What “Inside Apple” Teaches You about Product Marketing and Product Management

September 4, 2012


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:

  1. The build-up of anticipation creates heightened excitement and intensity when the big announcements (i.e. new products or product features) are made.
  2. 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.”)
  3. 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.
  4. 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:

  1. Adding more features is far too easy.
  2. Saying “no” to particular features is hard.
  3. Simple means less – and when you have less, what remains (the features, the design, etc.) must be world class.
  4. 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:

  1. A revolutionary phone.
  2. The Internet in your pocket.
  3. 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:

  1. Product launches are hugely important events. Figure out how to best manage the information you provide around them.
  2. Assign deliverables to individuals, rather than groups or committees.
  3. Develop, refine and continually re-use a product development process.
  4. KISS (keep it simple, sir).

Buy the book at Amazon:


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How to Use Social Media to Improve Your Products #prodmktg

March 7, 2012

Read the full post: http://12most.com/2012/03/07/12-powerful-ways-social-media-improve-products/


In my latest post for 12Most.com, I wrote about how product marketers and product managers can improve their offerings via social media. My post is titled “12 Most Powerful Ways to Use Social Media to Improve Your Products.”

The 12 Ways

My post covers the following 12 tips:

  1. Understand customer language and terms.
  2. Provide customer service.
  3. Crowdsource new features.
  4. Learn about the competition.
  5. Motivate internal teams.
  6. Share updates and roadmaps with the market.
  7. Ask for input and advice.
  8. Find and solicit beta testers.
  9. Host regular Twitter chats.
  10. Host a Google+ Hangout.
  11. Promote customer events.
  12. Vote for a product name or product feature.

To read all the details, visit the full post here:


Product Marketing Is Dead. Long Live Product Marketing!

February 2, 2012


Beware product marketers: Dave Wolpert (@SwordfishComm), in a guest post titled “The End of Product Marketing” on the “A Random Jog” blog, warns that the product marketing position is on its last legs. Wolpert writes, “The product marketing function in tech companies is heading for extinction. The work product marketers currently do will continue to be performed, but by different people.”

With due respect, Dave, I believe your report of the imminent demise of product marketing is exaggerated. Here’s why…

Outsourcing Can Have Downsides

Your thesis centers around the notion that a product marketer’s responsibilities can be outsourced (or insourced). For instance, product managers can synthesize the “voice of the customer”, thus combining both “outbound” and “inbound” product management roles. Content development is insourced to MarCom. Sales presentations can be handled directly by sales reps.

You have to ask, however, whether quality suffers. Effective product marketers have significant subject matter expertise within their industry. Who will provide this knowledge and know-how to the MarCom team who’s been asked to write next quarter’s white paper? Similarly, who will define and provide the messaging and positioning for Sales to include in their decks? Sales should focus on selling, not marketing.

You note, “most copywriters can write persuasive proposal content.” While I agree that good writers can write quality content, I point to the Wendy’s commercial from the 80’s that asked, “Where’s the beef?” Copywriters can provide the ketchup and the bun, but subject matter expertise is required to produce quality beef.

Functional Oversight Still Required

We don’t operate in absolutes, of course, so I’ll partially accept Wolpert’s notion that some product marketing responsibilities can be outsourced. Don’t we still need an overseer to coordinate the outsourced tasks, ensure the quality of the work and be held responsible for the overall deliverables? If a CMO outsources demand generation, event marketing, search marketing and SEO, should her role be eliminated as well?

A product marketer is responsible for delivering upon product marketing objectives, in the same way a CMO is responsible for delivering on the broader marketing objectives.

Focus Is Paramount

Wolpert does note that someone still has to “perform the bit roles product marketers play,” but goes on to say that “ancillary roles don’t collectively constitute a full-time job.” But what about focus? Tuning in to the voice of the customer means that you often need to “leave the building.”

When product managers are meeting with customers and prospects, will they still be able to make the daily Scrum meeting? Will they be able to maintain and update the competitive matrix while keeping the product roadmap current? Can they speak at an analyst briefing while ensuring that this month’s product ships on time?

I don’t think so. Sure, in smaller organizations, product management and product marketing may be the same person. But as organizations grow, product marketing should be distinct, in the same way that QA exists as a role distinct from the developers.

Priorities for Product Marketing (Strategic)

Wolpert writes that “only those with an exceedingly rare combination of talents” will survive the mass extinction of product marketers. I agree that product marketers need a rare combination to succeed, though I object on the “exceedingly rare” qualifier.

Strategically, product marketers need to deliver on more and more of the “E” in “SME” (Subject Matter Expert). We need to serve simultaneously as customer and industry advocates. Product marketers ought to be the leading voices that propel an industry forward on adoption and growth.

Priorities for Product Marketing (Tactical)

Product marketers should be comfortable and well versed with the following:

  1. Social media. While Marketing Communications or Corporate Marketing tend to manage an organization’s social channels, product marketers need to utilize social media as a listening platform. Your market is speaking. Are you listening?
  2. Blogging. Start blogging. Never before have you been able to both publish and receive market input so quickly. If you blog, be sure to allow comments, as two-way conversation is more powerful than the one-way street.
  3. Video. Learn how to effectively use this medium. Your market wants its content in this form.
  4. Webinars. Learn how to present via webinars.
  5. Events. Attend industry events to build upon your (and your organization’s) role as the industry advocate and voice.


As a product marketer, I’m confident that my role (and by “my,” I mean the role in general) will continue onward. Sure, it may shift and adjust, but eliminating product marketing, in my opinion, will bring harm to organizations far and wide.

Use the Comments section below to share your thoughts on this topic.


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