Marketing Is About Values Ross Kimbarovsky | August 31st, 2010

Today, Apple is considered one of the best brands in the world. The iPod wasn’t the first mp3 player but it redefined the entire industry. The iPad wasn’t the first tablet PC and yet Apple may sell more than 10 million of them in 2010. Apple may sell 48 million iPhones in 2010.

Today, nearly everything that Apple touches turns to gold. But this wasn’t always true. From the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s, Apple was a niche company with many product failures and a poorly defined vision.

The transformation that turned Apple from a niche player into an industry giant started when Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997. That transformation offers an important lesson for startups about marketing and branding.

Speaking in 1997 about Apple’s Think Different campaign (released the same day as the speech), Steve Jobs eloquently and passionately explained the difficulty of marketing when you’re competing for attention with so many other brands:

Marketing is about values. This is a very complicated world; it’s a very noisy world. And we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us. And so we have to be really clear about what we want them to know about us.

This is a very important lesson for entrepreneurs and startups. It’s even more important today because social media creates opportunities for companies to engage customers, but also adds a tremendous amount of noise to an already noisy marketplace.

There are many ways to seize opportunities to tell your prospective customers what you want them to know about you. Some leverage an effective tagline. Others present products as stories. Yet others study and leverage social currency. Many different approaches work for different companies.

Apple’s Think Different campaign (which ran from 1997 to 2002) focused on the brand and not on specific products.

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Here’s Steve Jobs speech – from 1997 – introducing Apple’s Think Different campaign (the original Think Different ad is at the end of this video). It’s a short video and offers valuable insight about how Apple began to transform its image and brand.

Apple benefited from an enormous marketing budget. How can startups, with limited marketing budgets, tell their stories and reach their customers in an increasingly noisy world? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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  • real nice post Ross – Randomly i watched a copy of Art & Copy last night and some of this was talked about then (including the mac think different campaign)

    Alot of them talked about honesty

  • You make some excellent points, here, Ross.
    Interesting that the ‘values’ that Apple was branding itself with were ‘values by association,’ as it were. In other words, it seems like they were the values of its CUSTOMERS. Only as the company evolved did we discover that these were also the values of Apple.
    And now, ten years later, the question of “What are Apple’s values?” is up for big discussion again. As the company evolves a closed ecosystem of products and services, many long-time Apple fans like myself are starting to wonder if the co. is staying true to it’s values – or has Apple become the thing to rebel against?!!

    My jury is still out, for sure. Steve has amazed and delighted me too many times to write him off quickly. But I have enough questions about their current values to be happy to see big competitors like Google entering some of the markets that Apple is dominating.

  • Allen – I’m not certain that the Think Different values reflected only the values of Apple’s customers. It was clear at the time that Steve Jobs wanted Apple to be different. However, I do agree that Apple’s values continued to shift as the campaign went on (as they typically do when a company evolves).

    I am very much intrigued by your second point – that Apple’s values may again be evolving as the company is once again undergoing an evolution with its products and services. Those values do seem to be a bit less clear today than they were in 1997…

  • Fergus – honesty is critical to building a trusted brand. It’s one reason that Apple has been able to sell higher priced products: people trust that even though they are paying more, they are getting a better product in return (in with most Apple products, that has indeed been true).

  • Amazing post i learnt a lot.

  • Great evaluating post!

    On your question: How can startups, with limited marketing budgets, tell their stories and reach their customers in an increasingly noisy world?

    I think start-ups should do 3 things:
    1) Value – Think about value (as you bold it!) – value in all its forms. For example in my sphere of products: entertainment should give to people smiles or tears, happiness, impulse to share – all these are emotions!
    2) Honesty – indeed it seems to me a better tactic then advertisement (and cheaper). When you start something new it couldn’t be perfect – so you know all your disadvantages and your dreams to the perfectness and it can be discussed with your early customers.
    3) Time & Patience – We all need more time to develop the best we can. Its a myth (or at least very rare cases) that some are successful with just a very good idea. Yes we read more and more success stories, but I think most of them were successful because they have build a long term strategy for themselves and in different ways they were used at least several years to develop their success.

  • Cooktench

    This campaign points to the critical importance of your branding’s impact within your firm, too. The think different campaign helped launch many initiatives, innovative hires and products.

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