Co-Founder & Managing Partner
Former Landor Chairman/Brand Strategy Guru
What Every Marketer Can Learn From Apple’s iPhone 13
A good many of the reviews for Apple’s iPhone 13 were best encapsulated for me in the recent “TECH FIX” column in the New York Times. “The truth is that smartphones peaked a few years ago,” the piece begins, going on to explain why the changes in everything from speeds to screens to cameras are incrementally – though not dramatically – better. A little faster, a little sharper, as the columnist wrote, but hardly game changers in the category.
Despite the lukewarm reviews, I don’t think Apple has anything to worry about relative to the success of the iPhone 13. Between the enormous power of the Apple brand name, and the near addictive role smartphones play in every aspect of our lives, my sense is that the modest nature of the upgrades in Apple’s latest product will not stand in the way of its being able to sell as many phones as it can possibly make.
However, that said, there is a lesson in this new product launch to which Apple, and every marketer in almost every category, should pay heed. While it’s enviable to have achieved iconic brand status, and it’s great that your product is something millions upon millions of people can’t live without, in a marketplace where product improvements are increasingly becoming incremental, it’s imperative that companies look beyond product upgrades and enhancements to give them a sustainable competitive advantage. In today’s market, these tweaks are by degree, table stakes easily and quickly imitated.
The lesson for all marketers, across the board? With sustainable competitive advantage the Holy Grail of marketing, focusing your efforts on achieving this through disruptive product innovation, alone, is short-sighted.
While this is simple to say, it’s an obvious challenge. Business growth has long been fueled by the development of products that are different and relevantly better than what the competition has to offer. And, most organizations are set up to optimize and continuously innovate their products to meet fast-shifting consumer needs and trends in an attempt to stay ahead of the competition. But, as I said, if you look at disruptive innovation solely from a product-based perspective, you are leaving a huge growth opportunity unmet.
So, what’s the remedy? Shift more of your efforts to innovative disruption of the consumer experience. In fact, this is what more and more companies today are doing to stay ahead of the competition. They are relevantly differentiating their offerings by reimagining various aspects of the experiential ecosystem, from how they attract customers, to how they sell to customers, to how they care for – and keep – customers post-purchase. From Warby Parker, to Stitch Fix to Chewy to Venmo, companies that identify experiential pain points and figure out how to add value beyond the product, itself, are becoming success stories. The key to these initiatives is having a clear understanding of how a product fits into peoples’ lives and, most critically, understanding the job it does - what people are trying to accomplish.
As a first step, in order to do this, it’s important to get out of your bubble. Zoom out, way out. Look at what’s happening in other categories, other segments of the market, to see if there are analogous situations relative to your offering that might inform how you might disrupt or change up the experience in your own category.
For example, while I haven’t had the privilege of working with Apple, as a marketer, you don’t have to know much to know it’s a luxury brand. If you look at other luxury brands, automobiles, for instance, you’ll see opportunities for experience disruption. Product and specific engineering factors aside, the job of a car is to get you from Point A to Point B. Luxury car manufacturers understand this, understand it’s part of their value proposition, and mitigate the pain points in the service experience by providing another way to ensure the “job” gets done. In the luxury car category, if your car is in need of repair, you’ll be given a loaner.
Relative to smartphones, and computers, in general, losing one or having one break or malfunction is a non-starter. Its job is to keep you connected to family, friends, work, shopping, entertainment, your health data, and just about everything else. These smart devices are literal and figurative lifelines. I’m not saying there wouldn’t be hurdles, but for argument’s sake, what if the Apple service experience mimicked the luxury car service experience and offered up a loaner should you need one? Yes, there is the Genius Bar, but if there is no quick fix, or if your iPhone or iMac has to be sent out for repairs, improving the customer experience, offering an immediate solution, would make a meaningful difference to customers’ 24/7/365 -connected lives.
Again, while I think the Apple iPhone 13 will do just fine, the iconic brand is surely aware that the era of innovative product disruption is fast being eclipsed by the era of innovative experience disruption. In a market with diminishing returns on incremental product improvements, more and more companies are looking to innovative disruptions of the consumer experience to gain competitive advantage. They are defining and differentiating themselves by making things easier and more convenient for consumers, introducing better ways of doing things and, in some cases, ways of doing things we never thought imaginable. You don’t have to be a marketer, just a consumer, to have experienced this for yourself.