Apple: These days most people are likely to picture a piece of their favorite technology as opposed to a Red Delicious or Granny Smith fruit. What is it about Apple (the brand) that makes it so universally recognizable and beloved? And, most Apple lovers are fiercely loyal, will easily forgive the brand for its occasional shortcomings, and make special efforts to spread the word to their friends that this is one great brand. Just from my own personal experience, I have some Apple loyal friends who will fiercely debate with my PC-loving husband any day of the week regarding which brand has the better operating system.
By creating an emotional connection with its customers, Apple has done the near impossible – it has acquired a loyal following. Read more about Apple’s brand loyalty as a key to its success here.
First, we must define brand loyalty. According to Retention Science, “brand loyalty… has very little to do with prices or money, but has everything to do with how your brand is perceived by the consumer, whether through promotional activities, reputation or their previous experiences with your company.” Brand loyalists are those consumers who believe that a particular brand offers a superior product or service to all other brands, and regardless of pricing or financial factors, will remain loyal to your brand.
Apple displaced Coca-Cola for the very first time in 2014 as the No. 1 global brand on Interbrand’s annual global brand rankings Top 100 List. Additionally, a 2014 consumer study that polled around 2,000 iPhone owners, and as much as 60 percent of those surveyed described their relationship with Apple as one of “blind loyalty,” while 78 percent stated that they “couldn’t imagine having a different type of phone” than an iPhone. Interestingly, in that same study, only half of the respondents reported being “impressed” by the iPhone, but larger percentages stated they would never switch to another brand of smart phone. So if it’s not necessarily the product itself, it must be the packaging, the image or perception associated with owning an Apple product, the versatility of the products and essentially the marketing initiatives that help to drive this brand’s success.
Brand loyalty stems from a consumer’s interactions or experiences with a brand, both on and offline. In Apple’s case, Steve Jobs worked tirelessly to make Apple’s reputation well known as both trustworthy and transparent. Interestingly, under Jobs’ leadership, Apple was extremely “social media shy,” and did not maintain social media channels except for YouTube, which had the comments turned off. Some of that is now changing.
According to Fortune, the arrival of the post-Jobs era at Apple has at least something to do with a shift where Apple executives now tweet, and the company recently hired a social media expert:
…Apple sees itself as being in transition from its old communications model, where a ‘single narrator’— aka the late Steve Jobs — articulated a ‘singular narrative’ at a time and place of his choosing, to a new model where the company speaks in multiple voices and participates in two-way discussions with its consumers and fan…” Read more about this transition here.
It is true that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumbl’r, blogs and other social media outlets are important ways for brands to connect with fans and vice versa. With digital, communication is no longer disseminated one way from brand to consumer, and the brand is not always in the driver’s seat when it comes to brand communication. Instead, brands have a unique opportunity to develop deeper, lasting relationships with fans through two-way communication online. Apple first launched its social media presence via Tumblr simultaneously with the launch of the iPhone 5. The brand now has a new #ithinkApple campaign that launched with the Apple Smart Watch. You can find the Tumblr page here.
We should keep in mind that while social media is a powerful tool for marketers, Apple was one of the world’s strongest brands before it launched a single social media profile. Thus, we learn from Apple that brand loyalty goes deeper than a single medium of communication or marketing activity. It is about far more than online vs. offline or TV ads vs. print. Apple is a brand that delivers an exceptional product that consistently meets or exceeds customer expectations.
Let’s look at the lessons that an IMC professional should take away from APPLE in order to build brand loyalty with their own customers:
A- Apologize. Admitting when you’re wrong and should have done better is the first step in making any brand (or person) beloved and respected. A person who is not afraid to admit that he/she made a mistake and takes complete responsibility for that mistake, will at the very least be respected, whereas a brand who tries to hide from or pretend there was no mistake a’la Netflix price hike 2011, may face permanent consequences. A delayed apology is often worse than no apology. As an example, as soon as Apple discovered that a Baby Shaker app had made its way into the App store in 2009, the company immediately had the app removed and issued this public apology statement. “This application was deeply offensive and should not have been approved for distribution on the App Store. When we learned of this mistake, the app was removed immediately. We sincerely apologize for this mistake and thank our customers for bringing this to our attention,” the statement read. The complete statement can be found here. On the other hand, the company who originally created the app said only this: “Okay, so maybe the Baby Shaker iPhone app was a bad idea.” Which company seems more genuine and sincere?
P- Produce Products People Want.
For any product that Apple creates, the people who create it have to want it themselves. This article provides additional insight: “So many times with projects I do with other tech companies, the goal is almost always based around the technology first, followed by whether or not people really want to use it. Geeky engineers are dazzled by the technology at their disposal and often create something because they can. But Apple’s approach is quite different. The engineers who are creating Apple products actually make them for themselves. And Jobs was the chief ‘user’ of Apple products when he was alive.” Moral of the story? Take some time to do research into peoples’ needs and values not the company’s perception of their needs and values. Quantitative and qualitative research methods such as surveys, focus groups and in depth interviews allow marketers to gain insight into what works–and what doesn’t! So many large corporations that are generally very successful, have failed in various areas. Think of McDonald’s attempt to sell chicken wings in 2014: (10 million pounds were left over, unsold)! This kind of business catastrophe occurs when a company THINKS it knows what the people want or need, but in actuality they are far off base.
P- Provide exceptional customer experience. Apple has specialized stores with highly trained staff to provide technical support and customer service support from the time a potential customer first walks in the door until the Mac Book or iPhone is finally on its last leg years later. This article explains it best: “They go right to the heart of any technology user’s question, a question that’s always related to what they want to do with the technology the user is interested in. And once you explain your needs, they take care of it on the spot in most cases. Or if you need more hand holding, they turn you over to the Apple Geniuses.” There is no lazy customer service (i.e. Wal Mart on a bad day.)
L-Leverage opportunities for publicity. This article explains how Apple does it best: “Media outlets, especially bloggers, love to write about Apple. Why? Because Apple makes it so easy. With leaked rumors about new developments, its very own expo and mysterious shutdowns of its online store, Apple gift wraps news stories that are just begging for speculation and hype. By perpetuating this cycle of media frenzy, Apple keeps its customers excited about buying new Apple products now and in the future.” Brands build credibility by having others write about why they’re great. A customer testimonial goes much farther than a web page declaring “why we’re so great!” Press releases can get the word out about your brand and the products/services you offer, and media outlets can provide the third party credibility to get your brand recognized and noticed.
E- Emotional Appeal. You don’t commit to a brand until death do us part if they’re “just another computer shop.” The most successful businesses capitalize on your emotions and draw out your experiences with the company to create loyalty beyond reason. The most successful brands may often be found on Lovemarks.com, where people go just to share their amazing experiences with your brand. Here is Apple’s site.