essential and minimal design of Apple products, for instance, a distinctive feature since the company’s birth, and the posts on the social media profiles of the brand – or better said, the lack thereof. While dedicated support accounts are extremely active and quick to respond, Apple’s official Facebook page is dedicated only to sponsored ads and profile and cover images updates. Twitter, on the other hand, is completely empty. A strategy that we wouldn’t suggest to other brands, but which is perfectly in line with Apple’s style.
3 – The customer retention
Another aspect that has contributed to Apple’s success is the care and attention that the brand dedicates to its customers. An example of this is the physical store, the Apple Store. Inside, each product is expertly positioned to convey a sense of modernity and innovation. But what really differentiates these shops from the others is the staff, who has to be highly trained and kind. To this end, the clerks use a precise tone of voice, which follows the communication style used by the company. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Apple Stores are considered as the example to follow both for the sales in physical stores and for the direct assistance they can offer to the customer.
But that’s not all: Apple takes care of its customers even after their purchase is successful. After-sales assistance is one of the factors that make the brand stand out: in addition to solving problems as quickly as possible, the brand does not hesitate to completely replace malfunctioning products in order not to upset the customer. This certainly has a high cost, but the customer’s trust is ensured. By doing so, the company has created a real community of fans, who identify with the brand and are highly loyal.
The community also makes it possible to leverage the same users as ambassadors, as a means of spreading the Apple message.
4 – The Apple ecosystem
Before the commercialisation of the Mac, the more tech-savvy people preferred to buy different computer components and then assemble them all by themselves. Apple has instead changed this habit, revolutionising the way in which technology is conceived: no longer several single elements, but a product in its entirety.
The company then drove this feature even further. Apple has in fact developed its offer in order to create a real digital ecosystem that generates a sort of addiction in the consumer: after buying an iPhone, it is likely that the customer will proceed with the purchase of AirPods, an iPad or an Apple Watch: different kinds of products that are, however, extremely compatible and complementary. Especially in the past, the Cupertino company’s products were not compatible with external devices, so users were “forced” to depend on Apple. Even today, Apple devices often need specific chargers or earphones, which are sold by the company through cross-selling, the practice of promoting – during the purchase or immediately afterwards – a complementary product to what the user is buying.
To help users, Apple has intensively focused on the ease of synchronization between all its products, so as to make it possible to transfer all data and all content automatically and immediately. This made it much easier to switch to a new and updated device, as is the case with iPhones. Change can bring uncertainty and fear to users’ minds, so Apple has applied the simplicity that has always distinguished the brand to this as well, in order to try to reassure users during the transition to the next model.
One could even go so far as to argue that Apple actually sells only one type of product: its own ecosystem. This allows to eliminate the decision-making process that the consumer would face. In addition, it also simplifies the work of the staff within the Apple Stores: they do not have to know infinite models of smartphones or tablets and, if there is a problem, they can immediately deal with it.
Therefore, through all these marketing and communication strategies, Apple has come to have its brand associated with innovation, minimalism and reliability. Some commentators have even called Apple a “cult-brand”, to highlight the almost total devotion that customers (or rather fans) have towards the company.
Apple’s most memorable marketing campaigns
We have just listed the reasons that have contributed to making Apple a successful brand, capable of building a following that has allowed it to be one of the most important and profitable companies ever. Let’s now look specifically at some of the most famous and important marketing campaigns developed by Apple over the years.
The first ad worth mentioning is the one created for the Apple II, the first user-friendly personal computer produced on an industrial scale. After previewing at a trade show in 1977, the subsequent marketing campaign included printed ads in tech magazines. The illustration showed the uses of the computer in a home environment and the colourful screen. This campaign also included a restyling of Apple’s logo. Previously, it showed Isaac Newton under an apple tree, while the new one was more minimal and simpler: a rainbow-colored apple, with the name of the computer added to it.
From here on, the logo would have been made more and more minimal, up to the simple black-coloured bitten apple used today.
The first memorable commercial was the one launched on the occasion of the SuperBowl in 1984. In the short video, entitled 1984, Apple presented the first historic Macintosh personal computer to the general public. The commercial (directed by Ridley Scott), which earned the company the prestigious Clio Award, refers to George Orwell’s novel: in a grey world, devoid of creativity, where all people look alike and are controlled by soldiers, a girl breaks the screen of a gigantic television from which the famous logo of the bitten apple with the colours of the rainbow appears, signalling the breaking point with the past and the established patterns.
The Macintosh has, in fact, made it possible to expand accessibility to personal computers by creating a product with an intuitive interface and within everyone’s reach, not just the most experts. As you can see from this spot, however, the focus of the communication is not based on the ease of use or its technical characteristics, but on the benefits that Apple can bring: this computer can change society.
A little more than 10 years later, Apple released another commercial in which the famous slogan “Think Different” debuted, that has then become a symbol of Apple’s nonconformist attitude.
This short film includes historical figures such as Albert Einstein, Muhammad Ali, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, precisely to symbolize the innovative aspect of Apple and how it stands out from the crowd. Although it cannot be considered a complete success, given the criticisms that have emerged for having compared these eminent figures to the brand, this advertising campaign by Apple is among those that have most shaped its identity in the collective imagination.
In order to promote the first iPod Touch, a product that distanced itself from the marketed mp3 players, Apple made a series of videos that have become known as “Silhouettes”. Maintaining the well-established minimal style, the commercials included silhouettes dancing to the rhythm of the music, with white earphones and iPods on display. A clear reference to the iconic commercial of a few years earlier dedicated to the launch of the first iPod, which saw a person insert headphones into their ears and start dancing.
The various videos featured not only anonymous dancers, but also famous musicians and singers such as Paul McCartney, Eminem, the Daft Punk and The Black Eyed Peas.
It is also worth spending a few words on the aforementioned earphones, as Apple stood out even with such a simple object. In fact, in a sea of black earphones, Apple’s earphones were the first to be white, thus collaborating to break the mould and making the product immediately recognisable even to the eyes of the casual observer.
What strategies for the future?
As we have seen, Apple has stood out for the functionality and aesthetics of its products and for the style with which it communicates and comes into contact with its target audience. The attention paid to its customers, the message it conveys and its positioning have made it one of the most successful companies in the world. As proof of this, there are the countless expectations placed on the brand every time it announces a new product, which launch is an event for fans and the curious ones as well – the images of fans camping outside the stores in order to secure the latest model on sale are unforgettable.
Having proven to know how to differentiate their offerings in the past, it is reasonable to expect that Apple’s success will continue to persist in the future. It will be interesting to continue to observe their marketing and communication strategies, perhaps even to take inspiration from them. One thing is certain: the Apple brand will certainly not change its style in the short term.
But now tell us your opinion! Do you consider yourself part of the Apple community? Have you ever used their products? Let us know your opinion in the comments and contact us to receive targeted advice: you may not have the success of Apple, but you too can get great benefits with specific and personalised marketing strategies.