While reading “Inside Apple,” Adam Lashinsky’s book about “how America’s most admired – and secretive — company really works,” Apple Computer became the most valuable U.S. company in history. Apple’s market capitalization reached $623.5 billion, exceeding a record set by Microsoft in late 1999.
“I’m a PC” aptly describes my lifelong experience with computers (aside from college and post-college years with assorted variations of Unix). Recently, however, Apple devices have made their way into my household. There was the iPod Nano (for me, in 2005), the iPod Touch (for my daughter, in 2009), then the iPad and Macbook for my wife.
Some evenings, I’d peer across the family room to see all family members using Apple devices: daughter on the iPod, wife on the iPad and me on the iPhone. Apple has made a large dent in corporate America as well. At my workplace, many users have moved to the Macbook. And, emails sent during the evening hours typically say “Sent from my iPad.”
So with all that in mind, I wanted to read Lashinsky’s book, not only to discover Apple’s secrets, but also to gain insights into their product marketing and product management.
Insights on Product Marketing
Build anticipation and suspense around your product launches.
Well before Lashinsky’s book was published, we all knew how insanely secretive Apple is, with just about everything. Apple has clearly demonstrated, however, that secrecy works wonders as far as product launches go. Apple’s product launches are like The Super Bowl, the Oscar Awards and the Election: monumental, “must see” events with a massive amount of coverage.
Why Apple does this:
- The build-up of anticipation creates heightened excitement and intensity when the big announcements (i.e. new products or product features) are made.
- Minimizes deferred purchases, which affect sales of existing products (e.g. “I’m not buying the iPhone 4 because the iPhone 5 is due out soon.”)
- There’s a danger to pre-announcing products or features that you don’t end up delivering. HP pre-announced the sale of its PC business, then later changed its mind.
- Pre-announcing product details gives the competition a head start in responding.
While reading the book, in fact, TechCrunch published a piece about a Silicon Valley start-up whose product launch was ruined by a broken embargo. While Apple never would have done this, it must be said that Apple’s position affords it the ability to do “big news” product launch events.
Start-ups, on the other hand, face a chicken and egg problem: they need to brief reporters on their new product in order to get the coverage (to some day be as prominent as Apple).
Tie each and every deliverable to a single owner.
Chapter 4 describes Apple’s approach to event marketing planning. The event marketing group creates a document called “At a Glance,” a detailed schedule for the event. “Each item, along with the time and place it will occur, includes a DRI.” (DRI stands for “directly responsible individual”).
DRI’s are used not only in event marketing, but throughout Apple. Every single task, no matter how small, would have a DRI assigned to it. Jobs “made committee a dirty word at Apple.” With DRI, you knew whom to contact when the signage never appeared at your trade show booth. You don’t contact the event marketing team, mind you – instead, you contact an individual.
Insights on Product Management
Product development process.
Apple uses a repeatable process to build product. It’s called ANPP – the “Apple New Product Process.” Once the design of the product is under way, two parallel tracks begin: the supply-chain team (who determines how and where to source the component parts) and the engineering team (who figures out how to build and assemble the parts).
Related to the DRI concept, the supply chain effort is headed up by a Global Supply Manager (GSM) and engineering by a Engineering Program Manager (EPM). Based at headquarters, but spending most of their time in China, these individuals head up each team.
Most companies will follow through on a product development process until the product ships. Apple is different. “But once Apple is done designing, building, and testing a product it starts designing, building, and testing all over again.” This process happens every four to six weeks.
An extreme focus on the user experience.
User experience not only defines the ease with which end users operate your device or application, but it can also create emotional bonds. The user experience is a key reason why Apple has an adoring fan base of intensely loyal users.
This segment from the book tells it all: “.. the modern obsession with user experience has created a shorthand for how Apple employees communicate .. At Apple, thirteen of fifteen topics get cut off after a sentence of discussion. That’s all that’s needed.”
Pillars of Simplicity
Image source: User JoshSemans at flickr.
In the building housing Apple’s marketing and communications team, a large wall reads “SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY.” And a line is drawn through the first two SIMPLIFY’s. Apple is all about simplifying, from product design straight through to product marketing.
Simple is hard.
You may be inclined to think, “simple is easy.” Simple means less things to include, less to say, less to do. That’s easy, right? Wrong. Simple is hard and doing simple right is even harder. That’s part of Apple’s competitive advantage: they do simple well.
What makes “simple” challenging:
- Adding more features is far too easy.
- Saying “no” to particular features is hard.
- Simple means less – and when you have less, what remains (the features, the design, etc.) must be world class.
- As such, simple raises the bar on every nook and cranny of your product.
Simplicity in the product line.
You can see Apple’s simplicity in its product portfolio. You could once fit their entire product line on a conference room table (this may no longer be possible). Even with a company of Apple’s size and stature, they focus on a few key things at a time. “The minute you’re doing a hundred things, you can’t possibly do things the Apple way,” said a former executive there.
Simplicity in product marketing.
Think about doing product marketing for the iPhone. A conventional approach may be to list all the amazing and unique features that it has. You might list this out in a matrix, alongside competitors’ phones, showing all the areas you beat the competition.
If you ask Bob Borchers, who ran product marketing for the iPhone, “the best messaging is clear, concise and repeated.” Apple boiled down the iPhone messaging to:
- A revolutionary phone.
- The Internet in your pocket.
- The best iPod we ever created.
The approach here is to highlight what makes the iPhone stand out, then give “consumers only as much as they needed to get excited.” According to Borchers, “Just use the same words over and over again. That will turn into the same words that the consumer hears, which ultimately will turn into the same words that they then use to define the product to their friends.”
Lashinsky’s book provided interesting insights on the Apple Machine. Some insights can be applied directly to your product marketing and product management, while others are completely unique to Apple (this post attempts to distill what you can apply directly).
To summarize some of the key points:
- Product launches are hugely important events. Figure out how to best manage the information you provide around them.
- Assign deliverables to individuals, rather than groups or committees.
- Develop, refine and continually re-use a product development process.
- KISS (keep it simple, sir).
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