You’ll probably know by now that I view brands as communities of people with shared values and beliefs. I won’t go into the whys and wherefores now, you can read my other posts for that. What interests me right now is how this translates into successful products and services.

My belief is that if you define your brand clearly, inform and engage your employees, help them commit and with a programme like my Brand Discovery programme understand the role they can play personally in delivering the brand promise, your produce products and services will match that promise. This is good because your actions are consistent with your words, customers know what to expect and because of this you’ll sell more and more easily. Simple!

Now, unless you’ve been living under a stone for the past few weeks you’ll have seen Samsung’s “The next big thing” campaign that highlights just about all of Apple’s mobile shortcoming. What you may not have caught are the leaked Applegate e-mails from January last year, between Apple’s SVP Phil Schiller and a senior manager at their advertising agency TBWA/Media Arts Lab. Basically its a ping-pong around the accusation that TBWA failed to come up with a suitable counter to Samsung’s slap in the face even though as Schiller points out (his words not mine) Apple is “… the worlds most successful tech company making the world’s best products”.

The inference here I guess is that TBWA had enough ammo they just had to fire it, but their finger froze on the trigger. (Putting aside for a moment that when I was working in agencies we were the one’s pushing our clients with new ideas and not the other way around) I don’t know who is right and wrong here, but the TBWA guy made some interesting points in his defence including the suggestion that part of the problem is that Samsung are right, Apple’s mobile offering has been very disappointing of late (I say this as an Apple fan, but your first responsibility as a guardian of a brand or officer of a company is to to be honest with yourself and not bury your head in the sand). Much to Schiller’s chagrin the TBWA guy basically suggested that Apple needed to re-think their product strategy (He also wrote an entire, long e-mail without using any capital letters, which causes me to wonder what he is doing in a job that matches him with Phil Schiller.)

Now, assuming Mr. TBWA is right (which may or may not be so) what could have caused Apple to lose their legendary cutting edge?

One of the most important tools some organisations have that help their campaign to bring its employees behind their brand promise is a charismatic leader. Not all organisations have one. They are rare, but Jobs was a great example. He lost no opportunity to remind everyone what Apple’s role in the world was and the promise it made to its community and he demonstrated every day how each employee could apply their personal skills and traits to delivering that promise.

His unconventional thinking spawned the same throughout the company and that produced the sometimes “whacky” and often ground-breaking products that were the steel in the brand promise. It was no fluke. When he was missing Apple struggled to focus when he came back they became razor sharp (almost) over night. It’s clear why he was held in such high esteem, he was in many ways the Apple brand and he certainly was a hard act to follow. And that’s the point. Maybe Apple has lost its focus and therefore its advantage simply because nobody can fill Steve’s shoes?

Phil Darby
April 10, 2014

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