The Branding Wisdom of Steve Jobs

Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs is a delightful read – not just for the amazing anecdotes, but also for the business wisdom provided. If you want a recipe for building a strong brand, this book has lots to offer. For example:

Choosing a good name

Jobs’ company could have been called Matrix or Executek, but he wanted something fun, spirited, and not intimidating. They picked Apple because it was friendly and simple. When combined with “Computer” it formed an amusing disjuncture. It forced your brain to think about it a second longer.

Imputing value

Mike Markkula, Apple’s first investor and outside manager influence, proposed three marketing fundamentals: Empathy, Focus and the need to Impute. Empathize with (understand) your customer, focus on what you choose to do and do it well, and impute the value of what you do to the outside world.  Impute is an awkward way to say that image counts. If people think you’re better, you are. Jobs made these core principles of his company and never wavered.

Imputing begins with packaging

Jobs was way ahead of his time with product packaging. For the Macintosh, he chose a full-color design and changed it fifty times to make it look better. The packaging was going to be thrown in the trash as soon as the product was removed, but Jobs wanted to make a statement: product design begins with elegant packaging. I still can’t bring myself to throw away the box my iPhone came in. It’s so nifty, I made a place for it on the shelf by my desk. (Can’t explain why, except I like it.)

Working with talented people

From his selection of Regis McKenna to launch the Apple II to his insistence of bringing back Lee Clow and the Chiat/Day team in 1997 for the iMac introduction, Jobs insisted on working with the best. He swallowed his pride and approved the one logo legendary graphic designer Paul Rand gave him for NeXt (Rand refused to change it for Jobs or give him options). McKenna suggested the maxim, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” on the first Apple II brochure, and it became the defining precept of Jobs’ design philosophy.

Trusting your gut

The Apple board was appalled when Jobs previewed the “1984” TV spot for them in 1983. They told him to cancel the Super Bowl media buy and fire the agency. Jobs and the Chiat/Day went ahead and ran the ad anyway. The rest is advertising history. When Jobs was asked about doing market research, his response was that customers don’t know what they want until we show them. And he was right. In 2001, portable music players “sucked,” so Jobs directed his iPod team to design one that didn’t.

Delighting customers with design

The list of Apple innovations is almost endless. Graphical user interfaces. Changeable typefaces. Wheels and buttons that look cool and eliminate extra steps. Iconic ear “buds.” Gorilla glass instead of plastic. Phones that answer questions. Remember what personal computers looked like before the iMac? They were putty gray, not a rainbow of vivid colors.

It’s no wonder that Jobs didn’t believe in market research, because much of what he was pursuing wasn’t evident even to him – until he and his team figured it out. (They did know that “complicated and clunky” was definitely NOT what they wanted.)

Using persistence

It was not easy getting Steve Jobs on board with something, and he was very quick to make a decision about whether he liked it or not. But it was possible to win him over with persistence. At first, he hated the name iMac. Later he said he didn’t hate it, but he was hoping for something better. Ultimately, he warmed up to it and it’s a good thing, because we probably wouldn’t have iPod, iPad or iPhone either if he had killed iMac.

Creating end-to-end user interfaces

Because of his insistence on perfection, Jobs couldn’t conceive the possibility of Apple products running with other people’s hardware, or software that hadn’t been thoroughly vetted by his team. He knew customers were incapable of identifying the root cause of an unsatisfactory experience – but they definitely knew one when it smacked them in the face. This “closed system” mentality put him at odds with his hacker roots and even his co-founding partner, Steve Wozniak. But he knew instinctively it had to be that way.

Redefining the customer retail experience

Other computer companies had tried retail stores, but they didn’t see the possibilities that Steve Jobs did. From the eye-popping store designs to super helpful and knowledgeable sales associates, everything about the Apple Store experience is better. They even have a Genius Bar with honest-to-goodness geniuses to answer every question. When I went for my iPad orientation, an elderly couple sat next to me and were treated with the utmost respect and patience by the young Apple staffer. We all got something out of that session, and it was free.

Jobs liked to say he operated at the intersection of “humanities” and “science.” He saw the similarities between artists and engineers, even looked for people that embodied both to be on his Apple teams. It helps explain why the Apple brand has come to stand for awe-inspiring products. They push with all their being to design great products, and we stand in line to buy them.

The result is one of the world’s strongest brands from the world’s most valuable company.

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