What’s the big idea… finding the way to tap consumer desire. What this meant to Apple…

Good long term businesses execute well on many fronts. Marketing is as significant a competency as any business function.

Regardless of industry or customer audience marketing informs the who, what, and how of an organization to the marketplace. I write about and work in companies as an executive to drive home how an idea that bridges across customer, organization, and management of vision.

The essence of marketing is tapping consumer desire to sell a product. In developed economies product marketing is not ‘need based’ but desire driven.

For example, purchasers of soap want to know if it does more than just clean, they also want to know that it deodorizes, scents, etc.

Basis for Desire:

Desire creates the opportunity for innovation and evolution of products and services. Today’s desires become tomorrow’s needs as the basic standard of living improves. The 19th century introduction of the telephone as a luxury invention became a basic household necessity in the 20th century.

At the automobile’s conception it was never foreseen that it would stimulate the growth of suburbs and redefine transportation.

Often times the big idea is apparent only in hindsight…

In the latter decades of the 20th century the personal computer evolved as a must have for literacy in the advancement of the information age. At its introduction in the 1970’s, the PC was not regarded as a major tool for business or education.

Today great arguments abound in public policy debate for computing and Internet technology access for everyone. This is similar to how the opening of Carnegie libraries of books exemplified an access need at the start of the 20th century.

Origins of the Big Idea:

As desire for a product evolves to the need state there’s an implicit improvement in the standard of living as the newest version of the product is adopted by more people. In marketing, the big idea becomes the catalyst for pushing and transforming the psychology of desire to a need state. “This is good for me so I should have it to fulfill my needs.” This pattern of product consumption and desire is the trigger of purchase behavior that sparks each new level of innovation.

Creating the Big Idea:

Striving to find the next big idea requires a marketing team that really does work as a team. But this is not enough. Vision, pragmatism, and leadership are also required.

Vision is an effort to define the relative merits and possibilities of the offer to the target consumer. How does the product project itself to the person who buys it? What are the elements of the product that tap into the personality of the consumer, and motivate consumption? These are points that branding and positioning address in an examination of the product or service offer.

In arriving at the big idea the vision offered needs to be clear. It must resonate first with the team that will create the marketing campaign if it’s to communicate clearly to the consumer. Vision in marketing is not realizable if it’s not balanced with pragmatism.

Pragmatism is the grounding in simplicity and rationalism so that the product makes sense to the consumer. While vision is the broad view of some future realization, pragmatism helps to define the product for the consumer in the here and now. If a consumer can be forward thinking in adopting a new product while avoiding the ‘bleeding edge’ moniker of experimentation and possible recklessness, then there’s a big idea.

In the automotive industry of the late 1950’s and early 60’s the introduction of exaggerated car body types featuring tail fins, and front ends that made the cars appear to be some form of rocket land ship suggested that the then exciting era of space adventure could be had in the vehicle you drive.

This was years before the moon landings and the realization of space transportation. On a rational level the appeal was the aerodynamic lines of the car to improve performance based on current science and technology. In reality the practical aspects of the cars performance were secondary to the aesthetic appeal that tapped into the excitement of the period.

Leadership in a marketing organization is critical if the big idea is to ever get off the ground. If the big idea is to rise above the banal and uninspired, leadership needs to maintain the focus on the vision as the team develops their marketing concepts. Communication of what is possible is essential to create the buy-in among the team members so that their energies and creative talents will produce the big idea that consumers will care about.

Teamwork is where the combination of vision, pragmatism, and leadership executes the big idea. It’s in the team that the idea is given life and possibilities. The members are the sounding board for each other. They evaluate the original vision against their ideas to determine the difference between consumer aspiration and meaningless selling.

The team is where multi-disciplined talents are combined to produce the marketing concept and campaign that sells the product to consumers.

The results of such efforts can be extremely motivating and inspiring.

Apple The last decade consumer technology has been completely redefined. Use and application of the Internet with manifold devices of immense computing power transformed the PC era of utility to compelling consumer devices.

Apple as led by Steve Jobs, the 2nd, showed us the way of how convergence of many disparate technologies, media, and channels can be easily accessible to large numbers of people. Adoption and Apple’s global presence is expanding rapidly.

The early adopter trends of past PC marketing is displaced in view of much greater understanding and use of technology and pent up demand from the general consumer for the latest iPad, phone, or media content players.

In Apple’s case –a 35 year old company- Steve Jobs in his second incarnation as Apple’s CEO really arrived at an understanding of how all this technology should work as cool appliances friendly to users.

The Apple success since 2000 is stunning. Walter Isaacson’s biography, Steve Jobs, is full of tremendous business insights in the story context of Steve Jobs’ life, his stages of business growth from his earliest days as Apple’s cofounder, to his 10 year period of comparative isolation and frustration, to and finally his return to Apple in ’97.

The Apple success of 2012 was far from certain in 1997. Apple was rapidly devolving into irrelevance, and Steve Jobs’ return was seen as a desperate act of a company in peril.

Steve Jobs’ gift as a visionary and marketer were well known. But earlier in his career he was incapable of balancing his passionate vision with pragmatism. Nor could he build and empower an organization and teamwork to complement his charismatic and mercurial leadership style. What he lacked in the 1980’s he added upon his return to Apple.

While his fiery passion remained, it’s clear that he knew better how to get Apple focused and on track. He shared and instilled his values about the heart, soul and vision of Apple among selected executives with the same ardor for building “insanely great products”.

They were able to share in and buy into a collective vision. With such trust established in people like Jony Ive, the chief designer, and Tim Cook (COO), Apple was able to execute.

With improvements in the Mac gradually suppliers, customers, and consumers began to believe again in Apple.

The run away success of the iPod combined with the iTunes software and service established a new consumer device platform full of promise and expectation that was well executed time and time again.

Apple retail stores led by Ron Johnson, the iPhone, iPad, media content partnerships with music, publishers, and application developers converted Apple into a $100B sales juggernaut.

The consumer ‘desire’ state rapidly transforms to need state. Each new Apple product introduction met with increasingly greater anticipation and purchase by customers around the world.

The Apple price premium associated to the entirety of the Apple Brand Experience apparently meets no price resistance. This in spite of a persistent global recession, and the availability of competitive alternatives with similar features priced for much less.

Steve Jobs’ ability to share his vision and marketing understanding with other Apple leaders creates a culture with an intuitive sense of the Apple Brand. This helps Apple in how to design and market that is agile and innovative.

I believe this will be Jobs’ legacy. He was able to help Apple’s leaders understand the balance of vision and pragmatism, and establish leadership and teamwork for Apple people to maximize their best creative efforts, and to execute extremely well.

In marketing there’s an element of risk-taking to achieve a big idea. In a vision the leader is asked to define something that inherently hasn’t been done before.

The challenge in expressing a vision is to create something that is novel yet accessible now to all consumers. The vision needs the pragmatic element and courageous leadership to guide the team to succeed with an idea that on the surface seems dubious. A good leader needs to project the vision to the team with a sense of confidence. If he/she fails at this then the idea will die.

A good marketer and leader needs to be willing to expose him or herself to failure and rejection. Without such risk-taking leadership there really is no opportunity for innovation and product development.

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One Response to What’s the big idea… finding the way to tap consumer desire. What this meant to Apple…

  1. peter says:

    Regis McKenna interview adds to Apple marketing and discipline for creating great businesses and brands

    Ad Age article 3/1.12
    Apple’s First Marketing Guru On Why ‘1984’ Is Overrated

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