Put the i Before the Apple

January 15, 2017 • LNGA LAB • Boaz Tamir

Apple, the company that once helped its customers soar past their common ways of thinking and imagine that which had yet to be created, is now trailing behind its customers.

“Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.”  (Steve Jobs)

Cooperation between Apple CEO Tim Cook and U2 soloist Bono led them to decide to provide everyone who purchased the new flagship product, the iPhone 6, with a copy of the band’s newest album. Apple’s customers, the two believed, would see it as yet another example of the value that the company provides them. After all, the supporters’ identification with the Apple brand – the attractive design, the fast and dependent operating system, and the friendly user experiences – is the justification for the price, which has remained high, and the increasing difference between the iPhone and the other smart phones, which have turned into commodities.

But people who purchased an iPhone expected to get a platform that would allow them to choose their content individually and personally, and they were not willing to allow the company to define their musical taste for them. Even if all of the series 6 iPhones are identical in shape and color, each phone is personal and holds its owner’s particular, unique content. After all, that’s the whole idea of an iPhone.

The community of Apple supporters viewed the move as an affront to their loyalty and a digression from the basic assumptions that are at the very foundation of the trust between the company and its customers. Pushing the U2 album (even for free) was seen as an unwelcome intrusion into the customers’ personal space, and they viewed it as a form of virus. As a result of public pressure, Apple had to make it possible to clean out and wipe off the “infected” album, and Bono personally apologized.1

Steve Jobs, the founder and re-inventor of Apple, defined the purpose of the company to create a great product so that: “Our job is to figure out what they [the customers] are going to want before they do… People don’t know what they want until you show it to them… Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.” 2

The secret of Apple’s strength, and the source of its innovation, were to be found in the interaction with their customers – that’s where the key to success can be found, not in technological leadership. This last marketing move by Apple may reveal that it has diverted its focus from empathy for the customers’ needs to a focus on promotion of a product and an attempt to convince customers to make the buy.

Does the launch of the iPhone 6 point to the end of the era of Steve Jobs, pulling Apple back into the traditional mental models3 that they disrupted at the beginning of the 21st century? Abdication of the first part of Jobs’ sentence (“get closer than ever to your customers”), leaving only the second part (“tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves”) could pull the company backwards.

According to the alternative thinking (as a disruptive business paradigm) that Steve Jobs developed in his second tenure, the purpose of the existence of a good company is to reliably express the customer’s identity and desires. Innovation, according to this view, stems from the manufacturer’s ability to design the customer’s story and the role that he wants to play in that story, by understanding his strengths, dreams, weaknesses and fears. Apple’s success rests on its ability to build a value-proposition for the customers that can serve as a platform for change in the customers’ way of life and make them into winners in their own ideas within their own communities.

The traditional, conservative mental model – push marketing – is composed of three stages:

  1. Creation of awareness
  2. Generation of attention
  3. Customer’s action.

The business model that is at the foundation of pull marketing – as developed by Toyota, adopted by the lean community, and articulated by Peter Drucker4 – redefines the purpose of marketing, based on updated mental models: “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customers so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.” – Peter Drucker

Thus, the principles of pull marketing transform business policy from selling products and services to creating a relationship between supplier and customers. This process proceeds through three milestones:

  1. Creation of attraction
  2. Affinity
  3. Customer’s Action

The commercial success of market leaders such as Google, Facebook, Toyota, Starbucks, Amazon, Waze, Airbnb, and Uber (and this is only a very partial list) stemmed from the founders’ ability to free themselves from mental models, make their business model more flexible, and divert it from a focus on the product-platform in terms of service and technology to a focus on the customer.

Whoever is able to make his mental models more flexible and attend to his customers will view technology as valuable leverage and as a tool for organizational learning. Leaders in retail manufacturing, banks, hosting, tourism, and logistics who are focused on their customers use digital technology as a means to listen, to come closer, to observe and to learn about existing and changing behavioral patterns in their target market. For them, collection of information about the lifestyles of their customers takes precedence over and is more important than pushing marketing messages, and no less important than the management of sales.

The distance between a business mistake and the response of the market can be measured by the pace of the byte. Cook and Bono took upon themselves the authority to define what is appropriate and proper for the customer, and so they strayed from Apple’s path. It didn’t take long before they had to pay the price.

In the 21st century, commercial companies that prefer to look at themselves rather than their customers and think empathically about how a product or a service will improve their lives will not fulfill their purpose and will not reach their goals.

In your own business spaces – have you been able to change the mental models and basic thinking that form the basis for your “value proposition” and your business model?

Boaz Tamir, ILE


1 Bono apologizes for U2 album in Apple iTunes libraries after iPhone 6 launch | Daily Mail Online

2  Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs. Simon and Schuster, 2011.

3 Mental Model: Fixed basic assumptions and patterns that affect an individual’s decision making. These models: 1. Exist in thought; 2. Are resistant to change; 3. Affect actions and behavior, and form the basis for decision-making.

4 Peter Drucker Management Challenges for 21st Century (New York: Harper Business, 1999)

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