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:


Note: I invite you to connect with me on .

How You Can “Imagine” to Be More Creative

June 29, 2012

Image source: Amazon.com


I recently read the book “Imagine: How Creativity Works” by Jonah Lehrer. While Lehrer has gotten himself into a bit of hot water over re-purposing past work in new places (including portions of “Imagine”), this news didn’t impact my enjoyment of the book.

I found it fascinating to read stories of how creative insights were born and to understand some of the neuroscience behind what sparked them. What follows is ways I plan to apply the book to spark more creativity in my own life.

1) Sleep with a Notepad and Pen on the Nightstand.

I’m amazed at the crazy stories my brain dreams up overnight. I once had a murder mystery dream that involved the Queen of England and the tennis player, Peanut Louie. One of these days, I’ll analyze what that dream really meant.

“Imagine” describes the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that “holds back our imaginative murmurs.” When we sleep, “the prefrontal cortex shuts itself down; the censor goes eerily quiet.” In 1965, Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones fell asleep with a tape recorder running. When he played back the tape the next day, he heard a lot of snoring, but he also found the whole verse of a song. That verse would become “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”

I often dream about work. Once, I dreamed about working through a web application (related to work), but doing it in an entirely new (and odd) way. I don’t recall precisely the details of that new way, but imagine if I was on to something a la Richards and his hit song. As such, I now keep a notepad and pen on my nightstand.

This allows me to record the details of my dreams (if needed) when I wake up, whether that’s in the morning or in the middle of the night. I’m often stirred awake by an interesting dream (in the middle of the night), ponder its “weirdness” for a few minutes, then forget all the details by morning.

It’s time to increase bedtime ROI – product feature ideas, marketing campaigns and more. All conceived in my dreams.

2) More Productive Use of Showers and Outdoor Runs.

Chapter 2 of “Imagine” is titled “Alpha Waves (Condition Blue).” A portion of the chapter covers why creative insights happen often during warm showers. Why is that? Because warm showers are relaxing and “when our minds are at ease … we’re more likely to direct the spotlight of attention inward.” And when the spotlight is directed inward, we’re able to make the connections that lead to insights.

In fact, in a prior post, I wrote about my use of the shower: “10% of my tweets are now conceived while I’m in the shower, where I generate random thoughts or random observations.”

I also find my mind at ease when I go for long, outdoor runs. While on the running trail next to the reservoir, I feel disconnected from the hustle and bustle of daily life and that allows my mind to wander and roam. It’s far different than running on a hotel’s treadmill, as the activity of other exercisers and the sound from the overhead TV don’t allow me to disconnect as well.

While I’ll often wander into random insights during showers and runs, I’ll now look to utilize them during specific times of need. For instance, if I need to develop a feature or campaign and I feel a bit stuck, I may “disconnect” and brainstorm a bit. I’ll head out for a run, followed by (of course) a warm shower.

3) Talk to Everyone in The Organization.

“Imagine” describes how the late Steve Jobs designed the office space at Pixar Animation Studios. He placed the meetings rooms, cafeteria, coffee bar, gift shop and restrooms in the center of the building. He said, “everybody has to run into each other.”

One producer at Pixar noted that it worked: “I get more done having a bowl of cereal and striking up a conversation or walking to the bathroom and running into unexpected people than I do sitting at my desk.”

In the same chapter, we learn about an MIT professor who studied office conversations and workplace data. His finding? “Increasing the number of colleagues with whom an employee consults contributes independently to performance.”

As a product guy, I plan to spend more time striking up random conversations with colleagues – especially those outside of my own functional area. After all, when you’re building products, your customers are more often the folks in Finance, Human Resources and Customer Service, rather than your peers in Product Management or Marketing.

Colleagues in other departments have different expertise and they’re likely to think differently. This means that they’re bound to have valuable insights you can tap into and apply (either directly or indirectly) into creating better products. In fact, I believe that product organizations ought to crowdsource product ideas across the entire organization.

4) Daydream More.

A psychologist from the University of Memphis discovered that students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) got significantly higher scores (than non-ADHD students) on difficult creative tests.

ADHD (and the inability to focus) can be a “creative blessing” – “when we need to work, we force ourselves to concentrate – this approach can inhibit the imagination.” Lehrer goes on to note that if you relax and indulge yourself in distractions, insights arrive once you stop looking for them.

Later in the book, Lehrer relates how the famous “Just Do It” campaign (from Nike) was conceived by an ad executive via a random thought about a convicted murderer (Gary Gilmore). When Gilmore was asked if he had any final words before his execution, he said, “Let’s do it.” How did the ad exec think of this? “He just popped into my mind.”

So in times where my running and showers don’t produce, I’ll do some daydreaming. I’ll also embark in other random diversions, such as watching a movie, listening to music or reading a book. Perhaps they’ll spark some creative genius (a la the Nike example) – or, by taking a break, I’ll find what I was looking for.


By now, you’re probably suspicious about my desire for creativity. You think it’s just a ploy to sleep earlier, go for more runs, daydream more often and watch more movies. Well, we’ll see. I may in fact be doing a lot of that, but it’s all in the interest of science. If I can prove “how creativity works” and produce some of it at the same time, then the showers and sleep will have been worth it.

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .

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